I’ve mentioned before that I don’t write romance novels, mainly because my characters tend to be either too healthy or too damaged for the traditional romance stuff.
On 12/31, @RoseFox tweeted a semi-ranting series of posts about rape, consensual sex and “romance” in modern romance novels. Here it is in a paragraph form:
Today’s reviews are full of complaints about nonconsensual and quasi-consensual sex in romance novels. Authors: don’t do this. Make your characters wait until they’re both enthusiastically eager to jump in the sack. No more pressuring, coaxing, surprise-kissing. I just saw a book where the hero is possessed by an entity that telepathically forces the heroine to “want” sex. NOT HOT.
… In romance especially, you want your hero to be sympathetic and appealing. He might need redemption, but it’s hard to redeem a rapist. If you want to write “bad boy” heroes, there are lots of ways to do that without them forcing themselves on the heroines.
Most historical romances have only the barest pretense of accuracy — so make your hero anachronistically concerned about consent. … It’s not just historicals, but ever subgenre of romance. In paranormals, fated mates don’t get to consent. That’s rape. Fate is making them rape each other. How is that not revolting? And contemporary heroes/heroines have NO excuse. Use birth control, care about consent, be responsible! Otherwise, how is it romantic?
That’s a lot to quote from a series of tweets, and I hope Rose doesn’t mind. I think it’s really important, and worth quoting.
I’ve got another post brewing about feminism in my work, so I’ll leave that as a separate topic on simmer. This post is about sex and relationships, and exploring them in writing.
Why I Think This Happens
Why do we even read romance novels if they are rife with this stuff? Why read about quasi-consensual sex and bad boy heroes?
Because it isn’t the real world. We like them because it isn’t the real world, so we don’t expect it to have to follow real world rules. We want to be swept off our feet, seduced and charmed. Awkward first dates with spinach in his teeth don’t usually do much charming or seducing. They are potential for cuteness or humor, but they aren’t generally romantic.
We don’t want to read about the farting guy who forgets to take out the trash. Unless it’s comical, self-effacing chick-lit, we don’t want to read about a heroine who has to pluck her perfectly arched eyebrows or wear Spanx. No one gets a runny nose in romance novels.
So if you have these better-than-real-life mannequins with their “I don’t even need a corset” waistlines and rippling abs, and they manage to have a great boot-knocking session on page 100. What’s left for pages 101-280?
As I’ve mentioned before, there is very little conflict to be explored. However, if it’s quasi-consensual, and she still isn’t too sure about him (though he was good in the sack), it gives the romance author somewhere to go with the plot.
Maybe this is a challenge I should rise to, someday. I should try to write a romance novel with consensual, safe, healthy sex between imperfect people. The trick would be making it salable or interesting to readers. If it isn’t an escape, then what’s the appeal?
What Happens In My Books
First off, when I free-write, my characters always hook up. Then I cut those scenes because they resolve nothing, and they leave me no where to go. I keep them. I consider them a character’s secret fantasies, and use them as a key to their inner world. They do not appear in my final drafts (at least not so far, though there’s a potential for one in a current working outline. Maybe.)
It’s easy to see why the two main characters might want to have sex with one another. They are great characters. It’s more interesting to figure out why they won’t have sex with one another.
The obstacles keeping them apart are infinitely more interesting and easier to write with characters who are attempting to grow toward a sense of wholeness. If my characters overcome those obstacles, I will by all means allow them to have sex on the written page (provided it moves the plot forward).
I don’t think my books will ever be considered romance novels.