Horror Tropes in Romance

I might write light-hearted romance, but I read and watch a lot of horror. I love it all, whether it’s monster movies featuring alien octopi which can only be fought when drunk, the 105th sequel to Saw, or the new release A Quiet Place (which is bloody excellent: go and see it!)

I thought I did a good job of keeping Romantic Anna separate from Bloodthirsty Anna, but judging by this recent feedback on my latest manuscript, maybe not:

“… you’re a horror-fan, so maybe it’d be fun for YOU, but for normal people like me? Being that scared is BAD.”

This was my friend’s feedback on the hero and heroine’s first date. At a zombie apocalypse experience. They have to shoot lumbering humans in the face while trying not to be axe-murdered, then they go home and give each other competitive orgasms. I’m not sure what’s un-normal about that.

Then I read a romance that begins with that oh-so-classic horror movie scene: a woman running through the woods from a psychopathic killer. She even trips over a root and lands flat on her face, and then hides ineffectually behind a tree trunk.

It got me thinking – what would romance look like if we inserted common horror tropes?

The Jump Scare

The horror equivalent of being Rick-rolled: the slow-burn sequence teases you into watching the screen intently and then BOO! – something almost as frightening as 80s pop music flashes up on the screen, and you jump.

I’m thinking the romance equivalent could be really violent premature ejaculation.

After chapters of loin-burning sexual tension, our hero and heroine are ready to get it on. There’s an exchange of witty dialogue. There’s the excruciating description of clothes being removed because a) who the fuck cares but b) no romantic hero can wear socks in bed. Finally we arrive at Foreplay Junction, and the heroine’s hand creeps down Rockard Abbs’ stomach and…

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Oh.

Sex = Death

If you manage to get past the jump scares and have sex in a horror movie, especially as a young person, you will DIE. You may first experience the joy of cooking a demon baby in your uterus, a baby which will probably claw its way out of your vagina and suckle from the milk of your jugular, or you may be chased through a woods by a psychopath who really, really disapproves of the shocking lack of foreplay among teens, but the end result will be the same. DEATH.

Some would say this trope is epitomised in the 2014 horror movie It Follows (mediocre, don’t bother watching) where an evil presence is passed on from one person to another via sex. It’s like crabs but less itchy and more fatal. Or The Ring if Samara were horny as well as needy (Naomi Watts doesn’t want to be your mommy, okay? And brush your hair.)

*I* say the trope is epitomised by the 2007 release Teeth, in which Dawn’s vagina grows a healthy set of molars to help keep her purity pledge. Presumably she can fashion it some kind of dentures when she gets married. I’m not sure how she manages to floss.

Thinking about romance, this could really up that sexual tension. Want to screw, characters? Want to rip each other’s clothes off real, real bad? Are you thinking of giving in to that sizzling chemistry an—WELL DON’T, BECAUSE YOU WILL DIE.

This would solve my issue with writing sex scenes.

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Vampires

Nope, can’t think of anything to say. It’s absurd to even imagine soulless, blood-sucking creatures being figures of romance.

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A Psychic is the Answer to All Problems

Whether there’s a ghost in your attic, a demon possessing your daughter, or a wet patch that just won’t go away (Dark Water, 2005), a psychic will sort it out. Bonus points if the psychic is a Wise Ethnic Person, probably taking some time out from mentoring an orphaned Chosen One in a fantasy novel.

The romance equivalent would surely be a relationship counsellor, in which case I can see the average length of a romance manuscript reducing from around 80,000 words to 800.

…unless we bring the therapist in on some kind of ménage deal, which then means a second therapist has to be found, and then it becomes a quartage, and I lose track of who’s putting whose Rick in whose roll and go back to killing everybody who tries to have sex.

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So… 800 words and no sex scenes? Writing romance just got a whole lot easier. Thanks, horror!