As a writer and especially as a reader, romance is not my genre. I don’t hate it, though, and I’ve even read a few that I really like. Most books I do read have some form of romance in them, because that’s just how books roll (though there are a growing number of asexual and aromantic authors out there working to offer more non-romance content). And look, regardless of my sexual or romantic orientation, I like a good romance!
That’s the key, though. A good romance. It has to be well-written, and it cannot be cliched.
Here’s all the ways to guarantee I will not like the romance in a book or story:
- The protagonist and their love interest are “in love” in the first third of the book. Sorry, I don’t believe in love-at-first-sight, especially in fiction.
- I can’t tell why these two people love each other. Like in The Swan Princess, when Odette asks Derek to tell her what he suddenly loves about her–he can’t say anything other than her beauty (but she never gives any reason why she suddenly loves him, either).
- The “explanation” of their relationship comes down to them being in lust, not in love. There’s nothing wrong with casual sex between two people who don’t love each other as long as both are consenting adults–but don’t mistake sex for love, and please don’t have your characters make the same mistake. Unless it’s acknowledged and part of the story.
- The protagonist–especially if she’s a “strong female lead”–finds herself inexplicably attracted to some domineering alpha male. She can’t explain it. She fights it. She loses, of course. Blech.
- The female love interest spends all her time being angry at the domineering alpha male because he’s domineering, but she also is inexplicably attracted to him, and eventually just decides that’s part of who he is and learns to deal with it.
- Love triangles. No. Stop. These are overdone, and also painful. For me, almost triggery painful.
- The male love interest’s (for any gender protagonist) main traits that are supposed to be “romantic” are actually domineering, possessive, and abusive.
- The book or story is supposed to have a non-romance plot, but 90% of it is taken up by the romance plot, and the rest is tacked on at the end. Anything that is not the romance plot is badly written, badly conceptualized, and badly plotted. It’s fine to have a book that is 100% romance. Just don’t lie about it. (This one inspired by Robin D. Owens’ The Summoning series, which has about the weakest non-romance plot ever.)
- The main protagonist is an out-spoken, stubborn “strong female” type, who meets her domineering alpha male, and is constantly being silenced “for her own good” because her outspokenness and stubbornness is what attracts him to her in the first place, but now because of the circumstances it’s dangerous for her to speak her mind! Because she’s speaking without knowing the full impact of her words or actions! She really should just be silent and allow her sudden new boyfriend to do all the talking.
- An alpha male attracted to the one female who doesn’t immediately bend to his charms or his will.
- Especially when eventually, she learns to accept that his domination, over-protectiveness, and controlling behavior is just how he shows love.
- Really I’m kind of over supernatural boyfriends–werewolves, vampires, etc.–having “natural” reasons behind their crappy, sexist behavior. How about we have some vampire or werewolf who isn’t a raging sexist?
I mean, surely my point is made. I could come up with more, but mostly they’d be iterations of the above. I’m done with cliche, especially when it’s sexist.
I should note that I wrote this post based almost entirely on my reaction to the “romance” plot in Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, which is a really well-written book for the most part. The story about the history of witches, daemons, and vampires, and how it’s connected with alchemy is all very well done, and so interesting, and I really love that part. However, it’s practically drowned–especially in A Discovery of Witches (the first of a trilogy)–by the romance story, which is basically everything I just listed above. I hated everything about the romance between Matthew and Diana the first time I read the trilogy, and I only hate it more the second time around.
Luckily, the rest of the story is interesting and well-written enough. Really well done. Honestly, I recommend Harkness’ trilogy based on the strength of every single part of the non-romance story alone. I just wish she’d been able to be less cliched and sexist and more awesome with her romance story.