Friday, May 9, 2008

Annoying Romance Novel Missteps

I'm reading a romance novel right now. A really, really bad one. I'm not naming the author; I'm not out to make enemies or hurt anyone's feelings. But I do feel compelled to talk about some things romance writers do sometimes that immediately make me fall out of love with the characters. If you want me to toss your book against the wall and stomp away in a huff, here's what to do:

Have more than one hero in a book. It's a big trend now for heroes from an author's past books to stop by and visit the current one, or to have a secondary character in one book who's going to become a hero in the next one. I know, I know it's a way to get readers interested in more than one character. I know it's common. It's practically endemic. It has to stop.

Here's why: your hero is supposed to be the handsomest, toughest, sexiest guy on the planet. And if there's more than one handsomest, toughest, sexiest guy on the planet, of them has to play second fiddle, or both of them are diminished. And second fiddle isn't sexy. As a reader, I'm not going to fall in love with two guys at the same time. That's not romantic. That's confusing. And I'm not going to buy into the second-fiddle guy in one book becoming the hero of the next book, or vice versa.

Even worse, sometimes the secondary hero seems more interesting to me than the one who's supposed to be the primary hero of the book I'm reading. Like the one right now. The real hero is kind of run-of-the-mill, but there's a secondary character that's much more intriguing. He's only in the book for a few scenes, but I'm finding myself wishing the author would just write a darned book about him. It's like real life, folks: if a secondary character is catching my interest, there isn't much spark between me (ahem: the heroine) and the primary hero.

Make hero and/or heroine unnecessarily obnoxious. I know the typical formula states that heroes and heroines have to despise each other before they get to love each other. But it's all too common for authors to make heroes and heroines overly mean in an attempt to up the chemistry, raise the stakes, and so on. Tthere has to be something to their exchanges besides a bunch of snarking--and the snarking has to be realistic. If it doesn't make sense to me why the heroine is such a bitch or why the hero is such a jerk, I'm totally going to fall out of love with them--and I'm not going to get what they see in each other at all.

Make the hero a wuss. In today's world, it's tough to come up with excuses as to why two people can't be together. It's the era of free love, and women no longer have to be virgins or marry people they don't love. Those barriers to love are needed to create tension and drama in a romance novel. Sometimes, in order to manufacture that barrier, an author will make it so that a hero doesn't want to get with the heroine because his friends wouldn't approve, or his daughter's still mourning his ex-wife, or some other dumb reason. Look: a hero is a seize-the-day kind of guy. He sees something he wants and he takes it. That's what makes him a hero. If he's the one trying to resist the heroine, it better be for a really compelling reason. Not a dumb, complicated, wussy reason that would trip up the rest of us.

Have the hero and heroine spend more time apart than together. This one romance novel I read has the hero and heroine getting together for a few months, then the heroine is kidnapped by pirates, loses her memory, gets kidnapped by a sheik and forced to live in his harem, and doesn't get back together with the hero (who is something of a milquetoast anyway) until the end of the book. Um...excuse me? Where's the romance in that?

Make the heroine or hero fall for someone else. I realize real life is complicated. And I realize you can find...ahem...carnal pleasure with lots of different people. But in the realm of romance novels, your body tells you who you love. If the heroine finds sexual satisfaction with lots of different guys, well...okay, that might be empowering or freeing or whatever. But it's not romantic. Same if either hero or heroine have romantic feelings for others in the book--in many cases, it dilutes their feelings for each other. Keep some focus, for god's sake.

Romance novels need to focus on the relationship at hand. The hero and heroine must both be larger than life, standing out from the others around them. If more than two characters are this big-as-myth stature, it dilutes everyone. It might sound overly simplistic, but that's why I love romance novels--and why a lot of others do as well.

1 comment:

Celia Yeary said...

I'm surfing today and read your post to Carol Spradling's Blog about THE COST OF FREEDOM. Since I have about fifteen minutes to kill before I start dinner, I clicked on your name. That took me to your MAVERICK AND MINION blogspot. You should be famous, young lady, because your writing is very entertaining! "Annoying romance Missteps" caught my eye, because yes, I write romance novels--I have two contracts with The Wild Rose Press. The first is on the Coming Soon page--the manuscript is in production now.
I loved your take on mistakes writers make, and I agree with most--not all. But I will say, if you're reading a novel such as you described, you chose the wrong one.Of course it's bad, with that plot,and I admit,many are. I follow the same tired idea that I couldn't find anything good to read anymore, so I began to write my own. I've heard that a hundred times. Unfortunately, some of us are perpetuating the sin. I submitted to three of the top publishers and was told "characters not strong enough--we want Alpha males." Well, mine generally aren't Alpha types--I don't appreciate a real man who is in that category, so I don't write or read about them either.
You made some very good points, and in a humorous way. I enjoyed it. Good luck with your writing and publishing! Celia Yeary