I'm not shy about saying that all romance should be feminist. I'll shout it from the rooftops and die on a hill championing stories about women, trans, and nonbinary people being loved and treated with the respect they deserve, the same respect shown to male characters across literary history.
But as of right now, there's no easy guide to making your romance novel feminist. Perhaps one day I'll write one, but in the meantime, I wanted to create some easy steps writers can follow to create powerful characters who achieve their dreams and find their soulmates. These resources are especially useful if you're a new romance writer, or are transitioning to romance from another genre.
1. Include consent.
If your romance novel has intimate scenes, put enthusiastic consent right there on the page. Whether it's verbal consent or physical, indicate that your characters are psyched to get down. And remember, BDSM elements, like consensual non-consent, domination, and submission, also necessitate consent.
2. Give content notices.
Content notes are a clunky but slightly less anxiety-inducing way of saying trigger warnings ( a phrase I'm not a huge fan of because, frankly, the word trigger freaks me out). If your book has elements that might upset some readers, like the aforementioned consensual non-consent, or rape, kidnapping, abuse, violence, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, nbphobia, or racism, it's kind to include a notice at the beginning of the book informing your readers of those elements. Doing so won't spoil your plot, but it will ensure that your readers aren't blindsided and upset by an element that could cause an anxiety attack or worse for them. The world is scary enough; make your books a safe place for the people who open them. And if you're not sure what qualifies, check out this crowdsourced list from Love in Panels I found in this awesome article about content notes from romance author Eve Pendle.
3. Focus on character development.
This might seem like an obvious tip, but I'm not talking about figuring out your characters' goals, motivations, and emotional wounds. Or at least, I'm not just talking about those. Good characters are multidimensional, complex beings with flaws and quirks, just like humans. But they should never be defined by those flaws or quirks. A character shouldn't really be defined by any one aspect of their personality or appearance, and this is particularly important for main characters, and women, trans, and non-binary characters in particular. Avoid defining your main character as just curvy, just driven, or just divorced. If that's the buzzword you need to include in your blurb, by all means, do, but make sure that the character on the page is as layered as an onion.
4. Bust gender roles.
The great thing about writing in the 21st century is that characters really can be anything. Women can be CEOs! Non-binary people can be billionaires (who donate all their money to good causes)! The sky is the limit when it comes to creating your character's career and goals. And if you're writing historical romance, remember that you decide where your book sits on the accuracy dial; choosing a historically inaccurate, or less-than-accurate, career for your character is fine as long as you show the reasons why that choice would have been difficult, and why it's even more amazing that your character made it anyway. And if you're looking for a list of romance novels whose characters break traditional gender roles, check out this list. You might even find inspiration for your next book!