After our conversation about billionaire romances, I started thinking about archetypal characters and how they’re depicted in genre romance. An archetype is a universal symbol, character, or motif that represents a typical human experience. For characters, that means they embody universal patterns of human behavior and personality traits. This is what readers are talking about when they say a character is “likable and relatable.” Depictions of archetypal characters have evolved over time, but the same twelve have appeared in literature, mythology, and other forms of storytelling for millennia.
Those twelve character archetypes are:
- The Lover
- The Hero
- The Magician
- The Outlaw
- The Explorer
- The Sage
- The Innocent
- The Creator
- The Ruler
- The Caregiver
- The Everyman
- The Jester
Very few authors stick to a singular depiction of each archetype. In truth, most protagonists are a combination of several and include varying percentages of those assigned character traits. Some begin with The Everyman, a grounded, salt-of-the-earth, relatable character, and layer on others like The Lover and The Hero, etc. This depends a lot on the type of story you’re writing.
But I’m getting too deep in my character development bag now…
I said all of that to say that while most authors are creating dynamic characters with fully imagined backstories and narratives, there are a few characters that get the Flat Stanley treatment. That character is The Hero, which is the archetype that law enforcement characters fall under.
[Obligatory “not all cops” inserted here]
Casting your protagonist as a law enforcement officer is a guaranteed way to write an action-packed and potentially heart-wrenching romance. And readers love that shit! Shows like Law & Order, 911, First 48, and Chicago P.D. wouldn’t be popular if they didn’t. However, these TV shows tend to do something that romance novels don’t, which is to give some semblance of a realistic interpretation of the job and the officer’s relationship with the community they serve. This is exactly the creative block I came up against when I wrote The Truth Duet. My intention was to write to trope and, in Levi Raymond, give my readers the typical tough cop with a heart of gold who protects and serves his community and the people he loves. And that was Levi at his core. However, I couldn’t in good conscience write him into a world where police brutality and corruption didn’t exist. Every cop romance I’d read up to that point depicted heroes who were either totally removed from their occupation or were in a precinct where no real-life issues ever interfere with their narrative or their development as a character. I knew I couldn’t write Levi’s story that way.
Exploring Difficult Issues Through Romances with LEOs as Central Characters
Over the years, romance novels have evolved from merely depicting dreams of happily-ever-afters to becoming thought-provoking works of literature. However, when it comes to romances with law enforcement characters, some readers feel they’re inadequate and even problematic. These romances have the potential to address difficult issues such as systemic racism, power struggles within the police force, and the prevalence of gender stereotypes, domestic violence, and other forms of corruption that are common place in real life but never touched on in romance. Quite frankly it’s a missed opportunity to humanize police officers while amplifying the voices of those unheard in conversations on law enforcement. Too often, these characters are cardboard stereotypes of what folks wish officers could be.
Challenging the status quo - discussing how police officers should not always be seen as heroes but rather complex characters with flaws.
Police officers, like all humans, have flaws and internal conflicts that shape their decisions and actions. It's time to start portraying them as complex characters with realistic portrayals of their experiences and limitations. Romanticizing cops may seem harmless initially, but it can seriously affect our perception of law enforcement as public servants. By constantly portraying police officers as heroes in movies and TV shows, we run the risk of blurring the line between reality and fiction. It’s why the show COPS was created, after all. When you’re reading a typical cop romance, it’s easy to forget that, in real life, cops aren't always the good guys. By perpetuating the myth that all cops are virtuous, we turn a blind eye to police brutality and other forms of misconduct, and we fail to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions. Romanticizing cops does more harm than good, and it would be amazing if we started depicting them as what they really are.
Now I know what some of y’all are thinking. “We read romances to escape real life, Tasha!”
And that’s great!
In that case, the type of cop romance I’m talking about wouldn’t be for you but there are plenty of books out there for you to choose from. Romancelandia has been very one band, one sound when it comes to this and military heroes for that matter. Good depictions only with no complex, racially, or socially charged narratives. It’s either the tough, macho cop who saves the day with brute force or a quirky, charming detective who solves crimes with wit and charm or nothing at all. But every time I read one of these books, I can’t help wondering, what about the rest of the force? Are they all on the right side of the law? What’s the probability of not a single occurrence of police brutality and corruption? And sure, you can write a cop romance without all of that, but it seems like such a missed opportunity to explore the vulnerability of cops while highlighting their flaws and limitations instead of glamorizing their power. This allows your protagonist to acknowledge that corruption and brutality exist and have them set themselves apart from it in easy-to-recognize ways.
Why it's important to challenge and confront ideas that can have a direct impact on our views of law enforcement
In a world where opinions are shared at the click of a button, it's important to challenge and confront ideas that directly impact our views of law enforcement. Too often, social media and/or news outlets shape public perspectives. However, these sources can be biased or inaccurate, leading us down a dangerous path of misinformation. By engaging in thoughtful conversations and seeking out diverse perspectives, we can broaden our understanding of complex issues, including police reform and racial injustice. It's only through open dialogue and a willingness to listen to opposing viewpoints that real progress can be made. Say what you will, but fiction has the power to normalize certain behaviors and ideas.
For the record, these are just my opinions. You don’t have to consider or listen to any of them. Also, I’m not telling you what to write, but it's important to challenge and confront any potentially damaging stereotypes or omissions of reality when crafting characters and narratives. We should ask ourselves questions about why these tropes were created and take steps to further diversify our literary landscape by challenging the trope of romanticizing cops but also introducing alternative ways to depict them. Writing a protagonist that challenges the status quo in his precinct and amongst his fellow officers is heroic in a way that any reader can recognize.
Finally, don't be afraid to tackle controversial issues in your romances. Including these topics in a sensitive and thoughtful way can add depth and relevance to your story. It requires a delicate balance of accuracy, nuance, and creativity. I know that some folks read and write to escape, but there is room in the genre for a more nuanced conversation.
So are cops really romance heroes? In my opinion, no. Not the way they’re portrayed now. But there’s room for improvement!
🤔Authors, how do you feel about writing cops as romance heroes? Love it or hate it? Readers, how would you like to see cops depicted in the romances you like to read? Or do you think they shouldn’t be heroes at all? Share in the comments!