I watch a lot of Hallmark Channel programming. I mean a lot. So much romantic trope I can recognize the Meet Cute, when a plot point is coming, a turn, or the inevitable fight that leads to the happy ending.
It got me thinking: how hard can it be to write a romance? Never having written one, I researched what people like or dislike about the genre. It’s one thing to know the plot points and rough out a beat sheet. It’s another thing to come up with something no one has done before.
I turned to Quora to find some answers about romance writing cliches. I discovered many people dislike tired cliches often found in romance. Since I would like to be original, I concluded I should avoid many overused hooks:
Love Triangles — Two men fighting over one woman, or guy, or dog is out. The new form is the Love Square, where a fourth person is also in the fight. Romance readers are tired of contrived relationship rivalries that always work out. They would prefer a new twist: picking the good guy over the brooding bad guy or picking the dog. They still expect a surprise. Romance readers would just prefer it to be an uncontrived surprise.
The Boring Hero — One of the cardinal sins of romance fiction is developing a mopey, mousey, boring protagonist who never changes. Apparently, this is a common problem. The character who spends a lot of time in their head reliving bad times. And then never growing as a character. I think the author should fix this problem, but it seems to be a common complaint of romance readers. Characters need to grow, expand, change or they fall flat. Never let your hero not accept the challenge of becoming a different person by the end of the book.
Mary Sue — This was a common trope complaint and everyone seems to dislike the character everyone in the book universe loves. The Mary Sue or Gary Stu never feels pain, always loves everyone, is desired by men and women, is exotically beautiful with strange or impossible eye features, and has so many talents they are perfect in every way. Sounds very unimaginative to me, but this character shows up in many romance novels. So much so, they are now one of the most hated characters in a romance. It would seem the Mary Sue needs to never return.
Falling Too Fast — Most romance never has the characters in an intimate moment until 2/3 of the way into the story. It’s a hard rule and usually sex or intimacy is used to reveal the characters hidden worries or leads to the monkey wrench that must be solved in the final act. Sometimes the love interests have a Meet Cute and right away they fall hopelessly in love. The story is done for most readers because nothing happens after this. And frequently this happens in the first chapter! It is too predictable. And that is the takeaway: the story still needs to build tension, character, and contain enough twists to keep the reader engaged.
The Player — Romance readers are tired of the lout who hangs out clubs preying on the meat market, yet suddenly becomes true and chaste after they meet the adorable Gary Stu. The reader is not stupid and if it wouldn’t really happen, then they would prefer it not happen in the novel.
From my watching of TV romance, I can tell most of the stories follow a common plot or story. These stories become interchangeable, which is probably good for the Hallmark Channel when it is coming up with Holiday Romance Marathons. My guess is many men find they can get a good nap in while the television is on.
But napping is not the goal of the writer who wants to engage their audience. A good romance should be like any story and contain tension, surprise, and imaginative twists.
© 2019, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.