So I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately, in many forms (indie, best seller, ARC, sweet, steamy... the gamut) to get a feel for the genre as I continue my journey writing in it. Let me tell you, I’ve always seen myself as extremely open-minded and ruthlessly liberal—however, some of this stuff has really set me on edge. I get the whole don’t kink-shame people and I will not. But there are things I don’t see as kinks—dub-con and non-con most specifically. I will argue against that in romance (I’ll come back to this in a moment**) until I’m in the ground. HOWEVER, I understand some people’s fascination/attraction to it. I mean, who doesn’t love a horror movie that is all about murder and mayhem, right? I sure do. Do I want to live it? Not in the slightest.
I think this is where the attraction is. Reader see the forbidden, and on the page is a safe way to interact with it. They can get their heart rate up and become involved with these characters in sometimes terrible relationships and feel safe at the same time because it’s on the page.
Two of my favorite moves are Jaws and Jurassic Park. I re-watch them ALL THE TIME. I’m invested, I’m engaged. Do I want to visit Isla Nublar? No way. Am I going to swim in the open ocean? Also, no. But I come back to those movies again and again. And stepping back, I realize that these ‘romances’ I cringe at are those movies to other people.
** Back to my romance comment. I’m not sure they belong in the ‘typical’ romance genre, though. We don't really have anything set aside to better categorize them and I think we need that. Because much of romance genre is all about glorifying the relationship shown, and we absolutely do not need those darker/menacing relationships to be something that reader may aspire to. A stalker who doesn’t take no for an answer and eventfully ‘wins’ the object of their obsession is not a great role model for a relationship. Is that something that adults ought to be allowed to explore on the page? Sure, you do you. But branding it in with the rest of the romance genre feels iffy to me.
I know Dark Romance exists, but I think very little actually gets relegated to it. I have stumbled upon SO MANY instances of horrible characters (both male and female) in mainstream romance, with adoring fans who likely wouldn’t pick up a ‘dark romance’ book. Years ago people were too shy to read anything darker/steamier than a hallmark movie on the bus, then (for better or worse) 50 Shades changed that. I think we need to further de-stigmatize Dark Romance so that books that belong there can be categorized as such, without detriment to the author, so that when we pick up something ‘mainstream’ we know that it will at least end with a vision of a healthy romance.
I don’t mind if characters START OUT questionable, it’s a great beginning to a moving character arc, but in mainstream romance we need to glorify that CHANGE for the better, not the abusive (verbally/mentally/emotionally/physically/etc) ways that the love interest decides to ignore because the abuser is great in bed and/or super hot and/or super rich.
Write what you want, and read what you want, but categorize it correctly. And maybe, just maybe, that story you wrote is a thriller and not a romance. Hey, that’s fine too!