10 Romance Novel Cliches… That Can Stop Any Time Now
I’m just going to say it: I am an unapologetic Romance reader. I spent many years being apologetic about it, actually, until I realized that was wasted time I could have spent reading more romance novels.
I read other things, things that I am much less likely to hide behind better books when family is over, things I might discuss at parties (until people start looking at me in that glassy-eyed way)…
…but not as much as I read romance novels. They’re a comfort food, a candy, something you can start before bed one night and pick up the next night without feeling like you have to finish it in a big rush. They’re like the Columbo or Matlock of the book world. You know what’s going to happen and the only difference is how. They’re a nice way to fall asleep. And sometimes they’re pretty compelling.
And sometimes they’re not. They’re really, deeply, disturbingly, frustratingly not.
With NaNoWriMo coming to a close and me playing that “next year, I’m so gonna do it!” song again, I feel like this is the perfect time to be a whiny brat all over people who actually write, which I don’t. But I could. But I don’t (cue song)…
I know, I know. I’m a jelly hater and it does seem kind of entitled, whining about how I think things should be while making no effort to put myself out there. Then again, I paid good money to read these books and I’m so tired of staring at the entirely-too-large number of them sitting at 70, 50, even 20 percent in my Kindle library because I just thought it was gonna be so good and now I feel duped!
Maybe you’ve been there, too — bought a book with a 4.5 rating on Amazon only to cringe several times at the interaction between the hero and the heroine. Maybe you’ve snapped out of a romance binge and realized you’ve read ten versions of the same damned book.
I’m not going to name names. I really don’t want to crap all over some specific person’s hard work. I just want to crap all over this one story, this one damned story that I have read over and over and over. It might be Contemporary, it might be Historical, it might be Young Adult, New Adult, Erotica, it might be Supernatural.
I know, I know. Why are you expecting greatness from a romance novel? Aren’t they all the same? This is not about the plots. Hell, I don’t expect the plots to surprise me. Those cliches, tropes, familiar dynamics, oft-told tales, even those hackneyed devices? It’s all good. Friends to lovers? Yes, please! Marriage of convenience turns to love? Tell me how! Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy meets hilariously straight-laced other? Oooh! Does one of them pine after the other? I am here for them! Those Beatrice/Benedict bickerers forced to run a business/raise a kid/solve a case? Bring ’em over here!
See? I’m not too hard to please.
But there are quite a few specific cliches, interactions, and character types that I personally wish we, as women… no… as a society could revamp, refine, or just plain retire.
Before I get into it, I just want to say that this is all my opinion. Maybe you adore some of the tropes I am about to blast. Heck, I’ve even enjoyed the odd novel that commits the crimes I am about to list. But some of them take it to such levels…
1. The Alpha-Hole
I don’t know who first coined the term, but bless them. It is a combination of alpha male and asshole and it fits him like one of his damned expensive suits (or leather pants if he’s feeling wild). Sometimes, it’s used lovingly, but not by me. I’m not much of a fan of his testy, angry he-man histrionics.
He comes in many forms, yet so few. He can be a popular jock, a duke, a racecar driver, a werewolf industrialist, a reclusive rancher, a vampire viscount. His income ranges from billionaire to multi-billionaire. I kid, I kid (not really). His name is always something like Taylor or Jackson or Carter. In fact, I’ve come up with the perfect romance hero name generator:
Just pick the last name of a President and…
Okay, fine. There are also the Coultons, Trents, and Hawks of the alpha world. My point is that there are no Toms, Bills, or Johnnies in this world. Get out of here with that beta crap! And our alpha almost always comes with his own set of sub-tropes. He’s almost always…
2. The Same Damned Guy!
At least the heroine can vary a little. Perhaps she’s pure and good and shouldn’t get mixed up with a criminal hacker or devil-may-care athlete or racecar driver or highwayman or nobleman (with a secret!) like him.
Perhaps she’s feisty and determined to stay away from him, but unable to resist his scarred/tattooed/sweat-kissed (or all at once!) chest and the way he just knows all her desires without asking! But he is always the same hulking brooder with a tortured past who needs her love to make it better!
He is also usually…
3. In a position of power over our heroine…
…which is okay because he uses it to secretly or not-so-secretly help her out of dire financial straits, put her in a house/apartment he has control over, give her a cushy job where he can grope her at will, or help her adopt a gang of lovable orphans. He’s not so bad, you guys!
Well, I mean, he is. Very bad. Rakishly, poutingly bad! She really should stay away from him, but it’s so hard to resist his pull even if he is…
4. Terribly insulting to her!
But look, it’s only at first! Sure, he’ll sneer and glare at her, make her life hell, hire her in a subordinate position and humiliate her. But all is forgiven when she realizes he was just protecting his fragile heart from her, like most men who treat you like dirt are secretly doing!
I mean, the whole point of the alpha’s book is about his journey from raging douche to sweet puppy dog with the aid of our heroine. Just like in real life, if she sticks it out and stays determined enough, and steadfast enough, and lovable enough, he will come around! Just watch out for that temper because he’s also…
5. Red-flag level possessive of her!
She just better not show any skin. No low necklines and no bikinis. If she shows up to the party in a skimpy dress or bikini, he is there to sputter and rage incoherently before dragging her off to… well…
She will often end up marked in some way by their tortured, angsty roll in the hay, but she will find it exciting how he just can’t control himself with her, so it’s all good and super hot and totally fine as long as she covers up and has no interaction with other men past the point of his claim on her… also before that sometimes, too. Look, he’s just insecure, deep down, like a scared lil puppy! Leave him alone!
As for him, he will sleep with multiple women prior to the novel, during the beginning, or even up till the halfway point. But that doesn’t mean... Look, this is just what he has to do so he is experienced enough to give her multiple orgasms the first time they sleep together or so he can take her virginity with relish and pride, so gratified she is his alone. His!
I mean she better be his. He’s entitled to her by now. He’s waited for her long enough.
6. It’s okay! It’s not stalking when he’s hot!
Even if she says repeatedly and emphatically that she is not interested, he is a Hardy Boy and his only case is her lady parts. He always knows what she wants, what she really, really wants.
For a bonus, he might describe in lurid detail all the stuff he wants to do to her as she torturedly whispers that they mustn’t. Even if she indicates disgust or shock, she doesn’t mean it, which is why he’s perfectly within his rights when he goes in for that sudden kiss.
7. Every first kiss is a sneak-attack!
There are many varieties of that wham!kiss. Sometimes, our couple mutually go for it. Sometimes, the heroine has definitely indicated her desire to be kissed. This is not either of those. Sometimes the hero, despite what she’s said or done leading up to it, just ravages her lips all sudden-like. She might say “no, ” but he is not deterred because he knows it’s really a resounding “yes!” Heck, she might fight him off at first, but he keeps going until she stops struggling and she finally truly understands what a kiss should be: Against her will! Until it isn’t!
In some novels, he takes it straight to second base while barely on first, or even slides into third while (I have seen the following far too much) smirking at her as he points out she’s got a veritable waterfall in her underoos, an action she will either find hot or angering… and secretly hot!
Once it’s gotten to the bedroom… Well, just settle in because…
8. He is insatiable!
Look, I have nothing against sex scenes. In fact, those jerks who amp up the tension only to fade to black can kiss my grits. But some of these books, y’all...
We get it. The sex is good and plentiful. I think, after 2–3 (I prefer a respectable 2.5, myself), unless your sex scene has a reason to exist — things like upping the intimacy, progressing the relationship, or even complicating it — then it’s totally fine to fade to black or just allude to it. I am under no delusion that the sex has suddenly dried up if it’s not graphically, painstakingly described in every chapter. In fact, I’m going to start worrying about their hydration and energy levels if we don’t slow things down.
9. Other women? Villainous tramps, the lot of them!
Some jealous female, possibly marginally more commercially attractive than our heroine, often tries to derail their pure and glorious love. If our heroine is skinny, pale, and petite, this girl will be well-endowed, tan, and blonde. If our heroine is curvy, she will be willowy and slender. The one thing that never varies is what a damned tramp she is, slinking around in her miniskirt, low-cut gown, or worse….
This mega-trollop will stop at nothing to make Mason hers. It can be violence or blackmail or public humiliation. But Cheryl or whatever her name is (like she matters!) will always end up hoist by her own petard, crying in a puddle of lipgloss and whining about how she’s prettier than that Converse sneaker and T-shirt wearing freak and/or fattie who wears vintage dresses! How could she win Carter?
Poor Vicki or whatever her name is. She will never understand their love. How can she? She has no personality traits beyond desiring Jackson!
Actually that’s unfair. Not all other women are vengeful doxies. Sometimes the heroine has a friend…
10. A friend whose only job is: pimp that hero!
Look, by now Drayson (I bet that’s a name somewhere!) has stalked, humiliated, and forced kisses on our heroine and she is this close to moving out of town with no forwarding address.
That can’t happen. Enter her bestie, sister, or coworker. Married or single, smart or silly, this girl will ogle the hero like it’s her 9–5 and will stop at nothing until she convinces our heroine to join her in happy oglement and dirty innuendo. There might also be a makeover involved. She wants nothing more than to see them bone. Maybe literally.
If she does a good enough job, she might spin off into her own story! Maybe with Alpha’s wisecracking younger brother or grumbly coworker! You can tell if they have a meet-cute in Book One. Don’t you get too used to those adorable goofsters, though. If these two gain Official Couple status, she will very likely gain a sudden tragic backstory and he will put on his Alpha pants but good before they angst and sigh their way to your Kindle.
And they will take their turn with all of the above until their love is cemented by…
Bonus: The very necessary epilogue sex scene.
Because we readers need to know… Is the sex still gonna be okay?
Of course it is! He is playful now, relaxed, and the perfect boyfriend because her love healed his scars! Dirty innuendo, fade to black, and they all lived happily ever after.
Except for me.
Of course, I’m going to make a huge liar out of myself now by confessing that I have enjoyed all of the above at some point. Not all smushed together, obviously, but in nice, manageable doses.
Hell, I’m not even against all alphas. I’ve read some good, interesting, or nuanced alphas in my time. Not every alpha is an alpha-hole. I’ve enjoyed them when they are protective but also respect the heroine, when they are vulnerable underneath it all and show it with something other than possessive sex, when they are the strong/silent/still-waters-run-deep type, or when they have a heroine who’s able to counter them without being a dishrag.
These tropes and cliches, every single one of them, can be done well. They just usually aren’t.
Come to think of it, I don’t want to end this on such a sour note. I mean, it’s practically Christmas according to at least two of my local radio stations!
You know what? I urge you to prove me wrong. Do you have a shining alpha beacon you’d like me to meet? A romance that includes any or even all of these tropes, but pulls it off? Better yet, do you have a romance that includes none of these? Tell me your favorites and I’ll read them. Maybe I’ll like them enough to include them in my next list, tentatively titled: Books That Surprise Me or That Don’t Strain My Eye-Rolling Mechanism.
There has to be some, right?
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