“I don’t like THOSE kinds of stories.” Admit it. You’ve heard those words or said something similar yourself at some point. Hang around any romance site long enough and people will start talking about their favorite plots or going on about types of plots they just can’t stand. One person just can’t enjoy secret baby books while another will proclaim that marriage of convenience plots are enough to keep her from picking up a novel. When I come across these discussions, I’m more than happy to dish on plotlines that just don’t thrill me. We all have our preferences, and the fantasies that work are as different as the readers who choose them. These conversations also make me think about good writing, though. After all, even if we don’t like a particular plotline, couldn’t there be an exception to our rules in the hands of a good author?
I find myself wondering if my own preferences really are absolute. Revenge stories might make one cringe (and who really marries someone just to get revenge on them or their family anyway? Isn’t that cutting off your nose to spite your face?), but not every story is cut from the same cloth. Every time I think of a plot type I hate, I can usually come up with at least one example of an author who made it work.
For instance, revenge plots normally make me roll my eyes. I find it tedious to read about heroine X constantly trying to get at hero Y just because of some old slight against her family, or vice versa. There’s some truth to the saying, “Living well is the best revenge,” and I often find myself wishing more characters in romance would adopt that philosophy. I don’t normally pick up revenge stories on purpose unless they’re written by authors I trust or I’ve read some reviews that intrigue me. When I got Courtney Milan’s Unveiled for review, I didn’t realize ahead of time that I’d just landed a chance to review one of those plots that tends to be my personal kryptonite.
And yet it works. Sure, the hero is out for revenge and the heroine comes from the hated family, even if he doesn’t realize that at first. However, as I mentioned in the review, the story just crackles with emotion and tension. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and while the idea of revenge certainly runs through the story, it’s hardly tedious. Instead, the characters learn to examine their lives and their relationships with new eyes, and there’s a coming to terms with the past that makes this beautiful.
I’m also very much not a fan of the “forced seduction” plots that used to be fairly common in older historicals, and I was put off by more than a few in my early romance reading. However, there’s at least one book in this category that I just adored. When I picked up To Have and to Hold by Patricia Gaffney, I just wanted to continue reading a series whose first book I had enjoyed. Those who have read this novel know that both the hero and heroine have been to very dark places in their lives, and there’s definitely sexual coercion in this book. However, the author’s insight into her characters and their emotions made this an amazing read rather than an unbearably creepy one. Sebastian and Rachel are characters that readers can love at their best and have compassion for at their worst as we see them both grow through falling in love. Because it’s such a hot button topic, I think this may be one of the most difficult plots to pull off, but Patricia Gaffney is one of the very, very few who has managed to make it work for me as a reader.
What about you? Are there types of plots that don’t appeal to you as a reader? And better yet, are there authors out there who are exceptions to your rule and who have managed to succeed at writing a book you like using one of these types of plots?
– Lynn Spencer