An open letter to the Romance Genre

This post is in response to a suggestion yesterday from the mighty Charles Yallowitz

I am going to release a new post each week as a part of an ongoing series about genre.

I think as writers, many of us look to the others in our genre for advice and inspiration in our own work. There is nothing wrong with this, the support is both necessary and a part of being an author. Still, I think sometimes people tend to look at the baseline of something and only remember a few key phrases or parts. This can breed trouble when you are writing.

What is a genre really about? Are there limits to it or is it the same few factors that define it no matter who the author is or how much time has gone by? These are questions worth evaluating if you are going to write for the first time, or write outside your genre. So the following is my idea of what I would like to see change in the romance genre. I tend to read a lot of these books as per review requests and honestly–I get bored with them rather easily. Feel free to jump in under the comment section and have a go at giving your own opinion of the genre.

 

Dear Romance Genre,

 

I have always kind of liked you. The idea of star-crossed lovers and impossibility becoming reality for those that are destined to be together hits my mushy side just right and makes me feel warm and snuggly. (Keep that to yourself.) This being said, I have already seen many of these characters fall in love with one another in a different book, under different names. Really. I have. Let me break this down for you and tell you what you might want to avoid in the future if you would like to keep my attention:

Female characters with food names. We have had enough Cherries, Lolli’s, Apples, Gingers, etc. Similarly, please do not give your character name a stupid abbreviation called out to them repeatedly by another character in the book. “Her name was Gaylene, but everyone called her GaGa.” It really does provoke a mental image that I cannot recover from and makes me feel differently about the character.

 

If you could also avoid obvious historical names like Cleopatra it would be nice.

 

Female character stereotypes: The perfect Barbie dimensioned woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. The also over used tall, leggy brunette with adorable brown puppy dog eyes. Finally, the irksome “fiery” redhead with green eyes. Give me a real female character that I can love for her flaws. She doesn’t have to be unattractive, but for heaven’s sake stop making me snort with laughter over her perfect everything.

Mix it up a bit. Give the readers a tall, blonde with green eyes. Give us a short, cute brunette with brown eyes. Do something, but don’t keep going back to the first three I mentioned up there ↑. Give your female character a brain. She doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist, but for all that is right in this world make sure she does not begin the book by running away from her wedding in tears, with six inch heels on in the middle of a rainstorm. Make sure she is a character worthy of having the male lead save her. Innocent is okay. I like that, there is a difference between innocent and brainless.

Similarly, if you are going to go the strong woman route–make sure she is not stronger than the male character. Putting up a bit of resistance works. I like it. Makes it interesting. Making me worry that she might hurt him inside the bedroom or out or making me think that she will be the one defending him in a bar–makes him look like a bit of a wanker.

 

Male character stereotypes:

Do all of the males have to be tall, with corded muscles blazing under their designer clothes, kilts and capes? Really? How many men do you know in real life who look like that? I know what you are going to say. Exactly! That’s what makes it fun. Let me let you in on a couple of things romance genre--#1. Readers–not stupid. Some people might pick up the little penny romances for a quick unbelievable silliness. Not most of us. We would like to believe in the characters and their ability to overcome obstacles to get to one another. Two perfect characters with a situation that you plucked out of a soap opera is not really that impressive. #2. The most common complaint from reviewers is that the book wasn’t realistic enough. Now, don’t ask me how a barbarian of blazing muscle that looks like a Greek God and has the brains of a rocket scientist is not all that believable, but some people are picky.

Give me a male character that is sexy. Not in the “oh wow look at that guy” kind of way. Give me one that will still be worth something when he is too old to rock that kilt. Give me a compassionate man who will fight to defend the honour of his lady, and yet cry tears of joy in front of her when they reunite. I need a male character that has brains.

It is hard for me to believe that the male and female fought so hard to be together so that she could admire the slab of flesh before her for the rest of her life while he drags her around by her hair calling her “ye bloody wench.” Maybe that would be fun for a day. I can hang. When the last page has been turned and the cover is at rest, I want to imagine these two characters that took up a few hours of my life growing old together. It needs to be based on something. Is that too much to ask?

Setting:
If it isn’t too much trouble can please stop beginning your books with the following: A dream world, a viking ship, a doctor’s office, a barrister’s office or a strip club. Really. Enough already. The single mum-single dad thing has been done. Daycare is not where I want my characters to have their magical first glance. Come up with something original. Make me see the setting and imagine the characters there. ClichΓ¨s are killers.

 

Cover art:

You want to attract an audience right? Great. Get cover art that matches your genre. If it is a romance book, have a romantic cover that actually has something to do with the contents of the book. If it is a very steamy book, show that on the cover. Don’t show a cute kid with a puppy. Setting yourself up for failure. Really, you are. If it is a less steamy and more sweet book, then don’t put a muscle bound dope on the cover crawling all over a buxom beauty. And don’t use the word buxom. Ever.

Your cover will let me know if you are the kind of book I want to read or the kind I want to avoid. Humour me.

 

Please avoid the following words during love scenes unless all other words have been annihilated from the face of the earth:

 

Tongued, lapping, lusty, glued, engorged, male nectar, love juice, happy honey, alabaster skin, delicate curve, flicked, nibbled and THROBBING.

 

If you can work on these things we may be able to continue this relationship. If not, then I may have to begin seeing another genre.

 

Thank you–Ionia Martin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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105 thoughts on “An open letter to the Romance Genre

  1. That was hilarious. It’s good to have you back at your insightful, funny posts. Why does it seem that romance ignores raven-haired girls? Also, I like the word buxom. Makes me think of tavern wrenches.

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  2. Ugh, male nectar? Nauseating. Thanks for this post. I’ve been thinking about wandering over to the romance genre, so I’m in study mode at the moment.

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  3. I read a book two weekends ago that committed all of the faux pas (over and over and over…and over) except for the cover art. Which was why I read the book, and now regret wasting several hours of my life. Perhaps romance is not for me.

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  4. MALE NECTAR?! EEEEWWWWWW!!!!!

    Whew. Now that THAT’s out of my system…

    Can we also have men who understand that “no” means no? I get the romance in a guy who won’t give up on his true love, but so often in romance books (especially paranormal stuff) it’s just stalking and emotional abuse in a pretty wrapper. If the actions wouldn’t be acceptable from an unattractive guy, they’re not acceptable just because a)he’s a hottie, so she must actually want him, or b) their love is MYSTICAL and MEANT TO BE, so it’s okay for him to force her to summit. Again, no, unless it’s actually That Kind of Book. There’s a place for that, but it worries me how accepted this stalker thing is in more mainstream romance, like it’s some kind of ideal now.

    Could we also add “tumescent” to your list of banned words? Also, any mention of veins. I do NOT need that kind of detail in my mind, thank you.

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    • Veins. Eeew. You are correct. I totally agree with you. Sometimes these males characters (and once in a while female) just don’t get it. It is degrading to think that an author will more or less allow her main character to be stalked by someone and then at the end they fall into bed together and everything is okay. That does not happen too often in real life, or at least I hope. It makes the characters both look stupid, and I hate that.

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  5. Buxom can be used to describe nannies that smell of baby powder, sweat and peppermint can’t they……oh yeah! Nannies really shouldn’t be in a romance novel…unless…oh yeah…the nanny has already been d.o.n.e.

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  6. As you know I don’t write romance novels, but somehow they end up in what I write in tidbits. So joy you shall be when you see Jason’s love interest. “Not to mention the beauty she possessed. She wasn’t perfect like all the vampires that surrounded him, even some of the humans. She had her own qualities. Her brown hair just a little less shiny, she had a few scars on her arms and parts of her face, she seemed quite scrawny (probably due to lack of a good diet from the rations). All he knew was that he had to get to know her better, Tessa be damned.”

    Jason deserves a little bit o’ love in his life πŸ˜‰

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  7. Love this! So perfectly stated and can we please add ‘heaving bosom’ to the list?
    (runs off to make sure I didn’t use the word ‘throbbing’, oh wait it’s ok, I think that was in an email I wrote πŸ˜‰ )

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  8. What about ‘his organ’? I cringe when I see that. Or OVERLY describing characters and clothes. Don’t need to say ‘she put on her prada shoes’ ten different times. I don’t actually read a lot of romance – I want to read more because I’ve written a couple of romance-like things for Fictionpress, and had a couple of people saying “I don’t read romance. But I like this.” You have some very, very good points. If I had my own office/writing space, I’d print it off and stick it up. But typically, most of the things you – and other bloggers – give good reviews for, I tend to stick on my to-read list. Like I said, need to read more.

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  9. Really enjoyed this – as a romance/thriller crossover writer, I was frantically scanning your post to see which faux pas I had committed. I am pleased to say that I think I’ve passed reasonably well – the hero and heroine don’t meet in any of the places you mentioned, I don’t think I’ve used the word throbbing and although she is blond and blue eyed, she does have a few curves and a few extra pounds – and a tummy she’s not proud of. He’s stunning (of course) but he does the crying thing so I think he may be redeemed! πŸ™‚

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  10. Okay, you have now given me every reason not to read this genre. By the time I got to the list of words and phrases never to be used I was laughing so hard that I almost….wait, I don’t think I can use that word. Oh well, this was tremendously funny as were all of the other comments. πŸ™‚

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  11. Enjoyed this post Ionia…as my latest project might be considered of the romance genre even though it is titled This Is Not A Harlequin Romance… I think I managed to avoid the clichΓ©s you mentioned although I may have created other pitfalls in the process… I did however use the word Honey but I was actually talking about Honey…you know the gooey kind…let me phrase that better, the kind you spread on toast…

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  12. Great post, Ionia! I’m right there with the male nectar phrase – so glad I’ve never actually had to read that in print (in context) before… it’s such a … eewwww … mental image!

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  13. Wonderfully humorous as always! I enjoyed this and you pet peeves are definitely worthy of being peeves!! I’m glad I don’t write romance or I would have been running back to look at my novel!! lol

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  14. Oh wow, lol. Great post Ionia! I am really going to like this series! Although romance isn’t my genre your ideas of what should and should not be included sound great (enough that I might get tricked into reading a romance novel again). I would make other comments about things you’ve said… but I am so terribly late to the party, lol

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  15. Haha. I love it! I definitely agree with cover art section. I avoid books where there is a man and a woman draped over each other because it suggests very steamy. Like Mills and Boons. And i would have actually read the darn book if there actually was no steamy bits!

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  16. This post makes we want to write a romance novel based on your guidelines! I have often felt the same way about romance novels. This made me smile.

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  17. Wonderful post my dear πŸ™‚ I’m not a romance fan, but though some factors don’t need anyone to be a romance fan to notice them. What ever happened to beauty that is within? Looks shouldn’t be the only thing that matters, for me they don’t. I’m concerned more about the beauty of the soul, the influential charisma, and of course, the taste in music.
    Enough about me. You’ve done an awesome job utilizing your amazing literary experience. That’s what I love about you!

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  18. This post made me laugh out loud!! The food names? So true. I’ve seen a lot of books where the hero has the brain of a nerd but looks like a Greek god behind his glasses. I’d like to meet that guy! And I always laugh when books feature a 90-pound heroine who can arm wrestle a dude. Of course she goes for the alpha male. But if she can beat him arm wrestling, can he still be considered an alpha male?

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    • LOL!!!! This is such a great point. I like the tough talking girls who take on the guys and then later stumble and sprain something and have to be carried out of the scene. Makes you proud to be a woman, no?

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  19. Pingback: Gold Stars All Around | Vers Les Etoiles

  20. In cleaning out my emails I came across this delightful blog that I missed this summer. Since Romance is the genre I write, I was quite anxious to see what a reader might like/dislike. Oh My! Now that I can see because I’m not laughing so hard that tears are running down my face, I realize I will have to change the looks of my latest Viking heroine! LOL

    Outside of that, I agree, as also a reader of romance, that you have very valid points. I have a few complaints of my own, like riding off into the sunset for happily ever after. Thank you for this entertaining piece and I will remember it when I write my next romance! πŸ™‚

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