I get asked this question often: what is Dark Romance, really? Depending on who you ask, you'll get a variety of answers. Your tastes may vary, but this is what Dark Romance is to me.
I write all shades of romance books, from dark to light and frothy. But there's a good reason I enjoy the darker corners.
1. Dark Romance is a form of Gothic Romance
It is a blend of the Romance and Horror genres. Both of these genres are written to elicit strong emotions. They excite the mind in very different ways, but produce a similar sense of satisfaction in their conclusion.
In either finding true love, or overcoming a horrible set of circumstances, there is a sense of relief and joy for the characters and the reader.
By the way, the paranormal dark romance I'm working on right now is the most Gothic book I've written yet—very Evanescence.
2. Dark Romance explores dark themes and features flawed characters.
I would describe characters in Dark Romance books as the broken, the breaking, and the doomed. Their flawed perspective is shaped by their life experience. These characters are relatable because of their imperfections. We may not share their experiences, and we many not agree with some of their points of view, but we are interested in learning how they overcome the darkness.
The Dark Romance story revolves around how love changes their lives for the better, resulting in a HEA (happily ever after).
3. Dark Romance will include triggers for pain, abuse, criminality—including negative and even reproachable behavior.
Because Dark Romance explores some unpleasant corners of life, and tells the story of people who are experiencing (or have experienced) trauma, these books will include elements that might trigger some readers. I might be able to read (or write) a book that features some violent acts but not be triggered by it. Another reader will read the same thing and find it triggering.
We are still coming to an understanding on what constitutes an adequate trigger warning, but I believe it is important to include trigger warnings.
I see a lot of dialogue on this online and I believe that romance authors are eager to get it right. One of the challenges for authors is in knowing how to identify all the content elements which might be triggering to individual readers and then communicate that in the short space available for a blurb. I try to overcome that limitation by offering more details on the possible triggers in my books on my website.
I believe the best thing is to remember that Dark Romance books are often at least the equivalent of a Rated R horror movie and in some cases a Rated X film with gruesome horror elements. No one under the age of 18 should read these books. That is not my target reader when I write—I write adult romances.
Take the trigger warnings for my books seriously. As an author, I don't want to hurt my readers. If you are concerned that a book might be too triggering, then don't buy or read it. After all, even with these dark themes the book is meant to be a form of entertainment.
For example, in Sinning with the Jerk, Jerks of Miami Book Two, I deal with the horrors of human trafficking and include characters who are utterly despicable, committing callous acts of violence. I do not glorify, soften or try to gloss over the terrible nature of these acts. As a result, it can be a raw and difficult book to read for some. It may seem too dehumanizing. But, again, that is the setting. The criminals involved in this trade are immoral and inhumane. They are also defeated. The story doesn't revolve around them. It is the story of the people who vanquish them. But for some readers, that content, regardless of how it is resolved or framed, can be triggering. If you're unsure, skip this one. Read one of my other lighter books instead. I recommend the romance comedy Temping for the Jerk, Jerks of Miami Book Three.
4. Dark Romance heroes are sometimes anti-heroes, characters who, on the surface, seem irredeemable, hateful or even evil.
It's one thing to have evil antagonists in a story, and another to have heroes who do things that seem wrong, twisted, or evil. That is another feature of Dark Romance books—they may include anti-heroes.
For example, in The Unkindness, Charlie "Cailean" Green is a warrior—a former U.S. special forces Army Ranger who runs a private defence firm. He is a killer, and he accepts and embraces that side of himself. It makes him a hard man who does some shocking things, but Charlie is not a one dimensional being. He has redeeming qualities which allow him to evolve during our story and find true love. His love interest Sandy Fine has suffered a terrible trauma (trigger warning for victims of sexual assault), together they get justice and heal.
5. Ultimately, Dark Romance is a story of redemption and a story of hope.
Dark Romance is about how characters survive dark places and dark deeds, how the experience changes them, and how love helps our characters overcome their trauma. That is part of the appeal to me. It's the same reason that I really enjoy the horror genre. Looking evil in the eye, and not succumbing to it, can be a very satisfying story.
That is what Dark Romance is to me. It may not apply universally and your preferences may vary but that's what you'll find in my books.
What is appealing about Dark Romance to you? Tell me in the comments!