Romantic vs. Problematic Tropes

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.

romantic v problematic

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. 🙂


About J. Sevick

Just write.
This entry was posted in Media, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Romantic vs. Problematic Tropes

  1. I like the idea of men and women as equals. However when I write sometimes my romance comes out with the guy being heroic and the woman being a bit of a damsel in distress. Granted, that’s cliche XD I don’t like the woman being totally dependent though. In the fandom I came from there were two popular het (heterosexual) couples. My favorite one was the hero/damsel in distress vs. anti-hero/super woman. My favorite characters were the hero, anti-hero, and damsel in distress. Although for being a damsel in distress she could hold her own, but that’s the role she was filling. My long fanfic novel had the romantic pairing hero/damsel in distress, although the major pairing was a friendship one between the hero/not yet anti-hero because he’s in a comatose state. I think friendship can be a stronger bond than love.

    I should specify that I don’t write romance XD But my stories sometimes have that element woven in. I like reading it, sometimes. Although I’m not fond of the super-fluffy romance. That’s what bothered me about the anti-hero/super woman couple, writers kept giving them a happy ending. It wasn’t and could never be because the anti-hero character was so broken. They may have found love, but the anti-hero would never be able to escape his past. I did write a romance with the anti-hero/superwoman couple, and it turned out to be angst XD It was actually supposed to be cute and fluffy, but the angst seeped in.

    I wrote a suicide story based on a romance and there isn’t really a happy ending. . . Although it’s not unhappy. I think I went a bit overboard on the cheesiness factor XD Need to dial it back a notch or two :$ I get carried away when I write a character’s emotions and feelings, which is good sometimes, but bad other times because I write a stronger response than the situation would naturally call for. I could have fleshed out the female character a bit more, but it’s hard in a short story. And the whole story is basically his memories, so he’s remembering an idealized version of her. I’m waiting a few weeks before making the final revision so I can see it better. Maybe new ideas will come to me 🙂

    • J. Sevick says:

      I think, in real life, men and women should absolutely be equals–in fiction too, as much as possible. But I can’t deny what I sometimes like, for whatever reason. It does have to fit the characters, though, like you pointed out.

      Hitting the perfect note for emotion, especially when you’re dealing with really extreme emotions like angst or suicidal feelings, is really hard. It can so easily become cheesy and melodramatic, but you also need to really explore those emotions–otherwise what’s the point? I’ve definitely struggled with that. 🙂

      • If nothing else I made the girl character an educated chemical engineer and a perfectionist XD. I wouldn’t call her weak, but she’s emotionally fragile. To me that’s different because it’s hard to change something like that no matter how tough you are.

        My sister and I both went to grad school and our husbands just got an undergraduate degree, lol. Nothing wrong with that, but when I have kids I want them to know that gender should not dictate their career paths. My sister is at Harvard :3 I’m a feminist myself ^^ My sister would tell you that she isn’t, but she espouses the ideals of feminism. She’s a physicist and is a lead member of a woman’s physics club that helps promote physics for girls. I’m so proud of her :$

        Yeah, I think it’s okay to write too much emotion, and clean it up on editing 😉 I kind of got carried away with the romance scenes XD The angst part seemed okay, but angst is a strong point of mine, lol.

      • J. Sevick says:

        I think balancing characters’ strengths is probably the best way to go about it–allows you to explore the imbalances of their relationship in different scenarios, but without making one ubiquitously “better.”

        Yay, science for girls!! Love it. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Exploring the Wish Fulfillment Romance: Writing One | J. Sevick

  3. Pingback: The Draw of the Alpha Hero: Cognitive Dissonance and the Modern Woman | J. Sevick

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s