The concept of the "happily ever after" ending, although ideal for wide-eyed children, is completely unrealistic. Instead of the standard terminology, endings to fairy tales should read: "And, with hard work, true grit, determination and a smattering of therapy, they all lived happily ever after." For that is how real relationships survive; not on mere hopes, dreams and rainbows, but on work, trust, and teardrops. To me, when a story ends on a sugary sweet note, I consider it a cop-out. As an adult with real problems and issues, I prefer to read about characters whose lives are slightly more messed up than my own. Characters who find ways to face their problems and overcome them, not with the perception that there won''t be more problems to come, but with the knowledge and understanding that, when the time comes, they will be able to face them with new resolve.
This brings me to my post for today. When does a romance novel become more of a cliched joke than the smoldering epic the author intended for it to be? For me, there are several romance novel dealbreakers. Some of my favorite "donts" are represented as follows:
The Makeover--The formula: Dowdy, do-gooder transforms into seemingly promiscuous vixen (with nothing more than a haircut, some makeup, a change of wardrobe and contacts) in order to win the heart of her love interest. First of all, what is this telling young women? "Honey, if you pretty yourself up a little, the boys will like you." Sure, they'll like you...until after the ink used to pen "The End" dries or the credits cease rolling. In reality, a relationship based on looks alone is doomed from the start with the recipient of the aforementioned makeover often wondering what happened years later when her Prince Charming shacks up with his twentysomething secretary. Yes, I know looks sell, but why cheapen the legitimacy of a budding relationship by bending to some artificial conception of beauty? I'd much rather read about a Plain Jane getting the guy than some souped-up beauty queen any day of the week.
Ladies Man--Tell me, what's so appealing about a potentially disease-ridden Lothario who's been around the block more times than the paperboy? For me, knowing that a potential suitor (yes, I just used the term "suitor" in the 21st-century) has been with every Sue, Dixie and Harriet (or Tom, Dick and Harry depending upon his preference) in town is more off-putting than attractive. Seriously, do you want to walk around town with the love of your life on your arms only to find out that your eyes are not the only pair looking upon him in lustful adoration?
Damsel in Distress--Woman gets herself into bind that she needs man (knight in shining armor) to get her out of. Woman is in deep depression when man leaves her in the dust. If woman can breathe on her own without help from said man, it'll be a miracle. If it's one thing I HATE, it's the woe-is-me-trapped-in-the-tower heroine (if you can even call that a heroine). Yet, I see it everywhere. Whether in literature or shoved down our children's throats in Disney movies, women are sadly being portrayed as male-dependent parasites. The good news, however, is that this notion is very slowly changing and, although we still have a long way to go, I think we're moving in the right direction (hopefully my future literary contributions will someday further assist with that as well--or so I wish).
Perfect Male Specimen--Any book describing a man as an Adonis or carved from marble earns an instant spot in my trashcan. What exactly defines perfect anyway? I think it's pretty presumptuous to group everyone's tastes into the same typical category: toned with perfectly coifed hair and dimples as deep as the Grand Canyon. We all have our own definitions of perfect, our own ideas of what makes a man worthy of our walls as obsessed teenagers or of our admiration as adults. Personally, I like a man with a little meat on his bones and not some ripped meathead. Therefore, I believe writers should get more unconventional with their male leads as I believe they'll find the response to be more supportive than they think.
Love at First Sight--Romeo and Juliet is a classic and I'm not about to hate on the classics in this post (unless you're one of those people who consider Harlequin novels classics, then for shame), but the whole notion of there being a love at first sight connection is pure lunacy. Lust, maybe, but not love. I remember "falling in love" in middle school with all the cute boys I encountered in the halls only to have my vision of them shattered the very second they opened their mouths. Not much has changed in adulthood, unfortunately. Being attracted to someone usually comes with the territory with falling in love, but it's not the glue that holds the relationship together for the long haul. Sharing similar interests, complementary personalities and striving to achieve mutual goals and values is what makes a relationship work. The rest is just icing on the cake. Think about it, if Romeo and Juliet hadn't perished, what would their relationship have been like twenty years later? You know, with children to raise, subjects to rule and an ever-present lack of adequate plumbing. Do you you honestly believe that Juliet will still care about Romeo's sapphire eyes or that Romeo will give a hoot about how Juliet's porcelain skin glistens in the moonlight? I'm willing to bet not (and the resulting dysfunction would be a pretty stellar idea for a book).
Ms. Innocent and Pure--Scenario: The virginal woman is swept off her feet by The One who she's been waiting to give herself to since she realized what that term even meant. Please. Although there are always exceptions to this, the truth is that purity under the age of 16 or 17 anymore is pretty hard to come by (my daughter will be the exception to this by the way--just saying). Everyone has their dark side complete with skeletons buried deep within their closets. Your heroine shouldn't be any different. I'm not saying she needs to be Ms. Loosey Goosey, just don't portray her as brandishing a harp with a perpetual halo hovering over her head and a holier than thou attitude It's 2011, not 1922, unless it's a period piece, that crap is just not going to fly.
To Fight or Not to Fight--Couples fight. Plain and simple. Even those deemed perfect have their spats every now and then. It's when a couple is portrayed as always agreeable with each other or, at the other end of the spectrum, at each other's throats constantly that I give it the ol' eye roll. I also hold a disdain for those stories where the future lovers hate each other for the vast majority of the book until they realize their hatred is really deep seeded passion. Really, how often does that happen? How does one go from wanting to throw random objects at a person to falling deeply and madly in love with them? The very idea boggles my mind so much so that, along with obscenities, the book itself will be hurtled across the room.
Sexual Healing--Too often I find myself fully engrossed in a book that's slowly building up to the big moment only to be disappointed when it finally arrives and comes across as more of a flicker than a flame. A well-crafted love scene is done with elegance and taste and not riddled with a heap of colorful adjectives or metaphors (think throbbing and heaving, for example). Nor should it contain clothing ravenously ripped to shreds or buttons being propelled across the room as though they were weapons of mass destruction. No clothing is that flimsy and no woman I know refers to their chestal area as a bosom.
Now it's your turn to sound off. What are your least favorite romance novel cliches?