Guest Post: Deconstructing Dark Romance by Jane Jordan

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January 26, 2017 by Jane Jordan

Exploring the darker side of human nature in fiction

What is dark romance? That was a question I was asked recently.

For me as a novelist it means a captivating romantic story that is dangerous and seductive, a tale that will lure readers with gothic tension and richly textured prose. Dark romance should tantalize the senses. It can be tragic or uplifting, but it has to explore the darker side of human nature.

Historically, dark romance has been categorized as a literary subgenre of romanticism, which was a literary and artistic movement that began in Europe in the late 18th century. The defining characteristic of romanticism was an emphasis on emotion.

Literary Romanticism ideas encouraged writing of love and a sense of individualism with a touch of the supernatural. An example of early fiction that combined romance with horror would be Wuthering Heights, even though the book is a story of love, the ghost at the window is chilling, and the dark brooding characters and moody atmosphere make it a classic 19th century gothic tale.

We often relate a gothic element to dark romance, and although the word gothic can describe the onset of European architecture from around the 12th century, it more often describes a style of literature characterized by a gloomy setting. Add to this grotesque, mysterious, or violent events, and an atmosphere of degeneration and decay, with an emphasis on the melodrama, the macabre and the morbid, all this portrays a dark side of romance.

Dark romance explores a romantic love which has a strong component of sexuality and infatuation – indicative of what we feel in the early part of a love relationship, where sexual desire can be one of the most important parts of romantic love. Human emotions hardly change no matter what century we live in, for we easily associate fiery passion with romantic love or feel the searing pain when that love is lost or betrayed. It was these same emotions that our ancestors experienced, and in turn, they inspired the writers of classic literary fiction. Those bygone writers knew that by using such potent human characteristics, both the characters and storyline becomes compelling.

Dark characters such as vampires, can enthrall a love interest because of their potent charisma. They are often portrayed as beautiful or handsome, with the ability to hypnotize and bewitch normal mortal senses. A dark romantic love will often follow. This scenario is not just for stories, it mimics deep rooted human emotions that are locked away in our psyche. Dangerous men or women have often been a good persons downfall. Are these people merely victims? Or are they just drawn to the excitement, danger or a whole array of emotions that these relationships can create?

Deep down we all know there is darkness and light in every one of us, it just depends on one’s own perspective of what is right and wrong, and the rules of morality we chose to live by.

Although, dark romantic fiction cannot be all about love. On some fundamental level, readers want to be drawn to the dark side.

Two of the strongest emotions are love and fear, and in dark romance novels we test these emotions. It is the job of a dark romance writer to create characters that are intriguing, even if they may be dangerous and often have decidedly unromantic thoughts. As a writer, I want to know what demons lurk in my character’s imaginations, what pain or injustice they have suffered to make them the dangerous individual my reader is confronted with.

The darker side of life is death, destruction, pain and psychological despair, all these basic terrors are useful for drawing out another side in human nature and fictitious characters alike. By mixing darkness with compassion and love, the strangest of unions can be created, and by exploring these deep-felt emotions, readers can be captivated with a darkly romantic novel that will delight their senses

Human nature is complicated. It is composed of a strange mixture of fear and courage, why else would we rise from the relative safety of a bedroom to go and investigate a noise in the middle of the night? How many movies have we watched, where someone walks through an old dark house knowing the journey could potentially bring them face to face with something terrifying?

But we have all done it. Our logic tells us that it’s most likely a rational noise, something completely normal. Only in fiction could that sound be something completely abnormal. A vampire or a werewolf perhaps.

In a darkly romantic story a light can be thrown on the predicament. Perhaps the character is aware that her vampire lover is waiting for her, and so fear is completely unjustified. Her love for him has overcome any residual fear, and love compels her to walk through the shadows of the night to meet him.

After all, doesn’t love conquer everything?