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Why I Take Sizzle Over Spice In Sapphic Romance Every Time

April 22, 17084 min read

The Art of Anticipation: Why I Crave Sizzle Over Spice in My Sapphic Romance Reads

In a world where instant gratification often takes centre stage, there's a quiet, rewarding satisfaction in the slow burn, the tantalising build-up that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I've always preferred the sizzle over the spice, relishing the way the author builds anticipation, taking us through the delicious uncertainty that keeps us turning the page.

Firstly, let's clear something up straight away. This is not an anti-spice post. In fact, I'm someone who freely admits to enjoying dark romance, where spice is spicy, so I'm not waving from up here on my high horse about the moral decline and debauchery of humanity. And let's not forget that individual tastes and tolerances play into our appreciation of spice. It's also worth noting that affinity for spice in real-life does not necessarily translate to a parallel fondness for literary spice, and vice versa.

So to it, then. I guess, for me, it's the difference between an inflated balloon and one that's popped. I know, it's a smirk-inducing metaphor given our topic, but it's to do with anticipation. Writing anticipation is an absolute art. It calls upon every technique a writer has in her drawers – I know, my metaphors are on fire. The build-up is the thrill, the longing and lingering, the wire-edge tension, the messy conflict and unshakeable desires that electrify the atmosphere, setting the stage for fireworks that pack an multi-level, emotional punch.

Now, I'm liberal and not without kink, and I'm here looking for an alternative approach to sapphic romance. It's not about shaming people who love spice or labelling people who don't, it's about loosening the reigns on what constitutes romance.

But spice seems to be an either/or thing, one camp or the other. What's out there for people like me in the shadows of dark romance searching for an emphasis on sizzle over spice? Sounds like an oxymoron, right? That's not to say that sex can't happen eventually, but I want it late in the game and not reliant on explicit description. And here's the stinger, I'm not necessarily looking for a happy ever after.

Stunned silence.

Well then, Kate, what does this genre you've entirely dreamed up look like, you ask? Is it even romance you're after?

Good question. What's certain is that expectations in the romance genre have, in one way or another, whether from readers or writers, distilled to a formula. Why is romance the over-arching genre in any case? Romance feels like a sub-genre to me, not the catch all. Why not relational dynamics? I know it doesn't sound as sexy – but there we are back at spice. Another axe, another time.

When it comes to sex in fiction, sure, you can opt for sweet romance, slow-burn, or fade-to-black, but those labels don't exactly drizzle on the sizzle or stir in flavours of psychosexual complexities. I'm just here to advocate for more mashups, like fade-to-black dark romance, and advocate for relationship novels that don't fit the rules for romance. Like the HEA. (Don't yell at me.)

So what's girl to do? She has to try writing it for herself. I did that here. That said, slow-burn fanatic as I am, I'm currently down to the wick in book two, so I am finally flirting with the climax, so to speak, but my point is – and call me controversial if you like – but I believe you can write a sizzling romance without ever describing the physical act.

For readers with preferences like mine, the tastiest spice is in the:

  • dialogue

  • context

  • tension

  • build up

  • metaphor (no, not 'her creamy donut of love' but bare biological language doesn't do it for me either, sorry.)

This means writing that's big on the psychological dynamics, the building tension, the tease and linger, the surge and retreat, the guessing, the shift in dynamics, and most crucially, the purpose, stakes and context. These are what charge a novel with sexual electricity.

Sure, I have my favourite tropes, mostly around sapphic power dynamics, namely age gap, boss/employee, ice queen, and enemies-to-lovers to name a few, though I have just one request:

Sex scenes must come well at the eleventh hour and be functional to the plot. Or else, I skip.

Strange concept for a dark romance reader, maybe!

It's the journey that keeps readers like me engaged, invested, and eventually submitting to the spice. It's not about rushing to the finish line; it's about savouring the building crescendo.

We read to escape, and for some, an uncomplicated romance in a idyllic setting, or else a love-against-the-odds story offers plenty of wonderful reasons to read, but don't we also have room to explore unconventional ideas of attraction, desire and love? Are they less valid, less entertaining, less worthy of the romance genre? I don't think so.

It's not just about what happens; it's about how, the evolution of a relationship, that keeps readers turning pages.

So, bring on the sizzle. And make it sapphic. Please.

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Kate Hennessy is a sapphic author, writing in the speculative space.

Kate Hennessy

Kate Hennessy is a sapphic author, writing in the speculative space.

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