What is Dark Romance?

Recently I had an opportunity to attend a seminar given by authors Skye Warren and Annika Martin on this subject.  This was the first I’d ever heard of the genre.  I bought the conference recordings and listened, then re-listened to their talk, and I boy did I take notes.  I also took an online class given by Jill Sorenson on Motorcycle Club Heroes. Although it’s a slightly different genre, it has some similar elements.

Bellow is a summary of what I learned:


Elements of Dark Romance

I. Anti-Hero – He’s the hero, but he lacks morality, idealism, or other qualities we typically define as heroic. He’s The Hound, Jamie Lannister, Tony Soprano, and all those other bad-guys you secretly love.

II. Codes of Honor.  The anti-hero is not without honor. He has a separate set of ethics (like a motorcycle club code). This is a code of honor that’s apart of what society accepts as normal or acceptable.  He’ll go to his death to uphold his specific sense of honor. In the alternative, he could break this code out of love for the heroine.

III. Contains Elements of Consent and Power, or Power Imbalance. This genre explores power differentials between the hero and heroine, most of the time in the hero’s favor.  It explores the psychological ramifications of exploiting that power. With regard to sex, in the real world no means no.  Drunk or drugged means no.  Blackmail?  No. These stories push that consent line, often including dubious consent in ways that would never be allowed or tolerated in the real world.  Although many dark romances are filled with erotica (yay!), the power differentials don’t even have to be about sex. Whatever the scene, it must be clear that the hero is the one in control. (Ex:  It’s winter, there’s no car, and the guy takes the girl’s shoes so she can’t go anywhere).

IV. Taboo and Wrongness (captivity, crime). How far do these stories go?  First and foremost, the writer’s duty is to the character. Who is she? Why is he doing this?  A dark romance author never does things halfway. Instead, they embrace completely what the character would do, how they’re feeling, and the real humanity/honesty of their actions and perceptions. You can pretty much expect these characters to do anything short of hurting children, old people, or animals.

V.  Redemption  At the beginning of the story the heroine loses her power (she may already have been poor and/or victimized, or she’ll become dis-empowered by the hero), but as she journeys through the story she becomes empowered. She gains confidence, or she fights – she transforms into her essence near the completion of the story.  It is here where the power between the hero and heroine finally equals out, and it is imperative that the hero voluntarily gives up this power, or the balance won’t be real.   Youmight see this happen several ways:

  • The hero lets her go, or she walks away, only to return of her own free will for the HEA;
  • There can be a sincere apology and/or groveling and/or proof of change from the hero;
  • You can have the person we saw as a scary predator in the beginning of the book turn into a protector.

VI . Things to consider: You might find that the anti-hero gives up his anti-hero ways.  In the alternative, he might remain an anti-hero and continue living on the fringes of society, and if he does that, this means the heroine has to do that also.  Whichever, you will find that in dark romance, the ending is true to the characters and they will find their own happily ever after.

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