Last time I discussed how the intrinsic elements of a wish fulfillment romance—the sexist gender hierarchy, the clichés and overused tropes—are pretty much guaranteed to be problematic.
And I suppose that’s the core of my issue. If I’m honest about what I really like, it’s generally this problematic fantasy—and as a writer, I should write what I like (if I can, which is a whole other issue). But I’m conscious of how media contributes to our society, and I want our society to be better, so I don’t want to perpetuate harmful fantasies—as a writer, then, I shouldn’t indulge them.
Or I should try to make them better. And that is, I think, my ultimate goal. Can you write a wish fulfillment romance without falling into problematic tropes and patterns—but also without removing its satisfying elements? Is that even possible?
Assuming for a moment that it is possible, let’s think about how we might go about that.
I talked about making the heroine powerful in her own right—would that be possible? It would diminish a significant portion of the wish fulfillment from the beginning. What about having her gain that wealth and power independently of the romance, but still within the story? I think that could be done, but as I mentioned earlier, it might not quite be what I’m talking about.
So if we give into the idea that the wish fulfillment romance is inherently about an ordinary heroine and a powerful hero, and thus accept that dynamic, how else might we ease the problematic elements?
First, I think it might help to acknowledge the problems inherent in that set-up. Have the heroine be aware of the power imbalance, and resistant to becoming dependent on the hero. This could even be the source for conflict between them, as she resists a romantic relationship because of this disparity. However, if taking that route, beware her ‘giving in’ at the end becoming some sort of message about female inferiority (or a straw man feminist being defeated), which could sneak in thematically whether you intend it or not.
Second, give the heroine whatever power you can to compensate, at least a little. Have her be intelligent, good at her job, capable and strong. She shouldn’t be bowled over and cowed by the hero’s power—aware of it, perhaps, but not necessarily inherently attracted to it. Have the hero need her somehow, for more than just ‘emotional healing’; have him be impressed by her.
Third, resist the urge to make the hero a jerk. I wrote in an earlier post on problematic romantic tropes that there are certain qualities to the romantic alpha hero that can easily become problematic, but at their core they are a part of the fantasy. So make him protective, but not controlling; make him intelligent, but not dismissive of others or infallible; make him powerful, but not dominating.
Being aware of these issues if the first step to walking that tightrope of indulging and critiquing, so I think this might be an okay start.
Ultimately, if it’s what you truly want to write, then I think you should give it a try and block out what others might say. I’m still not sure if this exact kind of story is what I might want to write someday, but I can’t deny the allure of these stories—even when I’m extremely aware of how bad they are. That struggle between what I know and what I feel in spite of it is something that interests me; hence, all the posts about it. But just because I can revel in the cheesiness of these stories as a cringing reader doesn’t mean I actually want to write them myself.
But if I did ever dive into that urge, I think I would start here. Minimum damage, right? Now that is scary. 🙂 Happy Halloween!