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Susan Arden: Passion or Obsession?
Thursday, September 29th, 2022

I appreciate the opportunity to talk about romance and jumped on Delilah Devin’s invitation to guest post.

As an author, I love to toy with dark ideas in the realm of romance. It’s rooted in the characters I create. Their wounds. Their goals. Their desires. The black hole in their soul that will either be a wasteland or the road to salvation. In writing fiction, it’s fun to translate those into symbols scattered throughout the story. Touchstones. Images we give readers. There’s no better visual than Darth Vader. And the words of Yoda: Anger, fear, aggression. The dark are they.

In romance, our main characters obviously are in love or soon will be. In erotic romance, sex is a powerful vehicle and lust is the driver. How far do we take-send-deliver the character with the most at stake?

That’s a gray area.

Tapping into our emotions ~ How dark can dark go?

It depends. When it involves fictional love and not just sex, we have to start with someone in need. I write alpha male characters and they’re hungry. They have a zest and zeal for life, starting in childhood, then it explodes in adulthood, usually in a skillset and a career. Someone we’d peg as passion-infused… or obsessed?

But to feel what a character feels, we need a common language to go deep. And sometimes, we aren’t sure why some terms are a turn-on… or a turnoff.

Passion and obsession by definition:

passion (n.) In Middle English “…an ailment, disease, affliction…” also “an emotion, desire, inclination, feeling; desire to sin considered as an affliction…” (mid-13c.). The specific meaning “…intense or vehement emotion or desire…”

obsession (n.) 1510s, “…action of besieging…” (Later (c. 1600), “…hostile action of an evil spirit…” …(like possession but without the spirit actually inhabiting the body). Psychological sense “idea or image that intrudes on the mind of a person against his will” is from 1901.

[From] obsess: Of evil spirits, “to haunt,” from 1530s.

—Online Etymology Dictionary

We use ‘passion’ to describe extreme emotions, while ‘obsession’ was once equated to being haunted, or nearly possessed.

Between passion and obsession lies the demarcation of what is acceptable. Who doesn’t want to feel passionate about something? What about obsessed?

If by obsessed, do we mean they’ve gone over the edge? But have they?

Crossing the line~

While writing romance, a fictional mirror of reality, I’ve played with taking a character to the very edge of obsession. In Her Forever Cowboy, Stephen McLemore, an explosives engineer, walked away from crossing the line with Jillian. Eight years prior, he was in college and she was in high school. In the backyard of her parents’ home, which was about to be sold, they shared a stolen kiss. Jillian’s parents recently died. In a moment of offering Jillian consolation and comfort, Stephen crossed the line. At that moment he realized he wanted more, much more. A taste of Jillian left this man with an open wound. An ache. A consuming hunger.

Instead of consummating a budding romance, the hero walked away. But did he? This is a story about a man who refused to cross the ultimate line into darkness, but remained rooted in the heroine’s life in ways that clearly bordered on obsessive. And it isn’t until the very end of the story that the reader and Jillian become aware of how much. For some, the story could be taken as too much. What the hero did was unacceptable. For others, it’s the sign of unrequited love. A chance to be the wind beneath another person’s wings by giving them opportunities they might not have had. And that question plagues the hero. Did he alter the heroine’s life for the better and will she forgive him?

Why do we love to hate our obsessions?

So, in writing this type of hyped existence, I skate a fine line in Her Forever Cowboy. In order to give Stephen McLemore the opportunity to heal, he has to admit he has a problem. He does, up to a point. It’s up to the reader to decide from the get-go. Is Stephen wrong in doing the things he does, given the circumstances? Wrong because all obsessive behavior is too much? Or can a human being actually circumvent free will?

We connect with romance heroes and heroines because they’re flawed. They come to terms with their complex nature and are willing to change for the sake of love. In Her Forever Cowboy, I pushed boundaries to the max. Subplots involve family dynamics, drug and alcohol addiction, money and the things people do to maintain face, how far over the edge will friends and family go to preserve the status quo, loyalty, compassion and forgiveness.

In writing dark romance, it’s always a dance of weaving love, lust, shining moments, darkness in the soul, sickness, obsessions, addictions, redemption, pain, and selflessness. Both as reader and writer, it’s like boarding the ultimate emotional roller coaster. To love dark romance, we adore the steep rise and sharp drop.

Whether it’s life and fictional romance, it’s why we do what we do again, and again, and again.

Hope to see you on the dark side. It’s so much fun to be bad!

Do you agree? What’s something you’re passionate or obsessed about, or straddle the line? What would it be like to not have this deep feeling?


Thank you so much for allowing me to stir the pot on dark romance and give you a taste to the backstory of Stephen McLemore. Take care and happy romance trails.

About the Writer

Susan Arden is a best-selling author of romance novels. She lives just south of Nashville and when she isn’t writing, she owns and runs a cut flower farm. Susan is releasing four new novels in 2023. Stay tuned!

Her Forever Cowboy link: