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10 Terms the Romance Fandom Taught Me

Jessica Tripler

Staff Writer

Jessica Tripler is an academic who lives in Maine. Follow her on Twitter @jessicatripler.

This week thousands of romance fans, including Book Riot’s own Amanda Diehl, are gathered in Dallas for the RT Booklovers Convention. Rather than weep into my Nora Roberts mug while stalking the conference hashtag (#RT15 if you’re curious), I decided to share 10 terms the romance fandom taught me:

  1. Hero/Heroine: Before I read romance fiction, I might have used words like “protagonist” or “main character.” But in this genre, while the lead characters can have a boatload of issues, and are in no way perfect, there has to be a core of basic goodness or nobility, even if it takes the love, or at the very least talented fingers and tongue, of a good partner to bring it to the surface.
  • HEA/HFN: The happy ever after. Gotta have it. Otherwise, how can you get through all of the tense, heartbreaking moments in the middle? It doesn’t mean everything is perfect, just that the main couple is solidly together for what looks like forever. It’s the opposite of Larry David’s complaint to his wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm: “You mean this is continuing into the afterlife? I thought this was over at death. I didn’t know we went into eternity together!” Writers of contemporary and paranormal romance have introduced a modified version, the Happy For Now, where the future of the main couple is rosy, but not necessarily eternal.
  • Alpha hero: The “alpha male” has been a staple of the genre for a long time. An alpha is confident, strong, a natural leader, a protector, and lives by some code of honor. He is often resistant (at first) to close emotional bonds and the security of a long term romantic relationship, but resistance, as the Borg say, is futile. Cops, firefighters, soldiers, Navy SEALS, and paranormal heroes (vamps and werewolves) are often alphas.
  • Alphahole Hero: Although the line shifts depending on the book and reader, the alphahole is an extreme and typically undesirable version of the alpha. He’s domineering, rude, inconsiderate, possessive. He engages in angry, stalkerish, controlling behavior that violates several criminal codes and matches up worryingly to a list of warning signs of abuse typically posted on stall doors in women’s public restrooms. For many readers, an alpha-hole ruins a book, but for others an alphahole is tolerable as long as he reforms which brings us to…
  • The Grovel: This is called for when a romance hero has done something Very Bad to the heroine and needs to make up for it. It could be a grand gesture, like, say, a duke, astride his stallion, interrupting a performance of Richard III to perch beneath the heroine’s theater box holding a red rose while declaring he was mad to ever let her go (bonus if you can guess which book this was). Or it could be a series of micro-grovels. A sincere and meaningful grovel can go a long way to making up for bad behavior, even alphahole level bad behavior.
  • Wallpaper Historical/The Recency: These are both terms for the contemporary feel of Regency romances that are set in early nineteenth century England but offer only a light sketch of a historical setting. The period in which the action takes place has little bearing on the speech patterns, social prospects, or behavior of the main protagonists. If the heroine is taking a break from spying for the Crown to enjoy oral sex in a hallway with a politician whom she is trying to convince to improve the working conditions for London’s poor, you’ve probably got a wallpaper historical.
  • Bodice-ripper: This is one of those terms that romance readers use very differently than the general public. Many people assume every romance novel ever written is a “bodice-ripper,” with an older alphahole hero who thinks consent is signaled by words like “no” paired with a virginal heroine whose body “betrays” her with its “helpless feminine response.” But for romance readers, bodice-rippers are a specific kind of romance (usually historical, hence the term “bodice”) published in the 1970s and 80s.
  • TSTL (Too Stupid to Live): Just as alphaholes are always male, TSTL only describes female characters. Example: the heroine is being terrorized by a murderer on the loose. She hears a noise that sounds kind of like a knife being sharpened in her basement and decides to check it out, armed only with a salad fork and a determined expression. I think what annoys people about TSTL heroines is that the character is making a decision that serves the plot but isn’t really believable.
  • The Duke of Slut: This is the guy who just can’t settle down because he’d be depriving too many women of his magic wand. His favorite spell? In flagrante delicto, of course. On the book cover, he’s smoldering directly at you while lounging shirtless on something velvet or silk, either a piece of furniture or possibly a discarded dress he managed to remove with his eyes alone. Any historical romance title that includes the nouns “rogue,” “rake,” or “scoundrel,” or the adjectives “wicked,” “wild,” or “sinful” likely features this character. Naturally, his wand’s days of casting an — er — wide array of spells are numbered once he meets the heroine.
  • Big Misunderstanding: A romance has to have conflict. A rocky relationship road may not be fun to experience in real life, but reading about a perfectly smooth one is about as fun as driving to work: you like where you’re going but getting there is a chore. The conflict should feel genuine, rooted in the characters and/or their situations. Unfortunately, some desperate authors resort to the literary equivalent of telephone. Someone sees or overhears something, and instead of asking reasonable questions, makes a huge assumption that torpedoes the relationship. If a simple face to face conversation would remove the major roadblock to the HEA, someone’s either incapable of adult conversation or dumb as a post, neither of which makes for a satisfying read.

    I’d never really been a part of a fandom before I got online to talk about books. I feel like learning the lingo was part of my initiation.


    Book Riot Live is coming! Join us for a two-day event full of books, authors, and an all around good time. It’s the convention for book lovers that we’ve always wanted to attend. So we are doing it ourselves.