Dark romance is a slippery concept

Dark romance is capable of conveying elements of gritty realism within the fantasy. It communicates disturbing or troubling issues we encounter in real life. Not everyone would agree with this definition.

I’ll admit to being vague about what actually constitutes a dark romance generally. I’ve given my definition above, but I realized over Twitter that the definition can vary according to who you’re talking to.

So, I asked a few of my friends over at RWAustralia. A selection of the responses included books that featured:

  • violent kink
  • twisted with violence confused with passion
  • walking on the wild side with morally dubious characters

The responses contained a lot of variance in subject matter. Many said that they avoided this subgenre like the plague; one lady said it was her favorite subgenre. It’s definitely not a genre that all romance lovers like.

Dark romance may contain traumatic situations, but it should never glorify abuse.I agreed with many of the responses. Yes, if the book had a vampire, werewolf, or some other supernatural creature in it, I’d describe it as dark. Although some paranormal romance books are very light. However, the mere inclusion of a character that lives on human blood or changes into a werewolf (bones crunching) is morbid.

A book could be described as dark if the book includes serious themes like mental illness, discrimination, drugs, or rape. Similarly, if the hero or heroine were known killers and included some taboo topics like self-harm, I’d describe that as dark romance. Violent scenes included for the sake of it, for no other reason than to glorify abuse or drug use aren’t appealing at all. I wouldn’t read it.

Romance writing tips

Violent kink veers into a different genre altogether, separate from romance. That is fine, but that may be better described as erotic literature or even rape fantasy. This appeals to a different type of reader.

For me, the opportunity to explore serious issues within a romance is an opportunity to add further depth to the genre.

Dark romance should never glorify abuse or abusive personalities. No romance should frame abusive individuals as favorable or sexy or excused because either the hero or heroine was abused themselves. Experiencing abuse does not automatically mean that the individual will become an abuser. That is a huge stereotype. And being abused doesn’t automatically mean that the abuse should be excused and their behavior presented as favorable. Not in my opinion anyway.

So my definition of dark romance is a romance that forms between two consenting individuals, who also experience some form of trauma. Their lives aren’t pretty. Their existence is a constant struggle. It could also involve supernatural creatures. I happen to love supernatural creatures. 🙂

So what do you think? How would you describe dark romance? What kind of story would you think it was?


  • Barbara says:

    It is such a complex area.

    • Georgia Carter Mathers says:

      It certainly is a complex area, Barbara. The way people perceive dark romance is subjective. As I’ve tried to demonstrate, the label can mean many different things. Reader perceptions could also draw on subconscious beliefs surrounding what a reader thinks is ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Does dark romance depict characters that aren’t privileged and are not ‘the duke’, ‘the dom’, ‘the protector’? Probably. Could it also mean violent kink? Sure–if you’re into that kind of thing. Personally, I’m not, and I don’t think that violence during sex has any place in any romance–no matter how good or popular the author is (for some reason, the popularity of the author makes a difference). From my viewpoint, balancing the perceived realism with the perceived fantasy of the romance is interesting, but perhaps it is only interesting to me. 🙂