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Writing “those” scenes in the age of #metoo

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Never has writing romance been more of a balancing act than it is now, at least if you want to be sensitive to the #metoo movement and yet still satisfy your readers’ cravings for romantic escapism. Let’s face it, first of all, the day of the alpha hero who demands what he wants from a simpering heroine is—or at least should be—over. Flirting that goes too far is also dangerous ground. And writing one of those scenes—sex, that is—well, that’s harder than ever, and writing good ones has never been easy.

If you take all that away from romance, you don’t have much left—though I admit I wave a cheerful good-bye to the alpha hero. But the rest? What is romance without anticipation, flirting, and, ultimately—because we are human—sex? At our cores, we are animals looking for a mate, and that’s what the whole romance genre is based on.

I struggled with this for a long time. I want to believe I’m a liberated liberal woman, but I believe in love and romance. I believe in the value of finding your soul mate and building a life together. The #metoo movement and the ugly stories I heard about things that have happened to women seeking that same thing made me rethink myself. I looked back at my past work and found a number of mistakes and missteps. How could I call myself a feminist if I wrote this?

I put away one work-in-progress without writing that scene for a few weeks, went back and wrote a very bad, almost robotic one with no feeling in it, and finally, a couple of weeks ago, did what I should have done in the first place. I examined my characters’ motivations, especially the heroine’s. Why did she want to have sex at this particular time, with this particular person? I knew she was going to leave him right after, so why did she decide on him in the first place? Once I had the answers, I wrote probably the best one of “those” scenes I’ve ever written.

My point, I suppose, is that romance is a genre in flux right now. I believe you’ll see fewer alpha heroes making demands and fewer simpering victim heroines. If authors of romance are willing to make a change, I think the genre has an opportunity to make an impact—to take us all on a journey away from the #metoo movement to a world where women and their partners can create a world that is safer for our daughters. And isn’t that a world worth escaping to?

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