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Today I welcome the wonderful Ruby Raven onto my blog, who shares with us her advice on things to consider when writing about polyamorous characters in romance stories.
Before getting into writing about polyamory, I feel I should probably explain what it is for those of you who don’t know. Simply put, polyamory is consensual non-monogamy, and this can take many forms.
There are not many examples of polyamory in media and fiction – certainly not positive polyamory.
In television, there are a few cases of ‘harems’ and polygamy that get shown, but these are different from the kind of polyamory that I practice and wish to discuss, in that they lack gender equality.
In many cases, these sorts of unequal examples are used to show how immoral a villainous character is, and polyamory should not be a calling card for characters with evil morals.
The biggest thing that gets assumed about polyamorous relationships is that they are inherently unhealthy. Off the top of my head at this moment, I can think of five examples in television series I’ve seen and only one seemed functional or sustainable at all.
The others ended in one or multiple murders because obviously someone has to get jealous and kill as a result. None were in the romance genre.
These two examples, villainous and unhealthy polyamory, are not good representation.
They can be harmful in the real world, the same way as any other stereotype, by promoting the idea that people who are in polyamorous relationships must be either immoral or unhealthy in some way.
That said, there can be a place for these tropes. They can work in the right setting.
But they should not be the only or dominant representation out there.
In books, as far as mainstream romance is concerned, love triangles swamp the shelves of your local bookstores.
There are some polyamorous or ‘ménage’ romance novels out there, but they are few and far between in comparison, though there does seem to be a growing ménageà trois (meaning threesome) erotic section, especially online.
Polyamory can and does work, and not just in a “let’s have a threesome one-night stand” sort of way.
It’s romance, times however many additional people are involved. The romance genre could benefit in exploring the intricacies of polyamory, yet even recently there was an upset in the writing community about a romance writing competition not counting polyamorous stories as part of the romance genre, and disqualifying them.
This still confuses me to no end and is a ridiculous form of gatekeeping. Just because romance doesn’t look like what someone else might want it to doesn’t mean it’s not romance. LGBT+ romance is still romance if the reader is straight, heterosexual romance is still romance if the reader is LGBT+, and polyamorous romance is still romance even if the reader is monogamous. Romance is romance. Love is love.
What Does Polyamory Look Like? Triads and Vs
From my observation, people assume that polyamory is all about sex. Which, yes, threesomes, foursomes, or orgies or whatever you want to play around with are awesome and can make for some very high heat literature.
And enjoy it if it’s your thing! But writing polyamory is not only about sex. It’s about relationships, the dynamics, the personalities, the character growth.
There are many types of polyamory that characters can partake in. I’ll address two of the more popular versions: Triads and Vs.
(Image is of a variety of shapes, including ones labeled to illustrate what Evelyn and my relationships look like).
A ‘V’ is when one person is involved with two people who are not involved with each other.
For example, I’m married to my husband, and I’m also dating my writing partner/girlfriend Evelyn, but Evelyn and my husband are not involved with each other. That would be a V, with me as the point.
A triad (also sometimes called a ‘thruple’) is when three people are all involved with each other, like Evelyn, her husband, and their girlfriend.
There are of course other forms polyamorous relationships can take, literally an infinite number, so feel free to be creative if you want. Just being open to other romantic and/or sexual relationships counts as polyamory, as I and my husband are with or without Evelyn in the mix.
The social interaction and the chemistry and everything that’s involved in a monogamous romance is also in a polyamorous romance, but more. There are more people to handle, so there are more emotions to handle, potentially more drama.
“You belong to me,” – and Why That’s Not Healthy
The best thing about polyamory in romance, in my humble opinion, is that it can remove possessive tropes.
For some reason, many romance novels find possessiveness romantic. Maybe this is a monogamous thing I just don’t understand, but the idea of my husband getting jealous because I just talked to a male friend and then demanding that I not speak to him anymore is laughable.
It also sounds a bit abusive in a controlling way, so I’m not sure why it keeps popping up in romance novels.
It specifically pops up in a decent amount of paranormal romance I’ve read. There’s this “we mate for life” idea, and that’s fine for those who prefer monogamy, but it gets creepy. Specifically, this line: “You belong to me.” Excuse you, but I belong to no one, thank you very much.
In some cases, you get men (vampires, werewolves, shifters, demons, and even every-day humans) literally growling in frightfully possessive manners if they see another man looking at ‘their’ girl.
I recently read a story on Wattpad where the vampire lover viciously attacked and nearly killed someone for looking at his lady love and thinking she was hot, and it was supposed to be played off as endearing that he cared so much about her.
I’m sorry to anyone who likes that sort of romance, but I just don’t think that’s healthy. Especially since if it applied to my life, I would literally never be “allowed” out of the house, because I’m bisexual so everyone would be a potential threat to the possessive guy’s manliness. That would be insane.
Polyamory does not really have room for this. Sure, there can be jealousy, but for polyamory to work, it needs to be handled in an adult way. And if you want your romance to have good polyamorous representation, then make your characters act in adult ways.
They need to have lots of communication, and ultimately either trust or learn to trust each other.
“But Ruby,” I hear so many people thinking, “What about the drama! It’s so dramatic to have a guy be over-the-top protective! Love triangles make so much tension!”
Oh, sweet summer children.
Do you think that if you take out extreme possessiveness that polyamorous romance won’t have drama?
That there’s a loss of passion if a character is dating more than one person, making it irrational for a man to get creepily obsessed and possessive?
Drama does not need to come from a romantic partner being borderline/actually abusive, and there can be literally twice the amount of passion if a character has twice the amount of boyfriends.
Here are alternative dramatic/tension building options when dealing with polyamory:
- Other people: polyamory is not widely accepted. What is the family’s reaction? Friends’ reactions? Do they need to sacrifice friends or family to be with the people they love? Do they need to hide who they are? Are they afraid of being found out? Are they out and proud?
- Society: is polyamory legal in your fictional world? What sort of difficulties will the characters run into? Between a non-married partner having no legal rights in a relationship, to something as simple as seeing “plus one” on a wedding invitation, there’s a lot to play with here.
- Emotions: You think monogamous relationships have emotional drama? In polyamory, everything gets amplified, but it’s not so much “Did you look at another girl? How dare you!” It’s more, “I wonder if I mean as much to her as she means to me, and does he think I’m an equal part in this relationship when he’s already legally married to someone else, and I’m not legally allowed to join on equal footing?”
There’s plenty of other things you could come up with, I’m sure, but those are a good start to play around with.
A good point to remember about polyamory is that no one person has to be everything for someone.
Say we have a hypothetical main character, ‘Sara’, and she’s dating ‘John’. John might be extroverted, and bring her out of her shell, take her to parties, and all that fun stuff. He’s outgoing and loud, fun to be around, makes grand romantic gestures. In bed, he’s passionate, maybe a little dominant.
Sara might also be dating ‘Rob’. Rob is more sensitive, more intimately romantic. He’s there for when she wants quiet nights, a private romantic dinner.
Maybe he cooks for her sometimes, maybe he’s an artist and sketches her like one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s French girls Titanic-style. In bed, he’s always gentle and attentive.
In your usual love triangle, the plot would be Sara having to choose between these two. With polyamory, Sara doesn’t have to choose. She can have intense passion and an extrovert when she wants, and a soft, sweet introvert when she wants. Why on earth should she have to choose?
And trust me, there is plenty to write about without making John and Rob rivals. Every new relationship helps people grow. It gives new experiences, new perspectives. In my opinion, THAT should be a main part of the plot – the actual relationship, not a spiteful competition between the two suitors.
Polyamory can be complicated, but it’s beautiful.
There’s so much there, and so much to explore, and the romance community had barely scratched the surface.
As we continue to let the genre grow, I think there will be much more room for all types of relationships to be represented.
And it will make for a richer selection of stories for everyone to enjoy.
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About Ruby Raven
Ruby Raven lives in Florida with her husband and the frozen body of their dear dead tarantula whose spirit haunts their home and watches as they choose their next victim.
She enjoys satirical fantasy novels, video games, and goth culture. She is studying to be a mortician in between working in customer service.
The latter profession picks steadily at her soul until she is empty enough to work with other dead bodies.
Ruby met Evelyn in college, where they began their relationship, but ended up moving apart and dating separate men.
When the opportunity arose, they decided to rekindle their relationship, and proudly joined the ranks of the polyamorous community.
They saw a lack of the sort of romance they wanted to read and wrote it together, now hoping to share their hearts with you in their online serial, The Bloodline Chronicles.
The Bloodline Chronicles
Bala Sinclair is a witch of Caribbean lineage with a dark past and terrifying present.
Resisting witch hunters bent on magically enslaving her to use her gifts against her own people, her salvation comes from an unlikely source: a band of vampires willing to help her… as long as it suits them.
Seeing her as a source of information and a potential threat, the beautiful but deadly Knight Commander Marcelle makes Bala the vampires’ captive in the hidden palace serving as the capitol for the secret vampire kingdom in modern-day America.
As the first witch to step foot in the elegant place, her future is uncertain, held in the hands of the mysterious pureblood family ruling the vampires, including the otherworldly, powerful, soon-to-be king of northeastern America, Setanta, rather, CuChulainn of Irish legend.
The Bloodline Chronicles is an ongoing serial about bisexual love blooming in a paranormal world in which polyamory is ordinary and hedonism is commonplace.
At the same time, it is a story about political manipulations, power, and the struggle for survival.
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Thanks so much to Ruby for being today’s guest poster and sharing her experience on how to write polyamorous characters in your stories.
Please check out her links and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below.