Writing Romance and #MeToo: 5 tips for authors

by Deirdre McCluskey, Administrative Coordinator, Harlequin Series

Romance readers, writers and editors have been talking a lot lately about power dynamics in romance fiction in the age of #MeToo. Authors want to create a world of fantasy and escape, while depicting romantic relationships that are healthy, equitable and aspirational.

In a recent article in the Boston Globe, authors discussed how they’re making consent explicit in their romance novels (the presence of a yes, not just the absence of a no) and reexamining the implications of favourite romance tropes and characters (a romantic hero pursuing the heroine when she’s already made her disinterest clear, for example.)

If this is a topic you’ve been thinking about, but aren’t sure how to apply to your writing, here are some questions to ask as you’re self-editing:

1 ∼

Are your characters well-developed and strongly motivated?

Thinking deeply about your characters’ motivations will help ensure they are fully fleshed out and relatable to your readers, and the dynamics between them handled sensitively and realistically.

2 ∼

Is there a power imbalance built into your chosen theme or romance trope?

Many tropes create natural conflict but may put the hero in a position of power. Some examples of this might be: amnesia, boss/employee, billionaire or royal hero, or law enforcement.  We love these tropes best when the hero and heroine respect each other, and one character isn’t using their power to control or influence the other.

3 ∼

What are the limitations of the point of view in your scene?

A writer can become so close to the thoughts and feelings of her characters that she forgets the other characters can’t read minds. Your heroine’s desire and consent might be clear to you, and to the reader, but is it clear to the hero too?

4 ∼

Have you read your scene aloud or acted it out?

You can do this on your own or with a critique partner, and it’s a great way to make sure the words and actions of your characters are realistic and relatable. Does your hero’s behavior seem sexy and romantic or overbearing and obnoxious? What if you were the heroine in this situation? Or your daughter, best friend, or sister?

5 ∼

What does your word choice say about the characters and their actions?

Does your hero “loom” over the heroine? Is his tone “threatening”? Has he “claimed” the heroine’s lips? These may be words you’ve absorbed uncritically from other novels, but there’s more than one reason to avoid clichés in your writing! Do you want to convey strength and confidence or intimidation and a desire to dominate? What’s the difference?

 

There’s no one way to write romance, and there are no hard and fast rules that apply to every story. Rather we encourage you to look at your work with a critical eye in order to make your work stronger—your characters more developed, your scenes more dynamic, your writing fresher and your stories more relatable.

What conversations have you been having about #MeToo and power dynamics with your critique partners and other writers? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments

  1. Thanks again Deirdre for another insightful article. As writers and consumers of romance, I think it’s important to realize how much responsibility we have to create and model healthy, respectful relationships between our H&H. It’s crucial to portray women with a strong sense of self-respect, even while they may question who they are or deal with their inner demons. Likewise, a hero (whether he’s alpha or beta) needs to understand that the woman has the first and last word when it comes to what happens to her body. A hero must be cognisant that verbal consent is a pre-requisite, but also be aware that pressure and cajolery are not acceptable when the heroine is not interested. When a woman (real or fictional) says “No”, it should be taken seriously.
    I think the #metoo movement is a turning point in our culture – one that is long overdue. As writers, it’s our social responsibility to empower women, to inspire them not only to take control of their bodies, but of their intellectual and emotional well-being. #metoo has opened to door to conversations that should have taken place long ago – that women should not have to be silent or feel that are guilty when their basic human rights have been violated.
    I really appreciate your raising this issue Deirdre. It’s a topic very close to my heart and one that I feel very strongly about. Sadly, I think the romances of the past, with their imbalance in power between the H&H, had a negative influence on what many young women thought was acceptable behaviour within a relationship. Thankfully those dynamics have changed, and it is our job as writers of romantic fiction to portray women as equal and consenting partners within a respectful (but fun and flirtatious) relationship. Let’s empower women (and men) to build healthy, strong, supportive, and mutually consenting relationships.

  2. Yvonne

    Thanks for this piece. You explained it very well. Gone are the days when writers had the hero over powered the heroine with emotion and force of will. Good riddance. Romance is not just physical, it is also cerebral.

    • Hi Brenda, think of all the experiences you’ve had and how you can enrich your writing with tidbits from all the things you’ve seen and felt. It’s never too late if you’re willing to learn. Google Betty Neels if you want some inspiration – she wrote over 130 romance novels, and kept working into her 90th year. You Go Girl!