That streak ended yesterday.
I downloaded, began reading, and discarded two books long before finishing them. One was an historical romance, which I generally like. Unfortunately and despite the author’s competence with the mechanics of language, it bored me to tears.
I took a chance on the second book, a “New Adult” romance. Egad. That book delivered every defect of which I complain in the sub-genre: confusion between plural and possessive (that apostrophe thing again), alternating points of view narrative (that’s a personal preference), morally ambiguous characters, and tired tropes.
Tropes are, in essence, stereotypes. They can be used well or poorly. In “New Adult” romance, we have the following tropes:
- Tall, dark, and dangerous (the bad boy)
- Promiscuous (more bad boy)
- More often than not, the hero is wealthy or comes from affluence. If not, then he’s the proverbial “wrong side of the tracks” type of guy: rough and tough with a big chip on his shoulder.
- Petite and gorgeous (towering leading ladies need not apply) with long hair
- Promiscuous or virginal (there’s little in-between)
- More often than not, the heroine struggles to make ends meet. If not, then she’s definitely from an affluent family.
In this sub-genre, career choices are limited for male leads and even more so for female leads. Granted, we’re talking about young adults from 18 to 25 years old, so we don’t often find lofty career achievements by that age–especially not for the heroines. You won’t see the 19 year old girl genius who skipped several grades, graduated with a fast-tracked, postgraduate degree, and is the feminine equivalent of Doogie Howser or Lazlo Hollyfeld.
In each of those stereotypes, too many authors seem to gravitate toward the least attractive aspects of attitude and character, perhaps in an effort to show how “broken” and “damaged” they are so the love of their soul mates can serve as the catalyst for redemption.
That leads to the question of what I do expect. First and foremost, I expect competent writing. In any work exceeding a few pages, I won’t be put off by the occasional typo or comma error. We’re human, we make mistakes. But content riddled with errors gets an immediately negative reaction. I’ve blathered on and on about that before. ‘Nuff said.
I expect dialog that sounds natural. To get personal, I have children, which means I’ve had intimate relations with a man (my husband, to be precise). More than once. I don’t recall engaging in extended, eloquent conversations during said intimate relations. Why would your characters? When speaking to friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, we use contractions. We don’t add lots–if any–personal identifiers when speaking to them.
I expect people to deal honestly with each other. Any book in which the main characters’ relationship is based on lies (stated or by omission) is an automatic fail for me, especially when all that contrived conflict could be resolved if the characters just sat down and talked candidly for a few minutes.
I expect either a believable plot premise or to be able to suspend disbelief. If the premise involves contrived circumstances, especially arising from a character’s consistently poor decision making, then I’ll discard the book. When extraordinary circumstances happen to an ordinary character, then I’ll be looking for realistic reactions. Harking back to the hero-kidnaps-the-heroine premise, if said hero tortures and/or abuses the heroine, then why, oh why, would she fall in love with him? The abused heroine’s love redeeming the abusive criminal who abducts our leading lady is not a premise that is even remotely believable.
So, to end today’s extended gripe:
- If you use stereotypes in your writing (and it’s hard not to), then use them well and creatively.
- Make your main characters likable. They don’t have to be–and shouldn’t be–perfect, but neither should their personalities make your readers cringe with disgust or distaste.
- If your main characters are going to be morally ambiguous, then do it creatively and with purpose, not just because it’s easy to follow the formula.
- Learn how to write. Writing is a craft; treat it as such and learn to master it.