“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
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.
I don’t like children in my romance.
Yes, there have been a FEW very RARE instances where the author pulled it off for me and I actualy enjoyed the children. Exceptions that come to mind are both by SEP: I actually (gasp) laughed at some of the scenes with kids in them in Match Me if You Can, and I really fell for the little boy in Dream a Little Dream. SEP has a rare gift for capturing kids on the page.
Carrie, as Sandy pointed out, the “”Bible”” quote wasn’t mine. :) But it fits so many occasions.
And YES, authors… please STOP writing “”enabler”” heroines! I want to see a heroine just DUMP her daddy, sibling, etc into debtor’s prison! Or tell them, “”NO, I am not paying your debts/mortgage/blackmailer/etc. Take care of your problems, yourself.”” I have yet to see this plot point done in a way that doesn’t make me want to BITE something.
I get tired of TSTL heroines in suspense novels who decide they HAVE to go outside and put themselves and the hero in danger, etc. This admittedly was much more common in the 80s and 90s (“”I am my own woman, so common sense has no place here!””), but it still irks me.
I’m also annoyed by heroines who protect their gambling father or their thieving sister or their embezzling cousin, etc. by allowing themselves to be blackmailed into marriage (and true love!) with the hero (?). I’m more of a “”you made your bed, now lie in it”” type of person.
Can a good author make such plots work, anyway? Yes, but I remain a little irritated no matter how well the book is written.
JMM, thanks for the “”Romancing the Stone”” reference! :) One of my favorite movies!
JMM “”“Oh, he shot my father, raped and murdered my sister, killed my dog and stole my Bible – but it would be wrong to bring harm upon a living human being! I’ll just let him go “”
It was the Bible that did me in…thanks for the laugh! And I agree with you!
I don’t like books which include rape or a hero who can’t accept a no from the heroine. I also get turned off by extreme jealousy, it’c creepy not romantic.
I dislike the “”heroine returns to Small Town and learns What’s Really Important by giving up her career to run knitting/embroidery/etc store and have six babies with the former Navy SEAL sheriff”” theme and so far, no book has changed my mind.
I usually despise virginal heroines, but enjoyed one or two books with such.
I’d like revenge stories more if the HEROINE was allowed to take revenge on someone instead of copping out. “”Oh, he shot my father, raped and murdered my sister, killed my dog and stole my Bible – but it would be wrong to bring harm upon a living human being! I’ll just let him go (and hope he doesn’t murder dozens of others before the hero shoots him)!””
Lol. Now I want to watch Romancing the Stone again. And I totally agree with you!
Haha that made me laugh cause I HATE those stories as well!!! And that is basically the summary of the entire book!!
What really put me off are:
1) those contemporary novels that out of the blue introduce paranormal elements. One thing is a Fantasy or Sci-Fi or Vampyric novel when you expect that, and a different thing is when you are reading a perfectly normal novel and find out something ‘magical’ that has nothing to do with the story.
Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz have done this many times and I really hate it.
2) those rakes that don’t do anything rakish and are redeemed by very boring virgins.
3) rapist or sexist heros, all those overbearing guys that say ‘your lips say no but your body say yes’. They usually find doormats that ‘surrender’.
So I think I dislike certain elements more than certain plots. Even the most trite plot (unexpected pregnancy or forced marriages) could be great in the hands of a splendid writer.
I am not going to discount any plot just because. In the hands of a skilled writer, any plot, even the dreaded secret baby, and be elevated to a really good reading experience. If I ignore the book just based on that type of plot, I’ll be missing out.
The best, best, best revenge plot I’ve ever read was Silk and Shadows by Mary Jo Putney.
In the Harry Dresden series, a secret baby plot came up (an 8 year old secret baby, even!). He destroyed everything to keep her safe. The book was amazing.
So I don’t pay attention to the type of plot when choosing a book. If I’m hooked in the sample, then I’m there.
Exactly what Eggletina said: “”The writing and characterization matter more to me.”” And also: “”…if it’s an author I’ve had good luck with before and something about the writing from the beginning grabs me…”” then I’m good to go too.
Rather than certain motifs, genres are likely to have more sway with me, with historicals being the genre of choice, and just a couple of contemporary authors occasionally for a change when needed.
I don’t tend to like small town romances. It’s not that I have anything against stories set in small towns. I just hate that vibe I get from some romances that small towns are “”better”” or “”purer,”” somehow. I also don’t like the types of conflict that often go hand-in-hand with the small town setting, such as family drama But there are still a few small town romances that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
I also don’t like rakes. As I’ve said before, “”rake”” to me sounds like a old-fashioned term for “”arrested adolescent.”” But one of my all-time favorite romances, Venetia by Georgette Heyer, features a thoroughly charming and unreformed rake.
I really cannot enjoy a book where the heroine is a mother whose child is in jeopardy. Ya’ll know the kind–The idea that a mother would be able to begin a relationship and have sex all the while their child is in jeopardy is just a total turn-off for me. What kind of mother would be able to think of anything but finding their child? I’m pretty sure if some super-soldier was helping me recover my kidnapped child I wouldn’t want to be distracting them from their mission by having sex with them–even supposing that I was existing in an unnatural state where I was interested in having sex under those circumstances. I don’t believe I have ever read a book where that plot worked for me.
I’m not a big fan of the virgin until 30 storyline or the ones where the heroine believes she is frigid due to what an ex told her umpteen years ago but the hero is able to fix all her problems. I don’t find either of these realistic and generally results in me throwing the book away in disguist. Or ones where the couple have been seperated for years during which time the hero has slept with everything that moves but gets mad is the heroine even looks at another man or had a relationship while they were apart.
I did like paranormals but have gotten tired of the hero seeing/smelling/hearing the heroine (ie: not actually getting to know the heroine) the herand falling madly in love then becoming so protective that the heroine is unable to do anything without him. (I””m looking at you J.R. Ward)
I really dislike the Prostitute/Courtesan story also especially when they marry a Duke or the brother of a Duke and he forces the Ton to accept her. I had to eat my words when I read Mary Balogh’s A Secret Pearl that was well done indeed.
Also hate the virgin hero I don’t know just my little quirk don’t like the promiscuous hero much either but I refuse to read the virgin hero .
I like paranormals a lot but I am getting a bit tired of the hero who has been tortured for 500+ year and is damaged/scarred/broken etc. I now avoid those. Love A Hunger Like NO Other though it’s a DIK but my only exception .
The writing and characterization matter more to me. There are plot devices, character types, etc., that I don’t particularly care for and will put me off, but if it’s an author I’ve had good luck with before and something about the writing from the beginning grabs me I can put aside my prejudices.
I don’t particularly care for younger men with older women, but Judith Ivory’s “”Sleeping Beauty”” and Candice Proctor’s “”Midnight Confessions”” are two examples I can think of that worked for me.
I also dislike instant mental lusting and if the story doesn’t go beyond that it will soon lose me.
I tend to stay away from book that include adultery of the lead characters. I have a hard time getting past that. I can’t think of any books that have that I’ve enjoyed with that plot device. I also almost never like love triangles. I’m still mad about Summer of Two Wishes.
I’m also not a fan of the “”secret baby”” device, but I’ve read a couple books with this that worked.
One of my pet peeves is the mean, manipulative family members, especially when coupled with doormat or even long-suffering, hero/heroine. The only thing that redeems this type of book is for the offending family member(s) to get what’s coming to them.
Lynn, what a wonderful topic you started!
I absolutely agree with you and many others that a talented writer can treat a trope unliked by some readers so that these readers would enjoy the book.
When I think of the tropes I dislike, I am surprized that I don’t mind many usual ones, like rape, forced seduction, secret baby.
I think the one I dislike the most and that’s why I avoid such romances is much older woman/younger man (5 years is the limit for me, but there is no limit with older man/younger woman). Yet I will make an exception and read On the Island because I was intrigued by the premise of the book and it was also recommended by Tesa here.
I also generally avoid books with femle prostitutes and almost passed up on Mary Balogh’s A Precious Jewel. Fortunately, I did not and it’s been one of my Top 10 romance books of all time.
Also I am not interested in inspirational romance but will also make an exception for the best of the genre and will borrow Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers from the library because of many great reviews on Goodreads and even from the people who are not into inspi romance at all (more likely into hot romances).
Well, I used to have more of “”I don’t like to read this __””, but then found that sometimes I do enjoy them. So, I don’t rule out any specific romance genres or plots. I do find that I will pass by books featuring very young characters more often now as it just makes me think of my kids, and as a parent I have really hard time reading anything where children are in peril or are abused or killed as part of the storyline. Of course, that is usually not a part of a romance storyline.
I’m pretty conservative when it comes to romance novels. I agree with everyone so far, but the thing that I really hate is the evil sadist and or perverted father/uncle/brother/husband trope. I know it’s usual to have a male relative as the bad guy, I just hate it when they are abusive sexual predators.
Rose, I know exactly the ick factor book you are talking about! It was dreadful!
Absolutely agree that there are exceptions to every rule, Lynn. There are so many types of books I never thought I would enjoy. When I first started reading romance, I only read historicals, so the push into contemporaries and then paranorms, which I avoided like the plague for years, was gradual.
For plot structures, I was never that much of a fan of the pregnancy plot because I felt like it was such a cliche, especially in a contemporary setting. But I have come to really enjoy stories with this plot structure in it, and variations on it, like a hero or heroine raising a child (adopted, sibling, etc.) which becomes the foundation for a romance. And bottom line, there are certain authors that can sell me on just about anything. I credit Lisa Kleypas with shaking me out of my tendency to avoid romance written in the first person.
I am tired of the whole cowboy / baby thing. A lot of the earlier romances with wealthy European / naive British or American woman also annoy me. But I am willing to keep my mind open and that keeps me surprised. I’m always willing to read something new. I have never read To Have and To Hold, so I’ll definitely be checking that out.
I don’t like contemporary stories with sheiks and royalty from fictionalized countries. Having said that I did enjoy some stories with this trope but only from favorite authors like Anne McAllister and Suzanne Brockmann. But my “”personal kryptonite””are romances involving pregnant women and heroes who are not the father of the babies. Having gone through 3 pregnancies myself, I know that I didn’t feel very sexy especially during the last trimester so I find it weird that guys would be attracted to pregnant women about to give birth.
I cannot stand Love Triangles. Unless one of the suitors (male or female) turns out to be the worst sort of person, I find myself sympathizing with the one left out in the cold. And my scorn is always directed at the person who is stringing two people along with their affections. I have tried to get past this feeling and forced myself to read books with the love triangle set-up, but it just never works for me and those books are quickly put in the donate bin or archived.
There are three storylines that are absolute turnoffs for me.
The first is the courtesan (or male equivalent.) I’m not talking about someone starving on the street, who has to sell their body or starve, I mean a person who chooses to sell their body to get the finer things in life, nice clothes, jewelry, etc.
The second is the “”rake”” who dallies with married women. Somehow this seems to be acceptable in most stories, but I can’t see a hero who causes another man to be “”cuckolded.””
The third is having sex with someone other than one’s spouse in order to conceive a child. Even in stories where the husband encourages this, I find it to be too much of an “”ick”” factor.
Some of my favorite authors have used the above storylines. I have yet to read a story with one of the above premises that will win me over. I just chalk it up to “”This wasn’t my kind of book,”” and move on.
I would tell you that I hate cliches, and avoid them, but I have eaten my words so many times, I wouldn’t dare say it. A good author can absolutely show why a particular plot device became a cliche in the first place.
On the other hand, I haven’t been able to get around the reality check involved in having a prostitute/stripper/sex trade worker as heroine. People who make a living that way are not just regular folks with unusual jobs. They are people with massive self esteem, and body image issues. Really, massive. The love of a good man is not going to change that. And by the bye, imo courtesan is just a $5 word for ho.
The net result is that I don’t even try to read those books. I read books for fun, not to follow psychiatric case studies, and anything less feels less like fiction and more just wrong. It’s not sexy, it’s demeaning, and diminishing, and sad. In my opinion.
I have never taken the view that there are plot tropes I will not read I would have missed out on so many great stories had I done so. Sometimes the books that I think that I will like the least because of a particular trope end up being my favourites because they challenge me and my preconceived notions – To Have and to Hold is the perfect example of this.