My Interpretation of Clean Romance

What Is Clean Romance?

There is often discussion about the sub-genres within romance and I’d like to add my take on what constitutes a clean romance. Other writers may disagree with my interpretation and that’s fine, but I consider my romance stories are clean so I’m sticking to my stance of calling myself a clean romance writer.

As many writers do, when “Leath’s Legacy” was released late last year I ‘advertised’ for reviews, offering to send a free e-copy in return for an honest review. It was during these few weeks that I realised how broad the spectrum of clean romance actually is. I was astonished to receive a lovely email from one lady advising me she couldn’t finish reading the story (let alone review it) because it was too sexual. I put this down to her sensitivity, apologised for any offense and thanked her kindly for advising me. But then I received more similar responses and I realised my writing is considered a little too graphic for some readers.

There began a wonderfully enlightening ‘conversation’ with members on the Goodreads Clean Romance Facebook page. Over the period of perhaps 4 or 5 days and dozens of interactions, I was able to categorise my writing in such a way I believe I should not offend any reader in the future. This was my biggest concern, that readers may have bought and read my stories and been offended by their content.

My romance stories definitely do not fit into the ‘sweet romance’ category – although I once thought they did. One interpretation I received for ‘sweet’ advised – mention of anything happening under a person’s clothing is out. Also any activity that wouldn’t occur in front of other people is out. A sweet romance will not have any swearing either, even ‘damn’ is too strong.

I discovered clean romance is a little harder to define. I consider a clean romance to be a story which includes no detail of the consummation of a relationship, although it can be alluded to. Any explicit sexual behaviour is behind a closed door and readers are allowed to use their imagination. This interpretation was well accepted by all I spoke with. Great, we were on the same page here. Now I know for sure. This is what a clean romance is.

However, I discovered my stories sail a little too close to the wind for some readers. What those readers feel is too graphic detail of physical contact/responses between my characters, to me is essential to round out the story. In stories I read I want to ‘see’ the physical response to a kiss, or a touch to understand how that character is feeling. I don’t believe mentioning a man’s physical discomfort during an emotional moment, by having him shift on a seat, or readjusting his trousers makes my stories any less ‘clean’. The same applies to seeing a woman’s nipples stand up. My characters grip each others bottoms, grind hips together, slip hands under clothing. They do not refrain from sex but these scenes are not described.

I am aware swearing can be another factor of offense to readers. I myself hate swearing and do not use four letter swear words in my writing or my life. However I do regularly use words like ‘damn’ and ‘bloody hell’ as they are seen as acceptable in New Zealand life. I have also used ‘bitch’ and ‘bastard’ in a couple of my stories but only because the story called for the need for such strong words. I will never take the Lord’s name in vain in a story.

To ensure I give fair warning that my romances may contain something of minor offense, I now refer to my writing as being ‘clean but more suitable for 16+’ – I think this gives readers the opportunity to decide whether they wish to read a clean romance with a little more sexual detail, and possibly a little coarse language. The last thing I want is for a reader to throw my stories aside in disgust, or to offend a reader.


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