Romance is my favorite literary genre. I read 4-6 a month. But here’s a list of things I’d like to see receding in my reading rear-view mirror:
- Building up the heroine by tearing down other women. This typically involves comparing her favorably to either the hero’s ex or his faceless army of sexual conquests. When her positive attributes only show up against the backdrop of all the lying, gold digging, narcissistic, and promiscuous women he’s ever known, I learn a lot more about him than her. As a reader, I’m more interested in why this particular woman is special to this particular man.
- The Insecure Heroine (aka the nearly inevitable result of #1). Are some women insecure? Sure. But lots of us aren’t. Or maybe we’re insecure in one area of our lives, but confident in another. I suppose some writers think that readers can connect with a heroine who feels intimidated all the time. But when a protagonist questions the value of her existence every time she encounters another attractive or competent women, she’s annoying, not relatable.
- The Slamming of the Brows. Every genre has its version of “a dark and stormy night,” and my annoying cliche may be some other reader’s delightful turn of phrase. But I wonder, is there a way to signal hero displeasure other than the slamming together of eyebrows? I mean, how tough is this guy that he can make a loud noise with hair follicles? And while I’m at it, how about something besides a “smile that doesn’t reach her eyes” to convey insincerity? And someday a heroine is going to raise her chin, not to show her feistiness, but to, I dunno, shave it with a straight razor, or gaze upon her country’s flag as she earns an Olympic medal for biathlon.
- The Wonder Virgin. When a sexually inexperienced character who has never kissed, never desired, never even looked at her own smush mitten, is game for — and expert in — a range of sexual activities that makes PronTube look like Sesame Street, I slam my eyebrows together, hard. It’s like a newbie pairs skater stepping on to the ice for the first time and saying, “ok, sure” when her partner invites her to try the Iron Lotus.
- The Gay Ex. The heroine’s significant other turns out to be gay and everyone thinks it’s a hilarious gaffe, like falling in a mud puddle or getting a pie in the face. Instead of mourning a long relationship, she wipes her hands and never looks back, because apparently he has gay cooties and is now on the other side of a ten foot tall border fence labelled “not actually a man.”
- The Drug Whore Mom. Usually the hero’s parent, this woman just upped and decided that her mission in life was to have a kid in order to destroy him. The hero gets a lavish backstory and complex psychology which explains his terrible treatment of our heroine. But Mommie Dearest, despite the fact that she helped create an impossibly hot, beautifully screwed up, and eminently reformable hero, is a worthless POS.
- Wetness = Wanting. Often, the hero can tell how aroused a heroine is just by genital response. But here’s the thing: according to studies reviewed by Emily Nagoski in her terrific book, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life, for the overwhelming majority of women, there is no predictive relationship between arousal and genital response. This bothers me in noncon or dubcon scenes, where the male protagonist asserts that she must be really aroused Because Moisture. Who knows? Maybe she peed a little while laughing at his tendency to blame his man troubles on his Drug Whore Mom.
- Do You Have to, Do You Have To, Do You Have to Let it Linger? Have you ever read a romance where the protagonists are hot for each other and decide to have mind blowing sex without strings? But before sex they like to have dinner, and then they cuddle all night, and he makes her coffee exactly as she likes it in the morning? Or the Regency marriage of convenience between two beautiful people who enjoy intercourse and successfully running a large estate together in equal measure? And have you wondered if there is any reason at all for the next 150 pages of this novel besides the fact that the author is contracted to give her publisher a book of a certain length? Yeah, that.
- Incessant Tumescence. The male version of #7. I love sexytimes in romance, but I am sick unto death of reading about erections. He looks at her, he’s erect. She bends over to grab a can of soda, he’s erect. A tree falls in the forest, he’s erect. Aren’t there other ways to convey sexual interest? Other body parts that might signal arousal? I get that he’s so into her that he’s pitching enough tents to cover a national park, but at a certain point I start to think he needs to see a doctor for that.
In fairness, I read a tiny fraction of all the romances published in a month. Even in my own reading, by no means do I see these things all the time. But since my bug may be your feature, let me know what you think. Are there any things that drive you crazy in romance?