Heat Ratings in Romance… should it be like the ratings in Rock Climbing??

I have been thinking about the different levels of heat in Romance novels lately.

There have been times that people told me I needed to add more heat into my novel Broken Smiles. There have also been times that critique partners told me I need to tone down the steam. Where is the balance? I decided to delve in and discover all of the levels of romance and what certain target audiences expect. This is mainly for my reference, and I am glad to share and hope that it will help some of you.

As I was thinking about what rating system I wanted to compare this to, I thought about rock climbing. I love rock climbing and had many friends growing up who were hard core climbers.

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(photos of me, Tara, in Rock Canyon and Mystery Canyon)                                       

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As romance novels become more and more mainstream, there needs to be a definite rating system. I don’t mean to throw the climbing community under the bus by referring to them, but the rating system they use is genius.

By going into detail and explaining each romance category in terms of 1-15a,b,c,d, the guessing game of heat level would be out in the open. There wouldn’t need to be a board of directors or big debates on what should go where when it comes to levels of sizzling heat in romance. We could simply look at it through the eyes of a child. And so that is what I have done…

*No Romance at all would be comparable to the rock climbing ratings of Class 1 to Class 4. These rock climbing ratings begins with:

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Class 1 – Walking on an established trail

Children’s books, picture books

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Class 2 – Hiking up a steep incline

Early Reader, Middle grade reader

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Class 3 – Climbing up a steep hillside

Upper middle grade or Young Adult. Platonic interest between boy and girl.

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Class 4 – bouldering or following a ledge. Sometimes a rope will be used for help.

Young Adult mild swearing or love interest. Internal emotions, but no follow through.

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***The tricky bit is when we get to Class 5 in climbing. This is when ropes are used and technical rock climbing begins. Past Class 5, the climbs begin to become subdivided into categories.***

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Class 5.0-5.4- climbing up a ramp or steep incline with good holds.

Super Sweet Romance – An innocent look, an internal feeling by one or more of the characters. No swearing.

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Class 5.5-5.7 – steeper, more vertical. Still good holds and easily protected.

Sweet Romance – Maybe a brief touch or a steamy look. A walk around a garden alone (in historical fiction) Realistic sexual tension.

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Class 5.8 – Vertical climbing on small holds

Mild Romance – Hand holding, a quick hug. Internal thoughts and feelings of love or lust.

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Class 5.9 – Rocks might be slightly overhung, or smaller hand holds. With practice, beginner climbers can climb with confidence

Clean Romance – A brief kiss. A warm hug. More internal thoughts and feelings described in detail.

***Get clipped in, because it starts to get more intense!***

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(My good friend Emily Ernst “rockin'” American Fork Canyon.

She told me this was about a 5.11a – I don’t believe her 🙂 )

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Class 5.10 – This is where it becomes more intense. A beginner rock climber does not feel comfortable in this range unless they go often or have natural talent. The classifications break down even more into a,b,c,d.

Spicy Romance – a) A more intense kiss, closed bedroom scenes, b) maybe some swearing. c) If lovers do make love, it is implied and not graphically depicted. Much is left to the readers imagination. d) The focus is still on the emotions rather than the body parts.

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Class 5.11 a,b,c,d – Steep and difficult routes with powerful and technical moves. Above average skill.

Steamy Romance –  a) Open door bedroom scenes, some nudity. b) We get heated feelings from the characters, but not in graphic detail. c) Maybe one or two mild love scenes in the novel and they tend to be longer scenes. d) Infidelity.

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Class 5.12 a,b,c,d – Overhanging climbs. Requires delicate footwork on thin holds or long climbs requiring a great deal of balance. Expert level.

Hot Romance – a) Nudity and intimacy in detail. Authors start to use funny words to describe the intimate parts. b) Internal thought and dialogue are meant to make you feel that you are the one experiencing the sensations. c) The focus throughout the book are sexual feelings and desires. d) More description, but nothing wild or kinky.

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Class 5.13 a,b,c,d – Very difficult climbs. Elite athletes.

Erotica – a) Hard core. b) Explicit language and bedroom scenes. There probably isn’t much of a story line at this point. c) The focus is mainly on sex. It probably takes a very gifted author to have a storyline beyond sex. But this is a Billion dollar industry, so there is a demand. I don’t think people read this genre for literary purposes!

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Class 5.14 a,b,c,d – These climbs are among the hardest in the world and very few can even attempt them.

Graphic Erotica, a) Extremely explicit scenes and language. b) BDSM, c) rape, all explained in full detail with all of the feelings described. May include what others consider kinky. This is unlike rock climbing in that this genre is becoming mainstream. It is front and center in grocery stores and gas stations. Movies are being made.

***Often I have seen personally where girls have gone from reading Class 5.0-5.4 to Class 5.14 with no preparation or maturity in between. Imagine the years, the hours, and the training a climber dedicates to this level of skill. You can’t stick a beginner on an over hanging ledge and say “climb.” Nor should you. They would fall, they could die. Why then, is there no rating system to prepare or caution early readers?***

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Class 5.15 – Very few people can climb on this level. I think Spiderman skills are needed.

Beyond Romance and Erotica- Think of the worst or most graphic thing you can think of, combine them all, and this would be there.

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(My awesome sister Traci Stewart rock climbing on Moon Hill in China.

Climbs range from a 5.10b-5.14a)

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In Rock Climbing, when new harder climbs are found, a new number is made. It is impossible to imagine someone being able to find and climb a 5.16. Just as it is impossible to imagine what will be acceptable and written in the literary world. This rating system leaves it open to both. Incomprehensible, but possible.

The thing I have found is that romance in novels can be very subjective. Everyone has different lines they will or will not cross. I have found this as I have been exposed to the romance writing community. There is a definite line that I will not cross in my writing and what I feel comfortable reading. The frustrating part comes when you don’t know what to expect when you pick up a book and then you invest in a story line and it takes you to a place you are frustrated or become uncomfortable with. Much in the same way that a cliff face might look climbable from below, but once you get half way up, you realize you are stuck.

Rock Climbers, I love you! You are genius (and hot!) May us romance writers use or borrow or steal your rating system??

Thanks for “hanging” with me and happy writing –

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Tara

15 thoughts on “Heat Ratings in Romance… should it be like the ratings in Rock Climbing??

  1. That’s an awesome analogy. I like it I think all books should use it, not just romance. I’ve been surprised, and sometimes horrified, at what I find in fantasy sometimes.

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  2. This is perfect for what I’m fighting with right now. My daughter’s school is requiring 14 year olds to read 5.12 to 5.14 in their language arts class. I was shocked after reading what the books contained. These kids are too young!

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  4. As a reader, I have been longing for just such a system to be applied to romance novels. I am disgusted when shopping online for my Nook by the graphic covers I have to pass by in order to find stories more to my taste. And then it’s a gamble whether the content will actually be a romance or merely a lust fest. Georgette Heyer remains my gold standard.

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  6. This is a detailed and thoughtful system. But what about LGBT novels that are YA with just attraction and no romance, what about LGBT romances that have little or no kissing. I don’t understand at all why every single LGBT romance regardless of whether there is sex at all should be rated as having more heat than hard core erotica.

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    • Ah, I see how you could see that it could elude to all LGBT being classified that way. I meant that the scenes would mirror the same system, whether it is behind closed doors, or out in the open, or innocent attraction. So if there are similar heat scenes, then they should parallel the same ratings.
      I will change it for clarity.
      My thoughts would be the same thoughts as a rock climber in regard to expectations of the climb, which is, it’s good to know what to expect before you begin to read, just as it’s good to know what to expect before you start to climb.

      Liked by 1 person

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