Motorcycle Monday

MC Romance: Setting the Stage and Setting the Mood

If I go to the trouble of remembering my grade school English lessons, I recall that setting does many things for a story. Sometimes setting acts as its own character, but most often it sets a scene and a tone that evokes certain thoughts or feelings in the reader. It is no surprise, then, that most MC smut is set in a world where it’s not so difficult to envision cowboys riding wild and free, because riding and living free is a central aspect of most (literary) MC culture. 

Most of the books I’ve evaluated were set in the United States, but those that weren’t were set in Western Australia, which has a very similar vibe to large swaths of the US west of the Mississippi river (an east-west divide, for those not so familiar with US geography). There are several different ways to geographically divide the US, but I decided to go with a simplistic version because MC setting didn’t really need to get refined to the point of distinguishing between the Pacific Northwest and Southwest as distinct from the rest of the West. We’re not talking microbrews vs. Kokopellis here. 

For reference, this is the US geographical division I’m looking at:

Image credit: WorldAtlas

With this in mind, the breakdown of these books by setting goes like this:

Notes on this distribution: 

  1. The book with multiple settings was set for about ⅔ in New York and ⅓ in Montana, but the club where the protagonists belonged was in Montana, so I didn’t choose to pick one or the other for this chart. 
  2. I did read a few series in full or nearly in full, and of course most of those had the same setting. Had I opted to read more of the Lost Kings MC series by Autumn Jones Lake, for example, the number of books set in the American Northeast would have been greater. HOWEVER, I did read about thirteen (13) different authors and over forty books (not accounting for books I DNFed), and the books that I DNFed and still have in my TBR queue would reinforce the distribution above, so I feel comfortable arguing that these books are primarily set in a space where we can readily envision wide expanses of land and sky, long and clear highways, and a general culture welcoming fierce independence. 

The setting in MC smut is even more important when we evaluate where outlaw MCs actually originated. I found a list of outlaw MCs on the interwebs when I was trying to understand what the reality vs. fiction that I’m dealing with actually is, so I’m not going to act like I’m some expert in outlaw MCs, but it is interesting to note that in real life, if this list was even remotely on target, most outlaw MCs originated not in some Wild West scrubland, but in urban centers:

I didn’t drill down this far in the chart, but the locations become more interesting when we consider that about 25% of the American West settings in MC smut were set in California (so I didn’t bother to separate it out up there), while 80% of real outlaw MCs sourced from the American West originated there. And in cities like LA and San Francisco, not in the more rural northern or western parts of California. Likewise, the Midwest has a much greater representation in real outlaw MC location, but even there, we’re talking about places like Chicago, Detroit, and cities in Ohio, not South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, which have more of a Great Plains western vibe. (Nobody in the Great Plains is going to think that they’re living in the same sort of place as Ohio, even if they’re both technically in the Midwest.) Similarly, Eastern Australia (or really just New South Wales) has much greater representation than Western Australia. 

In MC smut, we absolutely do not get a sense that MC culture is urban, or even that it resonates with the culture of the American south, because the primary sense of setting in these books evokes feelings of isolation, independence, wildness, and freedom. The promise of the American West in a nutshell, I would say.

Even in series or books in which the setting is actually in a city, as with all of the Chaos MC books by Kristen Ashley, or the Wind Dragons MC books by Chantal Fernando, we’re still looking at a city set in the broader space of an oasis of city surrounded by empty land. You don’t have to drive very far out of Denver before there is legit nothing around you. So even with a city like Portland or Denver coming into play in the book, we are aware of a bigger setting informing our understanding of where the MC is. 

We also have to acknowledge the world building that goes into most of these series. The primary physical setting in most MC books is the MC’s clubhouse, whatever that looks like. Typically that looks like some kind of isolated compound or large building that is either physically removed from other buildings, like in a wilderness space, or is surrounded by gates and fences. The clubhouse tends to reinforce the feeling that the MC is an island within a bigger world, but that bigger world isn’t necessarily populated. Even if the author only describes the clubhouse itself and does not describe any fencing or surrounding buildings, the feeling that the clubhouse is an island is impossible to miss. 

So as we’re moving into this discussion of MC smut, keep in mind that the setting provides a pretty solid baseline for where these characters exist and what the mood of the story is supposed to be.

Next time, we’ll talk about that essential component of MC smut culture: The Brotherhood

Previous Posts in this series:

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