I’ve written in the past about my love/hate-to-love relationship with the romance genre. The problem is that romance novels can be so problematic—and it’s the problematic elements that are often the most fun! Take those away, and the story is much better for society… but not nearly as entertaining.
Without getting too deep into why that is (I think I discussed it here), I wondered if there might be a way to preserve some of the best (and cheesiest) romantic tropes, while keeping them from getting too problematic.
Keep in mind that what different people find “romantic” (here, in an idealized fantasy sort of sense, and meant to be “appealing”) varies widely, and so what I list as “romantic” might not be your idea of it at all. However, I took these tropes from what’s commonly found in the heroes of romance novels of the cheesiest, and often most popular, kind.
Now, any character with all of the characteristics of the left side would be patently ridiculous—and the qualities on the right side could be legitimate flaws of a character if they are addressed as such. If the hero’s jealousy or power imbalance is consistently shown to be a negative trait, and not glamorized or romanticized by the heroine, the text, or the reader, then it’s okay to use it as a source of conflict.
I suppose the idea is that you could take traits from the left and use them to make a satisfying, cheesy romance hero… as long as you keep him from developing the traits on the right. Some of the “makes her…” traits means that pretty much automatically his power/immortality/wealth/etc. will diminish her in order to accomplish a “wish fulfillment” fantasy. I’ve thought of trying to make her just as powerful or wealthy, which certainly helps to alleviate this imbalance, but you lose the sense of “the normal girl just like me who gets the amazing guy” (a sad fantasy, but a common one, for fairly obvious reasons). Making her as interesting and self-sufficient as possible in other ways is about the best you can do, and it’s really just about avoiding the lowest common denominator at that point.
Is there a way to write a fun, cheesy romance that isn’t problematic? Is there a way to appeal to all that awful internalized sexism that makes us fabulously independent women still want to be swept away by a possessive billionaire barbarian—without reinforcing the worst elements of that very fantasy?
I’m not sure. But I think this could be a start. 🙂