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Dangerous Love: Vertical guide

Dangerous Love: Vertical guide Dangerous Love: Vertical guide
In this article:

    Disclaimer: Dangerous Love and its associated subgenres (mafia, underground fighting, romantic suspense) have historically tended to be very heterosexual and heteronormative, with an emphasis on hyper-masculine dominant men and submissive women. When we’re describing the genre, we’ll use language that reflects this, with the dangerous love interest being a man and the main character being a woman. But this is intended to be descriptive, not prescriptive. Feel free to innovate on these conventions as your heart desires! 


    Dangerous Love encompasses a number of subgenres, like mafia, romantic suspense, erotic thriller, and erotic romance. While these subgenres all have their own specific conventions, they share certain components that group them together in the Dangerous Love Vertical. 

    Secret Worlds

    Whether it’s an exclusive sex club, an underground fighting ring, or a mafia family, Dangerous Love stories are set in secretive, exclusive worlds that are closed to outsiders. Secrecy and being let into the inner circle are part of the main character’s journey into the world. These worlds have their own norms and hierarchies, and are usually criminal or dubiously legal. The rules of normal life are suspended in these worlds and are swapped in for the secret world’s rules.  These rules usually govern violence and/or sexual norms, with violence generally being more permissible than it is in normal life, and sexual norms generally being more controlling and patriarchal than normal life. 

    Taboo Relationships

    This is the central reader promise of Dangerous Love: that the romantic relationship between the leads is going to be spicy and a little bit taboo. While we don’t want to cross over the line into consent issues, this Vertical thrives on high-drama relationships that feel a little risky. These are not relationships that you would want to happen in real life, but they’re fun to read about because they provide a lot of tension, conflict, and steam. The taboos our readers love to see usually involve power dynamics, with one person being much more powerful than the other. The taboo can also be the romantic interest–a hitman, mafia don, or crime boss who is powerful and maintains his power through violence. While the romantic interest should never be violent to the main character, the threat of violence is always there in the background of their life together. 

    Sexual Content

    Dangerous Love is a high-heat Vertical, with an expectation of on-page sex between the leads. There should be other plot events besides sex, and the sex should advance the characters’ romantic and emotional connection–that is, it should serve the story in some way. Sex scenes in Dangerous Love work best when they are preceded by a lot of sexual tension and build up. Consensual kink, BDSM, and rough sex are welcome in this genre. 

    External Conflict

    Dangerous Love stories are both high-steam and high-drama. These stories should have lots of external conflict–think mafia turf wars, criminal conspiracies, or underground fighting. Life or death stakes are appropriate in this subgenre; the conflicts should feel big, dangerous, and unavoidable.  This external conflict should shape how the romance develops. Violence isn’t just a background set piece happening in the distance, but an urgent circumstance that directly affects the leads and the development of their relationship. 

    Wealth and Power

    Dangerous Love stories almost always involve dominant love interests who are at the peak of their social hierarchy, and who live a life of luxury and beauty. The cost of that beauty is the world of danger and violence that the love interest inhabits. The heroine can have access to beautiful clothes, luxury apartments, and expensive vacations (or other desirable things), if she can navigate the dangers of the world. 

    Genre Appeal

    Power Dynamics

    We live in a world that is full of unequal power dynamics. You didn’t choose your boss or manager, for example, but they hold immense power over your life anyway. Exploring taboo power dynamics in fiction is a way to experience unequal power dynamics as pleasurable, rather than threatening. In Dangerous Love, power dynamics are heightened through the narrative’s larger-than-life events and stakes. The high drama of Dangerous Love stories allows us to really feel the heightened emotion of the taboo power dynamic. The key with this element of the genre is to stay on the “fun” side of this exploration by making sure that the less powerful character is consenting to any sexual relationship and has the agency to say no.

    The Bad Boy

    Dangerous Love romantic interests are often violent men who live in violent worlds, but who have a secret soft side they can only reveal with their beloved. Readers adore the contrast between the hero’s harsh exterior and the soft side he only shows to the heroine; watching that icy exterior slowly melt is one of the main pleasures of the genre. In some ways, this is a fantasy of unconditional love–no matter what awful things he has done, the hero is still loveable to the heroine, and in her he finds the person able to understand him. There is also an element of metaphor happening here: we are all aware on some level that intimacy with another person has the ability to hurt us profoundly, because opening up emotionally is hard. Dangerous Love stories dramatize that by making the lover a hitman or other dangerous person, but in the context of the romantic relationship, his danger is tamed. 

    Woman in Peril

    Dangerous Love readers come to this Vertical for thrills and high stakes. A lot of these plotlines are specifically focused on the idea of the heroine being endangered because of her proximity to the hero and the dangerous world he lives in. We all feel scared and alone at times, and the fantasy of being rescued and having someone else fix our problems is very appealing. The heroine is in danger, but she’s also special and protected because of her relationship with the dangerous man, who solves her problems and protects her. He could be a danger to her, but because of their love, he isn’t. The key with this element is not leaning too far into passivity for the character being rescued; she should still have some agency within the story, so that she feels like an active participant in the plot. 

    Hot Encounter vs Dangerous Love 

    Confused on the difference between Hot Encounter and Dangerous Love? Here’s a quick guide: 

    Hot Encounter

    Dangerous Love


    Contemporary world

    Secret/underground subculture of our contemporary world


    Overall positive even in conflict, with a happy ending

    Complex, fraught, or taboo but with a happy ending


    Ranging from light to dramatic

    Dark, intense, dramatic


    Romantic happiness and personal fulfillment; violence, if it happens, is shocking 

    Life or death stakes are present; violence is always a possibility

    External conflict

    Present but limited; story focus is on development of romantic relationship 

    Big external conflict that shapes development of romantic relationship


    Dangerous Love Pitfalls

    Dangerous Love is all about the taboo, the so-wrong-it’s-right and all the drama and thrills that come with that. Because of this, it’s very important to keep consent in mind when you’re writing in this Vertical. You want to ensure your reader has a great experience with your story, and that means making sure that everything stays consensual between your characters, even if things sometimes feel edgy or charged. 

    It is very important that all physical and sexual intimacy between the characters is consensual, i.e. they are both agreeing to intimate touch with each other with a mutual understanding (spoken or unspoken) of what is going to happen. 

    We have strict content guidelines on the inclusion of sexual assault in stories. We do not allow stories with romanticized sexual assault or pornographic content of any kind on our platform. For more information on what we remove, see our Content Guidelines.

    We’ll have more extensive information on writing consent coming soon. In the meantime, check out Scarletteen for an overview of how consent works in the real world, and consider this article from The Atlantic on writing consent in romance or this deep dive on writing consent by KJ Charles.

    Writing consent can be complicated, particularly because there are lots of examples of popular media that are not very good at representing or respecting consent. Consent is about more than not saying no, or even saying yes once and assuming that covers everything. Writing good consent is about establishing mutual desire between the characters and building their connection to each other so that the reader understands that both of them feel good about the activities they’re doing together. Romance readers of all subgenres are ultimately interested in the connection between the characters. Sexual intimacy is a great way to build and demonstrate that connection, and writing consent is about demonstrating mutual desire and agreement. A great way to begin thinking about consent is to ask the question: what do these specific characters actually desire?  

    Because the topics in this Vertical can be charged, it’s extra important to be very careful and mindful when you’re writing intimacy between your characters. We’ll have more resources on writing consent coming soon, but  in the meantime, here are some common pitfalls we see in this Vertical. 

    Kidnapping Fantasy

    Kidnapping and ravishment are super common sexual fantasies, but we need to be very careful in how these subjects are represented in fiction. We do not allow stories about kidnapping for sexual purposes on our platform. In general, we recommend against having the love interest kidnap the main character because this kind of situation is very hard to write consensually. It creates a power dynamic that is so imbalanced that it is difficult for the kidnapped character to give meaningful consent. If you’d like to include kidnapping, then it is absolutely fine to have another person kidnap the main character and have the love interest rescue them. 

    If the love interest kidnapping the main character is absolutely core to your story, this should present an obstacle to the characters’ sexual and romantic relationship. Think of it like Beauty and the Beast: it’s only once Belle is free to go that her relationship with the Beast really begins to happen, and the Beast is careful of her boundaries throughout the relationship. This is what allows us to feel good about them getting together in the end. The captivity is an emotional obstacle they need to overcome in order to be together, not a pretext for the beginning of their relationship. We need to see the characters rebuilding trust after the kidnapping and for the kidnapped character to reclaim their autonomy before the romance can proceed. This is important to creating a romance that the reader can feel good about cheering for.  

    Power Dynamics

    Dangerous Love is the home for taboo romances, and power dynamics between characters are an extremely popular type of taboo. This just means that one character has significantly more power than the other in the context of their relationship. This could be an age gap, a boss/employee relationship, or someone who is knowledgeable and respected in their field or subculture paired with someone who is brand new. We do not allow romantic or erotic teacher/student relationships on our platform, either at the high school or university/college level.  Additionally, we do not acquire sexually explicit stories with main characters that are under 18 years of age. Writing power dynamics well means really paying attention to the nuances of consent between the characters. Neither party should be coerced or manipulated into sex, and especially not the less powerful person. The less powerful person should have the opportunity to say no, and should not feel reluctant about saying no. 

    Forced Marriage

    Another common power dynamic we see in Dangerous Love is forced marriage, where the leads are forced to marry each other for plot reasons. In this situation, consummating the marriage physically has to wait until both characters feel comfortable and excited to do so; it should not be assumed as part of the marriage. 

    • “We’re married now so I guess we have to have sex whether we like it or not” is NOT okay. No one is ever obligated to have sex just because of being married. 
    • “My new husband expects sex; I don’t want to but I will anyway” is NOT okay. No one is ever required to have sex with another person.
    • “We’re married and we want to have sex even though we don’t know each other that well” IS okay. Both characters are freely consenting to sex. 
    • “We’re married but we don’t want to have sex” IS okay. Both characters are respecting each other’s boundaries and finding a degree of intimacy that works for them. 

    Conflict and Intimacy

    Dangerous Love stories thrive on a lot of conflict and drama, often between the romantic leads. The sexual tension when characters want each other but have conflict with each other is delicious. However, we want to be very careful that intimacy in these instances does not come across as hostile or punishing. Intimacy, whether that’s kissing, sex, or even hugging, should not be used as punishment within the context of relationship conflict, or as a way of shutting down a discussion one of them wants to have.

    • “The characters are angry with each other, and one kisses the other to demonstrate anger or possessiveness” is NOT okay. Here, kissing is something one party does to the other in punishment. Romantic interests should not be violent with each other, and that includes using intimacy in a violent way. 
    • “The characters are arguing and one shuts the other up with a kiss” is NOT okay. Here, intimacy is being used to end a conflict, and the character being kissed is not consenting to the kissing. 
    • “The characters are arguing, stop, and agree that they don’t want to be having this fight. Then they kiss” IS okay. They agree that they don’t want to be arguing and then switch gears. The conflict doesn’t need to be resolved, they just have to both switch out of conflict mode. 

    Conflicted Feelings

    Part of the draw of taboo power dynamics is the sense that things could go badly. Conflicted feelings are part of the charge of this kind of romance. However, we want to make sure that the conflicted feelings stay on the right side of consensual. It’s okay for characters to feel like they shouldn’t want or need each other as badly as they do, as long as they are both consciously making a choice to be intimate.

    • “I don’t want this but it’s kind of nice” is NOT okay. The conflict here is that the character doesn’t really want to be doing what they’re doing, which means their consent is not present.  
    • “I shouldn’t want this because society/my family/religion tells me it’s wrong, but actually I do want it” IS okay.The conflict here is between what the character wants to do and what they think they should do. As long as their partner is also consenting and feeling good about it, it’s okay for them to keep doing what they’re doing. 

    Nonverbal consent

    Nonverbal consent practices are the ways people express desire and check in with each other with their body language. Your characters don’t necessarily have to verbally check in with each other, they can use nonverbal cues. 

    • “The hitman slams his lover against the wall against the wall and she shrinks in fear” is NOT okay. In this example, the hitman is too rough with his partner, and her body language (shrinking away) indicates fear and lack of consent. 
    • “The hitman presses his lover against the wall and she leans in eagerly” IS okay. By leaning in, she is indicating both to him and to the reader that she is enjoying what is happening between them.
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