V is for Values

Welcome back! We’re nearing the end of the annual A to Z Blog Challenge, and it’s been a very informative experience for me in many ways. When you’re done here, don’t forget to visit the other blog hop participants at https://tinyurl.com/w54yupwe!

This is not going to be a post judging people or their morals, let alone the values they write or read about in fictional worlds. To each their own. And frankly, I’d wager that 99.9% of people who might fall under the scope of some of these things do so entirely unintentionally, so there will be no bashing. If you simply don’t like what someone wrote, you’re welcome to a civil opinion, but you can also just not read the thing that offended you. That’s all I’ll say about that matter.

By questionable values, again, I don’t mean that the individuals who write or read them in books are questionable, but that the elements they enjoy reading or writing about might have unintended repercussions. Many of the tropes or “exciting” storytelling concepts seem quite innocent on the surface, but can actually be harmful.

I’m sure you know exactly what I mean, especially if I mention just one book/movie title: Twilight.

Among the issues that many people criticized were age disparities and stalking. For those of you blissfully not in the know, I’m about to ruin that joy for you. In Twilight, a 104-year-old vampire named Edward and a 17-year-old human girl named Bella fall in love. Edward is so in love and protective of his underaged girlfriend that he sneaks into her room at night (multiple times) to watch her sleep and keep her safe.

If your warning bells just starting blaring like a WW11 air raid siren, then congratulations—you’re in the very large club.

First, let’s address the age gap. Vampires usually live substantially longer than humans (or even eternally in some fiction), so you’ll often see old vampires in paranormal stories. However, with age comes experience, knowledge, and (hopefully) maturity. Even at over a hundred years old, you would be at a tremendously different stage of your like than a teenager.

Imagine a 60-year-old with a 20-year-old—these two people would likely have exceedingly little in common and would likely get frustrated with each other over various things. One is old-fashioned, having been raised in a different era with a different mindset, while the other is young, modern individual who likely has little in the way of life experience.

Does that mean that large age gaps don’t exist between people in happy relationships? Not necessarily. Every person is different, and there’s no reason to believe that sometimes a 23-year-old and a 73-year-old can’t be madly in love. But it’s certainly going to be very uncommon. In paranormal/supernatural fiction, it’s all too common for these relationships to exist.

There’s being protective as far as having/showing concern for another individual(s), and then there’s bordering on controlling and/or obsessive behavior. Edward invades Bella’s privacy, not to mention that of her father since it’s his house, because he just can’t bear to be away from her. He watches her sleep without her knowledge because he wants to be sure she’s safe.

Edward is putting his own desires first by essentially stalking Bella. She never consented before he started his Peeping Tom routine, and again, she’s a minor. The age gap and underage issue exacerbate this problem. If you’ve read the books or seen the movies, just look up red flags in relationships (here is one example) to see that these two qualify hands down for a very unhealthy relationship.

I would find it hard to believe that Stephanie Meyer (author of the Twilight series) wrote her books with malicious intent. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean these elements can’t do harm to impressionable individuals – in this particular case, mostly young women and girls. The romantic relationships portrayed in Twilight are unhealthy at best and abusive at worst, and when these harmful elements are presented in a positive light, veiled in a fantasy world, some people start to believe these represent how relationships should be. And THAT is where the true problem lies.

I propose two solutions, both of which I fully intend on using.

First, authors need to be cognizant of the potential effects their writing could have and take responsibility for it. That isn’t to say that if someone robs a bank because they read about how some fictional character did it in a story, the author bears responsibility for the person’s actions. But when it comes to young and/or impressionable individuals, I feel people have to take a little accountability.

If a relationship that would be unhealthy in the real world needs to happen n the story, then in either/both the front and the back of the book, in very clear, simple, easy-to-find places, I don’t see why there shouldn’t be disclaimers about the nature of the relationships within. In the preface is another good place. Plenty of books contain trigger warnings already, so this should be a simple thing to incorporate. A little due diligence shouldn’t be too much to ask. But that requires authors to truly think about what they’re doing.

The other way, which I plan on using a majority, if not all, of the time is to dig deeper into WHY some of these elements are so popular, then present them in a healthy way.

One issue I brought up earlier was the prevalence of broad age gaps in this genre. In my upcoming paranormal romance, Capturing the Wylde Wolf, I have a human girl (Kat) involved with a being whose species is known for extended lifetimes. My solution? The specific individual is only 22—a few years older than Kat, who is 18. Just because he has a lot more world and life experience than her because of his upbringing, doesn’t mean he has to be a lot older. So, I still provide the base element—older, wiser character teaches inexperienced, naïve character the “ways of the world” as they fall in love—without touching the huge age gap.

When breaking down why readers/viewers swooned at how “romantic” it was that Edward was so madly in love with Bella that he stalked her just to be near her and keep her safe, there are two key factors: an inexpressibly powerful love and protection.

These elements are very popular (just try searching for “alpha male” stories and you’ll see what I mean). Most people want to find a soulmate—someone with whom they connect at every level, forming a love bond that can’t be broken. That’s why romance is always a top genre. In reality, love doesn’t always work out that way, and it’s becoming less common all the time considering divorce rates. So it’s nice to become temporarily absorbed in a story where love conquers all and live vicariously through the character.

As for protection, despite the extremist versions of feminism out there, many women look to their man as their protector. That doesn’t mean the woman is weak or pathetic. But it’s a rough world out there, and there’s nothing wrong with having a loving layer of extra safety around you. This also connects with the love aspect when the love interest loves the MC so much that they would put themselves in harm’s way to protect them.

Instead of simply avoiding the tropes or elements that I personally dislike or think problematic, I try to understand WHY it’s so popular and then come up with other ways to incorporate the base elements. This then gives the reader the emotional satisfaction they wanted (possibly without them even knowing why they wanted it) while showing them that they can seek out and have healthy relationships that give them what they’re looking for.

In a nutshell, my goal is to write stories that use healthy versions of unhealthy concepts (especially with romances) by breaking them down into their core elements and reconstructing them to give the reader what they want in a healthier way. It saddens me to see the number of people who have distorted views of what life and love should be like in reality. I want to write fun stories without adding to the damage already being done.

Will that appeal to everyone? Of course not. But hopefully there are enough readers out there who are also troubled by the potentially harmful examples in “recent” storytelling to get by. If even one individual is helped, I’ll be happy. If no one is helped, that’s fine. I just don’t want to contribute to the hurt.


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