Pet Peeves About Romance Novels
There are things that drive me crazy about romance novels these days. When I was ready (OK, driven) to write a science fiction/action series that starts with Overload Flux, it came to me, as I outlined the story arc, that all the planned novels involve romantic elements. Along with science fiction, action, and mysteries, I've read a lot of romances over the years, but only casually, and not recently. I decided I needed to understand the structure and reader expectations for the romance genre to get it right. In the last year, I put myself through a course of reading a ton of recent romances, primarily those mixed with other genres – science fiction, action, mystery, fantasy, etc. While it wasn't a hardship to have to read a lot (“I'm not being a slug, I'm doing RESEARCH”), I came away with some pet peeves about romances today. These are entirely my own, idiosyncratic opinions, and you may well disagree.
- I'm annoyed by heroines who impulsively throw themselves into dangerous situations (e.g., a gun battle, mountain climbing, high-speed chase) with no experience, skills, etc., and the hero has to save her, all because she thinks she needs to help, and they both survive with only a scratch or two. All too often, it's a lazy way to put the main characters in peril, instead of a realistic assessment of how that kind of stupid behavior gets people killed, and that the heroine needs to learn from it or lose everything. Conversely, I'm irritated by males who treat their female lovers like play toys, glass figurines, delicate flowers, etc. – if she's worthy of his love (not just lust/pheromones/magic), she's worthy of being allowed to participate in her own destiny.
- I'm bored with perfectly handsome/beautiful main characters, unless it's an integral part of the plot (and preferably an obstacle). Since I and most of my friends, or people I pass on the street, or even see at a glittery opening night (Hollywood award shows notwithstanding), are ordinary, with flaws and quirks, I'm more satisfied when the romantic interests find each other attractive, even when the rest of the world can't see it.
- I think romantic suspense stories (and TV cop shows, while I'm casting stones) rely too much on the “serial killer” trope. They practically grown up on every block, apparently, even though it's an extreme form of human aberration. I have slightly more patience with stalkers, because there are all ranges of that, from uncomfortable over-interest, which is sometimes hard to distinguish from bad social skills, to the insanely murderous (look up actress Teresa Saldana, for example). I once talked to a police homicide detective about premeditated murder, and his personal idea was that the killers simply couldn't see past their internal view of how much better life would be without their victim. Probably anecdotal, but a much more interesting story line than just another violent serial killer or stalker, out for twisted power jollies.
- I am out of patience with the big misunderstanding that could be solved with two minutes of honest conversation. There are flavors of this that work, especially when handled by a master (Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice comes to mind), but if the cause is a simple character flaw (e.g. pride, contrariness, shyness), it gets old fast, and barely sustains a short story, much less an entire novel. I recently read a novella where two vampire leads were apart for decades, all based on the Big Misunderstanding. What, they didn't talk to each other even once in the last 70 years?
- I am completely incensed when the adult male character treats the adult female character like a child. I haven't read very many male/male or female/female romances, so I don't know if this problem appears in those stories as well, but I suspect not. It seems to be a symptom of the M/F dynamic.
I'm irritated when an adult males calls his adult female lover “little one” or “kitten” or “baby” (foreign languages don't improve things — calling her “mon petite” is still calling her “little one” in French). I'll grudgingly tolerate a male lead who starts out treating the female like a child, as long as he soon recognizes he'll lose her if he doesn't change his behavior.
I'm liable to throw the book across the room (or at least angrily stab! the! delete! button! on my e-reader) if the male disciplines the female as if she's a recalcitrant child (e.g., spanking as punishment**, detention, etc.), unless in the very next scene, she guts him and leaves his carcass for the crows. The same goes for when the male simply overpowers the female by slinging her over his shoulder, tying her up, or forcing her hormones to respond until she “admits” she cares/wants him (uh, Stockholm syndrome and dubious consent, anyone?).
Bottom line: If the male wouldn't treat his best friend or trusted colleague that way, he shouldn't do it to the love interest, especially the woman he supposedly respects and may want to spend his life with. If I read a story where blurb leads me to believe the female character is powerful/respected, but in the story itself, the hero treats the heroine like a 10-year-old and she figures it's OK, because she knows she was “bad,” or it's OK, because it means he truly loves her, or it's OK, because that's how all women are treated in this time period/society/universe, I'll probably never, ever buy that author's books again, because the author has irrevocably lost my trust.
** Note that I'm not talking about erotica, consensual BDSM, spanking books, etc. — readers of those genres know what they're getting into and expect exactly that.