Monday, April 15, 2013

How Tough Is Too Tough For A Romance Novel?

"A black pool opened up at my feet. I dived in. It had no bottom" -Dick Powell, Farewell, My Lovely 

Romance is not traditionally known as a "gritty" genre.

In one of the first reviews I received for All That Glitters, the reviewer commented on how I had the villain take a life.  She wasn't put off by this- in fact, I got the impression she saw it as a plus- but the fact that she mentioned it at all was telling.

Vivid descriptions of violence or brutality used to be reserved for, well, every genre but romance.  Romance was where you came for the warm fuzzies, the champagne bubbles, the Happily Ever After.  Too much grit was deemed inappropriate.

But romance is changing.  All the genres are.  Self-publishing, especially, has broken, reformed, and broken all the rules again.  Authors have more leeway to write the books they want to write, and readers have access to stories that previously never made it past the editorial board.

So in a literary world where there are no hard-and-fast rules, how do you know when you've crossed a line?

There seem to be different standards for different romance subgenres.  Romantic suspense, for example, can get away with more violence than contemporary romance.  In dystopian romance, violence is almost required.  Inspirational romance allows for nearly none.

Personally, I'm playing things by ear.  My story ideas lend themselves to a higher level of violence, so I go with it.  So far, the response has been positive.  I think romance readers are ready for more "toughness" in the genre.

And finally, writers are in a position to deliver.


  1. Hi, Laura! Most of my early romance novels centered around the American Civil War and war is gritty and violent. I've gotten some very good reviews, but sales kind of slacked, so in my next books, I moved ahead to after the war years. But I still include some sort of violence, usually perpetrated by the villain, and realism concerning the time period, in each story. Not sure what would work in contemporary, though--the next genre I'd like to try.

    1. Oh my gosh! Sorry for the delay in responding. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Susan: I love historical romance. After trying my hand at it, I'm now convinced anyone who writes it is one powerful magician!

      From my experience, the core of violence is pretty much the same whether you write historical or contemporary. The semantics of violence might change, but people and their core motivations generally don't.

  2. I agree. I have written one contemporary romance the "expected way" but my second is a bit more violent. My main character is darker than usual. I think romance has changed, has become more real. Most relationships aren't all flowers and butterflies.

    1. Linda: Word, lady! I think a lot of readers are drawn to darker characters in romances now- at least, I am. It's refreshing for a romance writer: now we can write characters we may have been drawn towards all along...

  3. Hi! Terrific topic! I think like anything, it depends on the story, but I think we're definitely relaxing. I'm normally a reserved kind of person, I write on the sweet side, but in my last novel (currently sitting with my editor awaiting a yay or a nay), I allowed myself to get a bit darker with it. I personally like when a novel's real. Like Linda said, real love isn't always "hearts and flowers" (to blatantly quote a line from FSoG).

    1. Joanne: Kudos for giving yourself permission to go darker! It's an incredibly brave thing to do, writing outside your comfort zone in the interests of being true to your characters!


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