A couple of weeks ago, there was a discussion about rape and rape fantasy at the popular readers' website Dear Author based around a thoughtfully written Opinion Letter by "Reader A." I began to read this reader's post with great interest, being fascinated myself with the politics of force, rape, and dubious consent in romantic books. Shortly into her piece, she admits that, even as someone who enjoys rape fantasy, she had read one erotica scene that left her chilled. I was thinking to myself, hmm. Wonder what scene that was?
A paragraph later she reveals that the scene in question was in Mercy, a book written by me.
I had a horror flush reaction. My heart raced and my blood thumped in my ears to see my book and my name written there on the screen. This kind reader went on to say that she didn't have a problem with the rest of the book--just this one particular scene. That comforted me (and made me very curious about what scene she was talking about.)
It got me thinking about writing "the cringy things." Do we? Don't we? Should we? Shouldn't we? As authors, we have all been chided in reviews or critiques for having our characters do things or think things that readers disapprove of. I was scolded on an author's board and in a Dear Author discussion a couple years ago, regarding my Dom Jeremy and his behavior in Comfort Object. But, in a recent poll on my site, readers voted him the #1 winner in a "Battle of the Doms." Matthew, the Dom in Mercy, gave Reader A and surely many more readers uncomfortable and angry feelings. Nonetheless, Mercy is by far my bestselling book and has been so for many months now.
So what is a writer to do? To be honest, I don't have much control over those cringy moments. My characters seem to create them on their own when I'm trying to portray these complex power exchange relationships. BDSM is not always pretty. Wait, strike that. BDSM is sometimes horrifyingly ugly, just like any other intense emotional relationship. But I also know there is a large readership that is attracted to that "warts-and-all" view, even in romance.
And the why of why I don't edit those moments out...or rewrite them to be more palatable... I suppose that is the privilege of being the writer and not the reader. If the scene is in there, I feel it belongs there, issues of romance, feminism, and fantasy aside. Of course, I apologize to readers like Reader A, who may find my cringy-er scenes disturbing or distasteful. But whenever I write something cringy into a plot, it's never because I have some rape- or anti-woman agenda, or because I wish to disturb my readers.
I think it's just because real life is cringy sometimes... Men and women do make mistakes and hurt each other in the pursuit of love and happily ever after. To feel intensely and to love intensely is also to risk erring intensely. But the wonderful thing about romance is that we can watch our H/h redeem themselves and come out on the other side stronger than they were before.
How do you feel about rough, cringy scenes in your romance novels? Want? Don't want? Want only under certain conditions?