Every damn time I see an essay about the romance genre come from outlets which are not primarily focused on romance this is what immediately pops into my head. Because, inevitably, it does not end well.
Let’s agree on some things before I get going: yeah, there are romances with domineering asshole male heroes. There are romances that are, at best, dubious on the subject of consent (response). And yet: this doesn’t mean the entire genre is doomed, doomed, doomed.
But you know what? If you’re going to write an essay about romance and you’re not a regular romance reader, here are a few tips:
- Find a book published in the last five years to read. Better yet: ask someone who regularly reads romance to make you some recommendations. And even better than that: read more than one and read diversely! So many sub-genres and authors to explore! If it’s not your thing, it’s not your thing but don’t go into this venture with a priori assumptions about what you’re going to find in Romancelandia.
- Go find the online romance communities. There are lots. Read their archives and see if the subject you want to write about has been discussed. Chances are super-good that it has been–and exhaustively. This is a great place for you to start your research into the ~mysterious~ appeal of these books.
- When you write your article, if it is actually about something else–like, say, rape culture or domineering asshole male heroes (neither of which originated within the romance genre!)–don’t use romance as your framing device. Your issue is not with romance! It is with rape culture or domineering asshole male heroes!
- A corollary to this is that it’s totally okay to write your way into your essay and sometimes that process means your subject will often change a bit. This is fine! It happens! But when it does, you need to revisit your essay’s structure to make sure it still works.
- If only one of your six examples can be defined as romance or romance-adjacent, you may also need to re-evaluate your premise that romance novels aren’t your thing and that stories with a particular plot or character element aren’t your thing. This is also fine!
- Don’t publish it anywhere near Valentine’s Day. For the love of all that is holy, wait until March.
- If you do screw up and your disdain for an entire genre and its readers–who are not a monolith, who are not just passive consumers (and the fact that you think they are is also insulting and offensive)–comes through, apologize. Without qualification and without implying that the people who are upset are somehow wrong for being upset.
A few other things. If your title implies that you’re going to do a deep dive into how and why tropes work and appeal to readers and viewers, then do that. What I read this morning wasn’t any sort of analysis of how or why the domineering asshole male hero is so prevalent in books, what the appeal is, or really anything apart from the fact that some people don’t like it and believe entire genres to be tainted by the trope and therefore suitable for shitting all over.
I expected better. And that is why a lot of people are upset: we all expected better.
A book recommendation: Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. First published in 1995, it manages to both embrace and subvert the domineering asshole male hero. And it is funny, well-written, and oh so satisfying.
She dabbles in writing speculative fiction and poetry, but non-fiction is her bread and butter. She’s known for her coverage of various issues within genre around sexism and harassment, and can be found on Twitter as @eilatan.
With Annalee Flower Horne, she is a co-founder of the intersectional geek blog, The Bias.