If you want to learn how to write dark romance, you’re probably embarking on an interesting career. This genre is specifically unique because of its overall tone and themes.
But just putting death in your romance won’t make it “dark”. There are certain elements to hit on if you want to attract the very wide and eager audience of dark romance novels.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about writing a dark romance novel, and then some.
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What is the dark romance genre?
Dark romance is a genre that combines the intensity of romance with the allure of darkness. It delves into the depths of human emotions, exploring the complexities of love and desire in unconventional ways.
Most dark romance also contains content typically considered taboo by society, including stalking, kidnapping, BDSM, punishment, and other relationship situations.
Why Readers of Dark Romance Novels Love it So Much
Readers are drawn to dark romance for its emotional intensity, taboo themes, complex characters, escapism, sensuality, exploration of power dynamics, unique stories, and cathartic experience. It provides a compelling and emotionally charged reading experience for those who enjoy exploring the darker aspects of human nature and relationships in a safe and fictional context.
Dark romance also gives its readers permission to be into the content of dark romance without the guilt or shame often present in other places within our society.
Knowing the why of readers’ love for a genre will always help you write a better book. Don’t ignore the elements they love most!
Warning About Warnings for Writing Dark Romance
Dark romance contains, well, dark themes. For that reason, you do want to add a content warning (also known as trigger warning) for people who might not recognize that your book is dark romance, or what type it is.
Here’s an example of a content warning for the dark romance book, Until I Get You:
We also advise you to put the content warnings in the description of your book when self-publishing on Amazon for 2 reasons.
- It’s more visible to potential readers, so you’re not making them take another step to open the book (via the “look inside” feature) that could contain triggers for them.
- They can also serve as keywords to help people who are actively searching for those triggers because they find them desirable in their dark romance reads.
How to Write Dark Romance That Lures More Readers
Dark romance is a popular and rapidly growing book genre worth getting into if it’s your schtick. Readers of dark romance rarely take a “break” from this genre and are avid readers via kindle unlimited specifically (to obscure the book cover).
If you want to learn how to write great dark romance, here’s how.
1. Embrace the Taboo
Taboo or controversial elements and themes, like forbidden love, obsession, betrayal, and manipulation, are common in the dark romance book genre. Embrace them! It’s not often the faint of heart that take to writing this genre, so you should be willing to push the boundaries of societal norms.
But it's essential to handle these themes with sensitivity and respect, ensuring that you do not promote harmful behaviors or perpetuate toxic relationships. To make sure you’re not, you can hire a sensitivity reader or make sure your professional book editor considers these in their edits.
Example of using taboos in dark romance:
In the book “Dark Lover” by J.R. Ward, the main character falls in love with a vampire, which is considered taboo in the human world. Their love is forbidden and faces numerous obstacles, including societal prejudice and internal struggles, making the romance dark and intense.
2. Create Complex Characters
Dark romance thrives on complex characters who are flawed, multi-dimensional, and emotionally charged. It’s what makes for the dark content in the first place.
Your character development has to be strong. Create characters with layers and depth, delving into their motivations, desires, and struggles. Your protagonists should not be perfect, but rather have their own darkness and inner demons that drive their actions and decisions.
This also means your character arc is vital in dark romance. But keep in mind that you don’t want your character to necessarily “outgrow” the taboo or dark elements, as if they’re wrong. The point of dark romance is that these elements are the norm for these people.
They can outrun their demons, but those demons don’t have to be the fact that they’re into BDSM (this audience in particular will not take kindly to the idea that BDSM is something to outgrow).
Example of complex characters in dark romance:
In the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series by E.L. James, Christian Grey is a wealthy and successful businessman with a dark past and a penchant for BDSM. He is deeply flawed and haunted by his traumatic childhood, which makes him complex and intriguing as a romantic lead in this dark romance.
3. Develop Tension and Conflict
You’ll also want to get really good at creating tension and conflict in your writing. Pacing helps with this a lot, but the tension has to come from plot devices as well.
This genre especially uses the story’s conflict to create a sense of urgency and passion. You can do this for your book by including external obstacles like societal norms, family opposition, or internal struggles like emotional trauma, self-doubt, and conflicting desires.
The push-and-pull dynamic between the protagonists heightens the emotional stakes and adds depth to the romance.
Example of good tension and conflict in dark romance:
In “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte, Heathcliff and Catherine's love is marred by class differences, revenge, and unrequited desires. Their tumultuous relationship is fraught with conflict, both internal and external, which intensifies the dark and passionate nature of their romance.
4. Remember the Atmospheric Setting
The setting plays a significant role in creating the mood and tone of a dark romance. Choose a setting that enhances the dark and brooding atmosphere of the story. It can be a decaying mansion, a haunted castle, or a forbidden island, evoking a sense of foreboding and mystery.
And on the flip side, if you really want a challenge or to swing the other way, choose a setting like the beach or a ski retreat to set the story. You’ll have to work extra hard to set the tone but the jarring nature of the story with a bright, happy setting can make your book more interesting.
Example of atmosphere for dark romance:
“The Black Dagger Brotherhood” series by J.R. Ward is set in a dark, urban fantasy world where vampires fight against evil forces. The atmospheric setting of a hidden vampire society with its own rules and rituals adds to the dark and alluring nature of the romance between the characters.
5. Explore Emotional Depths
Emotional intensity—delving into the deep emotions of love, lust, desire, and pain—is a primary part of dark romance novels. Capture the raw and visceral emotions of your characters as they navigate their complicated relationship. Dive into their emotional struggles, vulnerabilities, and insecurities to create a compelling and emotionally resonant story.
The deeper you can go, and the darker, the more invested a reader will be in your character. Again, just make sure to include any content warnings for the various, dark places you’ll go.
Example of emotional depths:
In the novel “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson, the central relationship between Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander is a dark romance that explores emotional depths. Mikael is a journalist who is investigating a decades-old murder case, and Lisbeth is a young woman with a troubled past who helps him with his investigation. The emotional depths of this dark romance explore themes of trust, trauma, redemption, and the search for justice. It shows how two damaged individuals can find solace in each other, despite their struggles with the world around them.
6. Make the Plot Purposeful
Yes, there are dark romance books out there that are more smut than plot. While some readers consume this, others actually want a good story to go along with their dark romance read.
It’s not just about the romance. And that’s what you should remember if you want to learn how to write a dark romance novel. Romance is only half of the plot, but that also means your main plot does have to incorporate those darker elements.
To maintain the tone and genre style, focus on plots that explore themes that either go with or completely contradict the romantic content you write about.
For examples of this one, search for dark romance on Amazon and take a look at the highest rated books. Most often, those are popular because they also contain a good plot.
More Tips for Writing a Dark Romance Book Readers Can’t Put Down
The above tips will definitely help you learn how to write dark romance, but these will take it to the next level altogether.
- Use vivid, sensory language: Dark romance is an emotionally charged genre, and you can use vivid, sensory language to bring your readers into the world of your story. Use descriptive language to create a mood and atmosphere that complements the emotions of your characters.
- Balance darkness with light: While dark romance is all about exploring the darker side of human nature, it's important to balance the darkness with moments of lightness and hope. This can make your story more relatable and help your readers connect with your characters on a deeper level.
- Pay attention to pacing: Dark romances can be emotionally intense, and it's important to pay attention to pacing to keep your readers engaged. Make sure that your story has a good balance of action, introspection, and emotional moments to keep things moving forward.
- Get beta feedback: Beta readers are a great way to get initial feedback on your book and story. These are readers who consume your book when it’s “done” to the best of your ability, but before hiring a professional editor. They’ll read chunks of your book at a time and respond to questions you give them. This ultimately helps you understand how brand new readers will understand your books, and you’ll often find opportunities for big edits to adjust clarity.
- Read an array of popular dark romance novels: By doing this, we’re not suggesting that you copy these authors, but rather that you learn what it is about those books makes them so popular. Writing in a genre requires an overall understanding of what makes that genre work in the first place and one of the best ways to do that is to read it for yourself!
Over time, you’ll understand how to write dark romance better. Skill takes practice, and in this case, practice means getting your book done! Write, revise, learn, write again.