Ramblings About Romance Novel Cliches

So last night as I did the exercise bike I finished up a book by an author I love. I’m not going to say her name because I do love her and I still plan to snap up every book she writes but if I hadn’t been stuck on the bike for 40 minutes (and is it just me or does space/time actually slow when you’re exercising?) I wouldn’t have finished.

The thing is, any book has to have a universe with rules. A contemporary is easy enough that you’ve got rules already there and you as an author need to decide what to include or not include (for instance, I always have my characters use condoms, if they’re parents I write them actually parenting, that sort of thing, we all have our own little issues we put out there).

Paranormals are fun because you get to make up rules. This is why I love writing paranormals so much. I can write around STDs and cancer, hell, I can write around the need to sleep or even gravity if I choose. But whatever I choose, I have to be aware of that universe and those rules and stick with the rules or it’s a glaring issue. Usually editors catch you out on stuff you miss and if you’re lucky, they write you funny little notes on track changes about it. If not, they frown at you and point it out.

Rules also include basic character behaivor and progression. I was saying yesterday to a friend that a book shouldn’t be wall to wall plot devices instead of wall to wall plot. Don’t gimmick me to death – write a story. Biggest rule in my reader handbook, “Thou Shalt Only Use One Big Cliche Per Story”

So this book I read violated that one in a big way as well as having the H/H violate my other rules.

  • She whines a lot about her state of being even though she a) can’t change it and b) would be dead if not for her state of being.
  • She’s stupidly hostile toward the hero as a plot device. It doesn’t further the story, in fact it makes me hate both of them.
  • They fight for no reason. Ugh – this is one of my biggest romance pet peeves. Listen, there are couples who fight a lot, just because they are that way. It’s usually more of a fire and ice/ push pull sort of thing instead of with actual hostility. It works with those couples because for them it’s authentic. It’s hard to write that couple though. This couple was not that couple. The fights were supposed to raise tension but they just made me roll my eyes.
  • It was very “how to lose a guy in 10 days” with lots of “hijinks” but it felt manufactured.
  • The hero is a great big pussy. He is! Okay, we’re supposed to believe he’s this gruff, tough warrior but um, not so much. The shit he takes from the heroine worked my last nerve. That he loved her made me lose a lot of respect for him.
  • The reasons for them staying apart made no sense and it went on and on.
  • Mid-twentysomething virgin oozing sex. Nuff said.
  • The big bad? Not so much. Seriously, as a villain he sucked. There were things he did the author used to make us think he was sooper scary, but he could have killed the “good guys” multiple times and didn’t. Worse, we’re never sure why.
  • There was the stereotypical misunderstanding whereby the heroine throws a hissy fit that leaves the reader wondering why she can’t stop being an idiot. Despite proclaiming her love for the hero she stomps off and moves out. The hero decides to apologize when it’s not his fault. Hijinks ensue.
  • Anyway, every author on the planet has used a cliche. After all, cliches are powerful. But more than one of them in a book begins to feel like wallpaper instead of actual story. Secret baby – okay. But Secret baby, amnesia, secretary, billionaire, saucy heroine, drug abuse, childhood abuse, bad first marriage, etc – it’s too much and the story gets lost with all those markers.

    Give me characters I want to read about and tell me their story.

    4 comments to “Ramblings About Romance Novel Cliches”

    1. rhian
      March 7th, 2007 at 12:45 pm · Link

      Darn. My phones are ringing off the hooks and i keep losing my comments as i bounce my focus around. I was going to say I’m now curious about the book title to see if it’s one i’ve read already, but given the list of cliches you provided – it doesn’t sound like one i’ve read. Can’t remember a single one with ALL THAT in it.

    2. Anne
      March 7th, 2007 at 2:40 pm · Link

      😯 So not good. 🙄

    3. Charlene
      March 7th, 2007 at 5:30 pm · Link

      You know, I seem to remember that Jane Porter blogged about the “too many hooks” issue a while ago.

      And hey, I love a fighty couple done right!

    4. Lauren
      March 7th, 2007 at 5:33 pm · Link

      Charli – I do too! Shane and Cassie are a couple who fight a lot (Taking Chase) -but it wasn’t a device to make them look like they had chemistry and tension – it was who they were. This couple in the book I’m talking about, it was flat and gimmicky and the fights made no sense.

      Rhian – I’ll never tellllll

      Anne – no, not at all and normally this author is one I’ll read storylines I normally don’t like if she writes them.