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My love-hate relationship with romance novels

"But Lindsay, you write romance novels. You can't hate them!"

I kinda do. Let me elaborate.

There are different kinds of romance novels. Here are three of them.

  1. There are the kinds with really good stories that make you love the characters and fall in love with them. You could have the spice or not, but they'd still be good stories. That's a romance novel.

  2. There are the kinds that are mostly sex, where the plot is a vehicle for the sex. That's erotica.

  3. Then there's this weird in-between where the story would not be as good without the spice, but the story is still really important and it is still technically a romance novel.

I love the first one. Those first ones tend to be the most excellent, because the plot and the characters matter more than the sex. For me personally, there is a time and a place for the second and third.

But I'll tell you what I hate. I hate it when sex is what makes the relationship and the plot work.

Now I'm not saying I hate it when there's sex and it helps carry the story along. I mean, I wrote Love in the Time of Covid. That's sixty pages of smut. What I hate is when two character's entire relationship is built on sex. They have nothing but sex tying them together.

I've read so many of these. Sometimes you don't even notice you've read it until afterwards and you think about it and realize that it's literally just sex pretending to be a romance novel. If it's just erotica, okay, fine! I don't care! Have at it! But don't mistake it or make it look like a soul-shattering romance when it's not.

Some examples of this:

  • Characters who fight all the time but stop fighting once they start sleeping together

  • Characters who have sex every time they have an issue come up in their relationship, and all is forgiven and is suddenly okay

  • Characters who have been through traumatic situations but having sex with this person will fix all that

  • When one character starts to "change" another, but the only thing that has happened is sex scenes, no real communication or working through issues

That's the shit that pisses me off. I'll give a few examples.

I read Dark Torment by Cassie Hargrove. The tension was built beautifully, the plot was solid, and the potential was high. The FMC finds out the MMC is a serial killer and is totally unphased and okay with it, and immediately sleeps with him. Nope, honey, no. You'd at least have a day or two where all that sexual tension is masked by discomfort and fear, before you made the decision to screw. Let alone the switch from a sweet innocent girl to several chapters later screwing covered in your brother's blood.

Then there's The Dragons' Bride by Katee Robert. I loved this book up until the first sex scene. Holy eggplants, such a good story, so much potential, so much tension built. So much character development! But she's just come out of a highly traumatic experience (physically and sexually) and suddenly the only thing she cares about is screwing the monster.

Now I get it. Everyone processes trauma differently. But making your character's reactions realistic is important if you're going to make people care about them. And if they're going to react that way, they should have a reason. Hence, Audrey Rush's Crawl.

Crawl was about a serial killer who stalks and falls in love with a girl, and intends to pin his crimes on her. He ends up falling in love with her instead. There is a lot of graphic, violent, disturbing, edgy sex, but it fits with both of their characters. Of course he puts a noose around her neck and makes her crawl in a parking lot until her knees bleed. Of course he locks her in a cage. Of course he makes her kill her abusive stepdad and then screws her covered in his blood. And yes, of course she gets off on it. It works because the characters have been developed that their reactions make sense with who they are.

This is not meant to bash the above authors. I enjoyed both of the books I mentioned. They are simply examples that came to mind when I decided to write this article.

So what is it that pisses me off about romance novels?

Characters who don't make sense. Undeveloped, nonrealistic characters who do things that don't make sense based on how they've been developed so far, or who are simply shells of people placeholders used to tell a story.

Thank you for coming to my rant. That is all, goodbye.

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