It’s the last day of February, so this is my last romance pet peeve for a while. It’s also the last time I’ll be actively blogging for a while. I’m taking an internet hiatus for the month of March. I’ve been spending too much of my time searching for content for social media and not enough time writing.
I’ve got a few guest posts coming up, and I’ve pre-written some blog posts that are scheduled to go up automatically later in the month, so you’ll still see things appear on this page. I’ll also continue to promote the 99¢ sale of Essential Magic until this time next week, since that’s an easy “log on, post, log off” situation. But otherwise, I will be offline and finishing Memories of Magic.
Today’s post could also be titled:
- No romantic chemistry
- Telling about the romance rather than showing
- Insta-lust that never develops into love (or abruptly becomes love for no obvious reason)
- Fated Mates who are otherwise exactly wrong for each other
I’ve been trying out a lot of first-time and self-published romance writers lately, and this is a pitfall I’ve found fairly frequently in that demographic. That’s not to say it doesn’t plague authors later in their careers or who are traditionally published, though, because it does. It’s just more likely that well-edited and more-experienced writers will have help fixing the problem before the book is published.
The problem itself is fairly straight-forward, and like all of my pet peeves so far, stems from the author not understanding the characters, or perhaps not giving them as much weight as the story/tropes/stereotypes/whatever.
In examples like Fated Mates, the author might believe that the trope will carry the romance. And let me say here that I don’t mind that trope–in fact, I’m a big fan of it–but it isn’t enough on its own. As a reader, I want to see the ways that fate was right about these people. Bonus points if it drives them absolutely crazy how much they’re right for each other. There’s a fine balance between sniping and arguments that arise from characters who are afraid to love and sniping and arguments that arise from characters who shouldn’t be together.
What do I mean by “shouldn’t be together?”
To be honest, most of the time in this particular trope, it’s because the hero is an Alpha Asshole and shouldn’t be with anybody. I don’t mind strong men, but in my opinion, a strong man is one who is comfortable in his own skin, cares deeply for others, doesn’t feel the need to use violence to assert his masculinity, and is respected rather than feared. In fact, I’m probably going to write an entire post at some point on how much I hate Alpha Assholes, because they’re mostly manipulative abusers who have no place in a romance.
Sometimes “shouldn’t be together” is because, when the couple is together, they make each other worse. They are inspired to make bad choices, and do bad things. I’m not necessarily talking about making mistakes, although that is sometimes true. But when a couple is right together, they inspire each other to be better people. To have more compassion, to think critically, to come out of their shells.
But that represents two opposite extremes: the couples that work and feel right (the ideal) and the couples that are actively wrong for each other.
What is even worse are couples that I just don’t care about one way or the other.
Most of the time, this problem comes down to the relationship being informed rather than displayed. We’re told about feelings and interactions via exposition rather than shown them organically. The narrative might assert that the heroine is experiencing connection and passion–but we never quite feel that with her. And I’m not talking about sex scenes. I recently read a book with SO MANY SEX SCENES that nonetheless left me cold because there was zero emotional engagement between the characters. It is entirely possible for your leads to have sexual chemistry and no romantic chemistry. In fact, that happens all of the time in real life.
So if this has happened to you as a writer, consider what you need to tweak and change about the characters to give them that romantic chemistry. It might just be a matter of digging deeper into the emotions and showing them on the page. It might mean changing something in the character’s history or personality. It might just mean having more action and dialogue, and less exposition, even if it’s internal monologue. If your characters start off lusting after each other, make sure that the lust forces them to acknowledge emotional realities that they would rather ignore.
Just because there are two beautiful people in a room does not mean they’ll be attracted to each other. Or, even if they are, that attraction alone will make for a satisfying romance.
The great thing about all of these pet peeves is that they can be avoided by having a good understanding of character and digging past the surface level of storytelling.
What are some of your romance pet peeves? Let me know, and maybe I’ll feature some on the blog.