I’m no stranger to race, much less racial issues in interracial romance stories. I even wrote a post about why I have no hangups about writing about interracial love.
But how much is too much, when it comes to race and romance in ebooks? And what are some overdone turkeys that need to go the way of the Dodo? As a member of a few groups that discuss interracial romance with readers, I’m learning a lot from some seriously sophisticated readers.
Gone are the days when miscegenation in fiction was enough of a novelty to guarantee a boost in sales. We (and I count myself in here) need to step up our game and meet the readers at their level and stop tripping over tropes. Here are some thoughts:
Interracial Romance Tropes That Readers Find Annoying
Why Authors Need to Find Better Race/Romance Conversations
I don’t consider myself an interracial romance author but I’ve written them. These are based on my experiences and some deep conversations had with friends over some jerk chicken wings, shrimp, mac-n-cheese, cheesecake, and wine, in whatever order we pleased. Believe me, you get a bunch of women of color together with food and booze and we’ll talk about EVERYTHING!
Growing up in the U.S., I understood some of the history of race and how it could color romantic relationships from a few different perspectives. After all, Jim Crow didn’t get abolished until, the 1960’s, a century after slavery. As a result, this is still a fresh wound for more than a few of the older generation. I touch up on this in Unchained Hearts as well as Book 4 of the Baxter Family Saga.
There’s a good amount of documentation regarding miscegenation during that time and one of the Landmark events was the case of Loving vs Virginia, which was made into a couple of movies.
What readers of interracial romance are saying is that some authors are continuously playing to stereotypes or to old and tired conversations and interactions that are dragging down the genre. It’s making IRR seem like a bad caricature. This makes it tough for newer authors to break in because if the audience no longer trusts the stories, it doesn’t matter how well we tell it, getting true fans can be a Sisyphean task.
Tropes that Need to Be Redone
Making race the heavy
Basically the relationship is all about their races. That’s the reason they’re together. That’s the reason they break up. That’s the reason they screw like bunnies. You get my point, right? It’s not that it’s not an issue. It’s that it seems to be the only issue and that comes off as one-dimensional.
Not mentioning ‘it’ at all
This isn’t to say that it’s some “transracial” experience but if it’s an interracial story, to not mention the race of the characters is something that can irk die-hard IRR readers. It smacks of either fear or ignorance on the part of the author or some combination of both.
Un(der)developed love stories
This goes with the first annoyance. This means that the characters are thrown together because they’re the protagonists. That’s it. Then there are the rushes to romance that don’t get a chance to find their own footing. I’ve seen IRR readers lament that they wished to feel the characters’ chemistry so much more than it was presented.
Relative of the PoC is against the romance
This can get complicated because while it’s a valid plot, it’s gotten trope-y. I know because I have this subject addressed in Devereaux Cox and well, so far, so good from those who have read it. But I get where some readers are coming from. Sure, your main CoC (character of color) could have someone in the family who hates the relationship. I think where it becomes a turn-off is the reason why they hate it. Is it that typical “s/he is white and it’s a betrayal of your family history” conversation? Stick a fork in this one.
Men don’t defend well or at all
This is a particular sore spot for interracial romance readers. This is a situation where a former lover or someone comes and insults or patronizes the love interest/character of color. What does the non-CoC in the relationship do? Nothing, or something but not fast enough. It’s as if he’s (and I say he because a majority of readers were reading bwwm IRR) stunned mute or doesn’t respond fast enough. Really? A bit of loyalty or backbone isn’t warranted?
Using race as a gaslighting mechanism
Gaslighting in relationships is a form of emotional abuse. In this case, the CoC’s race is being used as a tool to undermine the character and make him or her doubt their abilities and senses of self. Again, a viable plot IF done well, but that’s not the case in too many circumstances.
- Imagine growing up black in the southern US, which can be a racial quagmire. Then you have a white partner who tells you that it couldn’t have been that bad, you’re exaggerating. It’s a touchy subject because it’s unfortunately an everyday reality in many instances and some IRR readers just don’t see how a relationship would survive this behavior.
Looking at this list, some wonder, well, what the hell am I supposed to write about?
Taking a Different Perspective
These subjects aren’t off the table. They can’t be because these are a part of the relationships of many interracial couples. What IS off the table is the stereotypical ways they’re written about or in some cases NOT. Glossing over something because it’s inconvenient to discuss is usually my clue that I need to write about it.
Some people call it “the Lion’s den” but I figure if I’m scared to write it, why am I writing? Unless I’m writing horror, fear has no place in my ability to write about certain subjects. Sure, I can be nervous about getting the story right but not about writing it to begin with. I guess I’m one of those who think writers should be fearless.
Now more than ever because it’s the 21st century. This means you have the opportunity for contextualizing these tropes in a way that weaves a good story. Research is essential and a little easier to access these days. It’s necessary when you’re dealing with sensitive topics, even if you have a personal connection to the community.
In looking at this list, though, I do see some basic ideas all writers need to be mindful of anyway:
Interracial love story is still just a story
Yes, the characters will face certain issues because of their skin color but there has to be more than that happening. There’s drama, intrigue, hot or sweet love. The arches we would have any other story pass through applies to interracial romances too. A good story is a good story and really, that’s the bottom line for anything, I’d say.
Relationships aren’t just about one thing
How many relationships hinge on what one partner does or doesn’t wear to bed? Or how they eat a sandwich? Sounds trivial, right? No relationship is about any one thing so to have a relationship that’s all about the race of one or both people is a recipe for a story that’ll disappoint. Anyone who’s lived to a certain age knows that relationships are beyond any dimension we can think of sometimes.
If writing this story is easy, you’re probably troping and need some research
I’m all about have a story that flows out of me like honey. It’s happened a couple of times, but writing was easy neither of those times. The story was there, I could feel it so strongly but getting the emotions to match what I felt was tough. Finding the right words, was tough. Getting the characters to have that conversation was tough but it needed to happen or it wouldn’t work the way I needed it to work.
If you’re not feeling some kind of friction, chances are your characters aren’t having a meaningful experience. Do some research, check out forums or groups that discuss issues in IRR and learn. You can find some meaningful insights on Quora, for example. People are never more raw as when they’re posting as ‘Anonymous.’
Some IRR readers are Just Lost
Even if you have the best story, with the plot that’s tight, and the kind of deep, meaningful dialog that gets readers, especially Interracial romance readers, to love your book, some readers still won’t read it.
And that’s okay.
Some IRR readers are over it and there’s nothing that can bring them back.
That’s the bad news but there’s good news: There are still plenty more to meet. Diversity in the romance genre is still growing (read that as still underrepresented). That means there’s a market that recognizes this genre but is more sophisticated and discriminating so you have to just do your best.
We all need to make sure we’re putting out the best stories we can especially when it comes to interracial romances because readers. Want. More. They want better. They want meaningfulness. It’s that simple and that complicated.
In my research, I found a few interracial romance books that readers thought were pretty good in terms of story and conversation.
Check them out and share your opinions on if you agree OR if you have other books to add!
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