Once upon a time there was a princess. She was beautiful but lonely. Men were intimidated by her, and women envious. She was pure and virginal. Strange circumstances bring her to a remote castle. A mysterious man visits her at night and they become lovers but she must obey his rule and never look at his face. They are happy, but after a conversation with her jealous sisters in which they imply that he may be a monster, she decides to get a look. She puts a lamp up to him and sees that he’s a god, but the oil burns him and he runs away injured. (What she doesn’t know is that his mother was jealous of her beauty and sent him initially to put an arrow in her that would make her fall in love with the first man she saw, but awed by her hotness, he accidently pricked himself with the arrow and was smitten. He hadn’t intended to fall in love with her at all.) Then his mother makes the princess complete a bunch of dangerous tasks – including visiting the realm of the dead – before they can be reunited. Even though he’s a god, he really truly loves her, and she becomes a goddess (equal to him) and they live happily ever after and have a son.
Once upon a time there was a very poor girl who was cheated out of her modest inheritance and sent to an awful girl’s school where her only friend got sick and died. She becomes a governess, living in a remote old house (a castle really), and eventually meets her mysterious employer. As unlikely as it seems, they fall in love, but he is always distant and controlling, and on her wedding day she discovers the awful truth – he has a living wife, a lunatic, who resides in the very house where they live. She runs away and though she doesn’t have to travel to Hades, she does some growing up, and comes back to find that the lunatic wife has burnt down the big house, and her lover went blind trying unsuccessfully to save her from the flames. Gentle reader she marries the man, who was once controlling and powerful, but now he’s blind and injured. They have a son, and somehow he is cured of his blindness.
Once upon a recent time there was a very ugly girl, in a troubled land, whose parents worked hard to get her a decent education. She graduated at the top of her class with a masters in economics, but she couldn’t get a job suited to her qualifications because she didn’t dress well and wasn’t well-connected. So she took a job as a secretary and developed a big crush on her rich and powerful boss, who was a mystery to her. As strange as it seems they fall in love, despite his having a fiance who is very mean and jealous of the ugly girl. Then the ugly one finds out he initially only courted her for business reasons, so she feels humiliated and runs away. While she is gone, with the aide of several strong women friends, she completes some tasks and learns how to dress better and gets a good haircut and some electrolysis, and she comes back. Her lover meantime has been ruined, forced to step down from his job, humbled by scandal. He goes through a lot to prove to her that he he always loved her, he’s changed his ways and is worthy of her. She’s cured him of being a creep and they get married. and soon have a little girl and he is a wonderful doting father who’s just fine with being his wife’s second in command at the office.
Once upon a time in the present tense (literally), there is a girl. Strange as it sounds she is about to graduate college and is still a virgin, and has no idea how hot she is. She meets a mysterious man who is very rich and powerful. They fall in love only he has this really kinky side and wants her to sign a contract and be his slave for a while. They have some kinky sexy time, which she kind of likes but he also wants to control her in other ways which she doesn’t, so she decides this isn’t for her and runs away, but then she comes back and finds out all about his injured psyche, and they have lots of more sexy-times, and then an old lover threatens them (kind of like the mother in the first scenario or the crazy lady in the second, or the jilted fiance in the third) and he realizes that he wants her to be his wife, and they get married and have a baby, which even though it makes him feel jealous (because he’s a big baby himself like the men in the other scenarios) eventually love transforms him into a responsible dad and good husband, and they still get to have hot sexy-times.
So dear readers – including those of you currently writing BDSM books trying to capitalize on the success of the latest version – think about it. There is a formula and women apparently never tire of it, but it has very little to do with “literal” red rooms of pain.
It’s always the same. A young woman, unsure of herself or still in some way unformed, meets a man. The man by virtue of birth, wealth, or class – maybe all three, appears to be much more powerful than she is. He has secrets and is a mystery to her, which attracts her more. He wants to control her, which in some way attracts her as well, but it also drives her away. There’s someone else in the background jealous of the young woman. She might be the man’s mother, the crazy wife in the locked wing of the house, his fiance, or his previous “slave.” Something happens and there is a break in the relationship. The woman must find her own strength. The man must come to terms and learn to live with his own vulnerability. Some kind of forgiveness is involved. They reunite. They live happily ever after but the balance of power has changed. On the surface they are equals, but the woman is the one in control.
This, by the way, is always a fairy-tale, and those who ever mistake it for real life, are doomed to bitter regret.
Now, go forth aspiring writers. Change the setting, add your own new twist and create the next best-seller.
(This is not an endorsement of any of the above referenced-works.)