Over the last I’m not sure how many years, I’ve noticed a shift in violence in books. I tend to read romantic suspense, paranormal romance, and all fantasy, plus some other stuff. What I’ve noticed is a growing comfort with violence. Or maybe comfort is the wrong word. But violence is depicted, often graphically (I tend to write gritty/graphic sorts of scenes in a number of my books). But there’s another thing that the title of this post is about. And that’s the violence of and in romance.
It seems to me that in former times, violence was perceived as a weakness. Virile men overcame their violent tendencies and only unhinged or evil women were violent. Now it’s quite different. There’s an understanding that in reality, violence happens and not only that, you may be required to do violence to someone else. The difference between the good and the bad guys tends to revolve around whether the person being attacked is deserving of violence.
I’ve also noticed that violence in male heroes is often used to depict the depth of their emotional engagement and the level of passion they feel. It might be a protective instinct; it might be revenge. The key thing is that instead of overcoming the violence, giving in to it seems to now be a positive hallmark of a male character, so long as he’s also kind, loving, generous, and so on to the love interest. (Keeping in mind that there are male heroes who aren’t so kind or loving or generous, but that means they are either super alpha and have other sympathetic qualities, or they are broken/damaged and will grow and develop positively as the story moves toward the end).
With women, violence has become acceptable and even celebrated. Much like with male heroes, female heroes who are violent are perceived as strong, passionate, determined, and self-sacrificing–they put their lives on the line for others, they take risks for others, they damage their souls for others. Now obvious there are major exceptions in terms of timing Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley are two big obvious exceptions. But I’m talking more about the general spread of this sort of violence and character building across the board in books, TV, and movies.
For both men and women, the violence must be directed toward deserving parties, and there must be a positive emotional center that prompts the violence–again this might be the urge to protect, to get revenge, or something else along those lines. Otherwise, the characters are just psychopathic assholes, making them enemies.
I’ve been trying to postulate just exactly why violence has become such a key ingredient to a great deal of characterization and plot. I think on some level it’s because reality has more violence–from terror attacks, to wars, to road rage, and so on. I also think that we see a lot of terrible things happening in the world that a single person or several could change or stop if only they stepped in. The guys on the train in France. The guys in Portland stepping up against a racist killer to protect two teenage girls. There’s a sense of what if I was in this situation–would I/could I kill someone to save innocent lives? Or would I fold and let it keep happening?
We have a great deal of respect and a certain romance going on with the idea of the lone wolf hero–or lone wolves– who are few but determined and capable and willing to do whatever’s necessary to defeat evil. Part of the romance is that a single person in the right place at the right time and willing to commit violence can make a difference in saving lives.
I see a strong element of aggression/determination inherent in the heroic violence. That this person will not be deterred, will not be distracted. This person will get the job done no matter what. This is part of the sense of strength and passion in the character that the violence helps to establish.
I know the subject is a lot more complex than I’ve said it. I’m curious what your thoughts are and whether you see things differently. I’m also curious if you see it as a romance type of trope also.