In a recent discussion about Barbara Cartland, several readers bemoaned her incessantly giving her heroines heart shaped faces and small hands. The latter feature is, I’ve since noticed, quite common in older historical romances–how many scenes have we all encountered where her tiny fingers couldn’t reach around a hero’s heavy shaft. (rolls eyes)
But, while itty bitty hands make me laugh, they’re not as bad, IMHO, as the endless parade of heroines with violet eyes. (Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes were blue.) Purple eyes are almost unheard of and when they do occur, they’re often the result of albinism. I’m also annoyed by silver eyes–pale grey, also super rare–because they almost always are caused by virtually no melanin in the iris and are extraordinarily uncommon.
I’m also not wild about men who call their loved ones baby again and again. And if anyone throws in a who’s your Daddy vibe, I am out.
How about you? Are there traits that you encounter in romance that are a hard pass from you?
Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day.
The one that baffles me is hero being described as looking like a fallen angel or Lucifer in a renaissance painting. These descriptions encompasses both blond men with blue eyes ( Lisa Klaypas Devil in Winter) and black haired men with ‘midnight’ eyes (Stella Riley Black Madonna). So, what are the normative physical attributes of fallen angels (Lucifer, I am assuming, comes under fallen angels?)
I get it that authors have to write characters that we identify with, that do not really reflect past common values. However, I do wish that the pandering to present-day values were not sooo constant. Just once, I’d like to see the couple decide in an historical romance not to have premarital sex, whether it was from a fear of pregnancy or religious belief or disappointing parents or loss of reputation. In the past, it was assumed that if you were a lady, you conrolled yourself, as did any man who was a gentleman. Yeah, I know the statistics about pregnant brides, but the bread and butter of romances (so to speak) is suspense.
I was talking to a man about 85 who said that he would have NEVER compromised his fiance by having premarital sex with her, that he cared too much about her reputation. I grew up at a time when any child born out of wedlock endured a lifetime of gossip and assumptions. Now we have totally inexperienced heroines being so attracted to the hero that they have sex for the first time in the walkways of the garden during a ball.
By the way, all the discussion about “babe,” at least romances have stopped with abusive heroes who call the heroine “little one” which was in every single romance until about 1990. (I am not exaggerating. It was the law.)
I do wish that writers would stop describing heroes as “clean smelling.” I know that our characters don’t reflect historical values, but really? That’s the best you can do? It makes me wonder about the men in the writers’ lives, frankly.
Well many historical Christian books present that line of “no sex for religious reasons” there are some with a really soft thread of faith while the historical “clean romance” has other reasons for not having sex, social for example.
Lynda X, you’ve taken the metaphorical words out of my mouth. Agree 110% with your comments. ;-)
I’m not a fan of teeny tiny heroines. They always seemed to be paired with “tall”heroes, and all I can picture is how silly they would look standing next to each other. This situation was totally captured in Neftlix’s “The kissing Booth” with Jacob Elordi at 6’5″ playing Noah to Joey King’s Elle at 5’3″. And what is it that men supposedly find attractive ab out child-sized heroines? I’m 5’2″ so pretty short myself. If a guy had every said he liked me because I was so small, I’d have thought he was nuts.
* TSTL “Spunky” heroines
* Heroes who are so going to teach the heroine with their junk that they are superior and they can live without them without only OH NO, it’s love!
* Evil sisters, big or little, who exist as a speed bump for heroes and heroines and nothing more.
* Saccharine kids who read like plot moppets.
Reading the posts below made me laugh. I am with you on all the traits mentioned, and I’ll add one to the mix now. I cannot stand a hero or heroine who is relentlessly insecure and needing constant reassurance. I hate being in that person’s head. For reasons, they see themselves as unloveable, and their nonstop negative self-talk makes me want to tell them they are not ready for a relationship, and instead they need a good therapist. Instead, some poor fool falls in love with them, and spends half the story reassuring them that they really are attracted to them, and eventually, that they really, really love them. Yet the insecure person is never satisfied, and continues to look for signs that “he’s just not that into you.” They might even break up with their beloved to forestall being dumped first. And of course, they can’t be bothered to talk about it. They just make lots of assumptions, get caught up in their messed up logic and make bad decisions. Books like those should come with a warning, but unfortunately, you usually have read a bit before the pattern becomes clear.
This dovetails for me with a hero I hate–the I’m not worthy of love guy. Blech.
This one may sound weird but authors harping on how very tall the hero is only for me to find out they’re around 6 feet tall. My son is 6’4″. His father is 6’2″. Most of the men in my extended family are at least 6′. A couple are even taller than my son. That may not be the average to a lot of people but it’s what I’m used to so it doesn’t seem exceptionally tall to me at all. So, especially in contemporaries that’s one that drives me nuts.
Hmmm, maybe that’s why I like Shelly Laurenston’s shifters. When she says any of the characters are tall, male or female, she’s honestly talking very tall, like 7’+ in most cases.
I too have a very tall family and six feet always strikes me as normal, not tall. It’s all about one’s perspective!
My brother is 6’2″ and two of his son’s are 6’4″ so I have tall men in my life. But at the same time my husband is 5’6″ and that’s who I’m around daily, so 6′ feels tall to me. :-) Genetics is a funny thing. I have one child who is 5′ tall and one who is just shy of 6′ tall, with the other three in between.
I agree it’s all about perspective, and what we’re used to will influence us. But I think it makes sense for contemporary authors to write 6′ as tall since the average height of men in the US around 5’9″. In fact, a quick search shows that only 20% of males in the US are 6′ or taller, and that number in the UK is slightly more, at about 23%.
Sure. But I think writing “well over six feet” might reach more because our experiences are so varied.
Sure, if the author is trying to emphasize the height as “very tall” then 6′ might not be considered unusually tall.
That’s exactly the issue I’m talking about, though. I know six foot is tall as in “above average” for most men. However it is not “extremely tall” like it rarely happens or it’s the tallest a man can normally be. Right around six foot tall for a man itself is not that uncommon nowadays.
Now if we’re talking six & half (6’6″) or above then, yeah, that’s getting very, very tall. And I say that as someone who had a son who grew taller than his father over just the course of a year or so. His father was already just above six feet and never got comments on his height that I can remember. But when my son’s height shot up to just shy of 6 & 1/2 feet… yeah people started noticing and still do notice it.
I’d have to dig out a book that did this because apparently the ones I read nowadays don’t do it. But from what I can remember it’s not the hero’s height itself that bothers me but the author constantly mentioning how extremely tall the hero is & yet he’s only 6′. It won’t stop me from enjoying a book but, honestly, I sometimes can’t help wondering if I live in a land of giants compared to most authors.
That makes sense. Your post just sent me down a rabbit hole of looking up statistics, which was fun. :-)
That’s a good point – I’m always surprised when an author goes on about how unusually tall the hero is, only to find he’s about 6 feet. I don’t think 6ft is all that unusual – is it? My family isn’t especially tall, but Mr Caz is 6ft, my ex was 6ft 2 and quite a large number of year 11 (15/16) boys at the school I work at already top 6ft, so when I read “unusually tall”, I’m thinking 6ft 4 at least!
In my “down the rabbit hole” time yesterday I found out that the average height in the UK for men and women is taller than in the USA by about an inch. So the average male is 5’10” and the woman is almost 5’5″. For some reason I was surprised by that, although I have no idea why! :-)
A TSTL heroine. Unfortunately my girlfriend convinced me to try her favourite book, A Rose in Winter, and to try it again after I first DNFed… and my reaction to TSTL Erienne undoubtedly contributed to her knocking a star off the book.
Baby or babe doesn’t bother me in books, but I just can’t say it IRL despite my girlfriend liking it. SIGH.
I am heroine centric, so the only thing the hero needs to do is maintain my respect, so I hate it when he doesn’t manage to do so, notably in My Lady Quicksilver leading to my review starting with, “Hero is a bloody idiot, readers are expected to be bloody idiots, or author is a bloody idiot for writing a hero who can’t act like, “You have three weeks to find Mercury…or I swear you’ll share his fate…” means something. With that threat over your head, You. Would. Not. Do. What. He. Did!“
I can’t stand it where characters call their SO “baby” either – in m/f, it comes over as demeaning, and in m/m. it’s just… I don’t know, but I hate it. The only time it’s acceptable is if someone is taking the piss.
The feisty, curl-tossing, foot-stamping TSTL heroine – I hate it even more when she’s supposed to be highly intelligent and capable.
The current trend – I’ve seen it mostly in historicals, but it might be happening in conteporaries, too – for heroines who treat the hero like shit. They disregard his wishes and opinions, yet expect him to consider theirs at every turn. I get the desire to take a swipe at the patriarchy, but if the situation was reversed we’d be all “dump him, sister, he doesn’t know how to treat you right”. Instead, there’s a section of romancelandia who thinks it’s okay to treat the hero badly providing it’s the heroine doing it, and he’s so besotted that he just lets her walk all over him. (See also – the heroine hitting the hero – big fat nope.) That kind of inequality does not a romance make, IMO.
The oh, so special heroine Who Is Not Like Other Girls – she wants to read books and breed horses rather than embroider or paint watercolours, she has no interest in fashion and women who do like those things are lesser beings.
The overuseage of physical traits – I need enough to be able to form a mental picture of what the characters looj like, but there’s no need to see it on every page.
I avoid ditsy characters like the plague. Being a planner myself, I could never put up with that level of chaos!
I don’t like it overdone, but I don’t mind babe, or even baby, although I never use it and neither does my husband. However, I’m likely to call someone I know well sweetie or hon.
What I find unbelievable in books is the constant use of a person’s first name in conversation. I can talk to my husband or kids all day and never actually say their names, and when I do, it’s only to get their attention if they’re doing something else. In books, people are always saying things like “The thing is, Will, I was hoping to…” I would never stop to insert someone’s name in a conversation, especially if I’m talking directly to them. It might make sense in a group of people, or in a meeting format, but otherwise it sounds really awkward to me. And to be completely honest, I don’t like one partner shouting the other’s name in the throes of passion. Again, do people really do that?? so awkward. (I’d probably burst out laughing if a partner had ever done that.)
“Feisty” heroines who are described that way because they either (1) swear a lot, or (2) are “cute when they’re mad”. They might as well stomp their foot for good measure.
It really annoys me when a woman’s anger is used as a way to infantilize her. A friend once told me her ex-boyfriend said she was cute when she was mad. She responded that when she was angry, she needed him to listen and take her seriously, not tell her how adorable she was.
The worst scenario is when the said heroine, with the traits you mention, was born around 1795.
I get tired of any physical trait that the feels the need to draw attention to repeatedly during the story. If I’ve been told the character has blue eyes, I don’t need to be reminded every time another character looks at him/her, for example. And almost all exagerated traits, like the violet eyes you mentioned, makes me roll my own eyes.
I read a lot of m/m, and there are some traits that make me scratch my head. I’ve read a hero described as having “blunt fingers” twice recently. I think it was supposed to denote a strong, masculine hand, but I’m not sure. I’m also really tired of “ripped abs.” If your partner is undressing for bed and his six or eight pack is well defined, then stop right there and get him some water. He’s either dehydrated or has just finished working out, so water is good either way.
I follow a former body-builder, now personal trainer, on FB and what you go through to to have “well-defined” abs, or any super defined muscles, is brutal. As he put it, by the time you are ready for the photo shoot you feel weak and sick because you are so dehydrated. One time Hugh Jackman said in an interview that to play the shirtless scenes for Wolverine, they had to tell him the shooting date 3 months in advance so he could restrict food and do target workouts. Then three days before the shoot he had to severely restrict his fluid intake. He said it was awful and he felt weak as a kitten.
Unless one’s fingernails are filed into clawlike points, don’t we all have blunt fingers?
I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think that’s the way the description was used here. It’s almost the antithesis of “tapering fingers,” which is also pretty common. Or more precisely, “long tapering fingers.” I get the impression the author is trying to convey the opposite: shorter, thicker fingers that perhaps are supposed to be associated with more strength than hands described as being suitable for playing the piano or guitar.
A booktuber I watch in Spanish said it’s ironic how many women scream that porn, video games and mostly male oriented movies sexualize women and give adolescent boys unrealistic expectations but that romance books do the same. Same for women since the vast majority of heroes are muscular, defined abdomen, arms so thick that it seems the shirt is going to break.
I mean I’m constantly surrounded by 20’s to 28’s in college and while if you dig around you can find several who share traits with some romantic heroes (good traits…we know there are idiot heroes) I haven’t found a single one who has the dreamy mega defined body of one of those cover guys hahaha Chaste and Christian romance are also not spared sometimes maybe the guy won’t take his shirt off in the whole story but surely that poor shirt is about to tear because of his big shoulders and muscular arms.
Impossible or unusual eyes generally pull me out, as well, but I move on from them. I would say the “baby” and “daddy” things aren’t “traits,” inasmuch as they are choices/tics rather than characteristics.
One that always annoys me is a heroine who is purported to be unattractive because “her eyes are too big” and “her lips are too generous/wide/etc.” It’s lazy characterization and basically means “I am afraid you won’t like the heroine if she’s The Pretty Girl, but I can’t fathom rooting for someone who’s legitimately unattractive. So I’m going to make her pretty to us but pretend her costars don’t get it – except for the hero, of course. We can now happily picture this freakish gorgeous couple but high five ourselves for our enlightened ability to go past appearances.”
I would also say that red hair in a heroine hits me like a duke. They’re real, but Romancelandia’s version is its own thing, and one that is laden with stereotypes and assumptions. It’s not that I can’t read any redheaded heroines; it’s that I get nervous that this will be yet another generic feisty nonconformist beautiful but natural long-limbed sensual virgin tomboy horse whisperer straight out of a 1987 Garwood. I have the same nervousness when I meet red-headed heroines of fantasy/Sci-Fi settings. It may turn out fine, or it may turn out to be “I can imagine entire new planet but I can’t imagine people who aren’t Irish.”
I am SO with you about the women who are sure they are ugly but NO! they are really beautiful. I do exempt Joan from Love and Other Scandals and Penelope from Romancing Mr. Bridgerton from this criticism, however.
A long time ago I read a how-to guide which recommended exactly that – downplaying the heroine’s stunning beauty with descriptions like “Her eyes were too far apart” so as not to put readers off. I’ve seen the opposite as well, with the hero’s shoulders being too wide, his body too muscular, etc.
I can take unusual physical appearance as long as it’s not harped on ad nauseum. A violet-eyed heroine might make me roll my own ordinary brown eyes, but if she’s written well otherwise, I’ll keep reading.
The traits I hate tend to be the ones which are found in abusive relationships, like the hero wanting to kill any man whom the heroine might have been involved with. Homicidal jealousy just doesn’t make me swoon. Ditto for the hero manipulating the heroine into a relationship, or refusing to accept it when she wants to be friends rather than lovers (she’s his; she just doesn’t know it yet, the poor sweet idiot).
These traits also tend to be gendered, so I’ve never seen the heroine deliberately invading the hero’s personal space despite his discomfort, negging him, and so on. I’m not happy with double standards, so any traits that are acceptable in the hero but not in the heroine are unlikely to work for me.
Your latter paragraph reminds me again of how much I loathe the move in romance for women to hit the hero. Nope.
Oh yes. That is another gendered thing I dislike. If it’s wrong for the hero to punch the heroine because he’s frustrated or upset with her, then it should be equally unacceptable for her to hit him. I don’t care if he’s two hundred pounds of solid muscle while she has fists the size of kumquats, hitting is out.
This is not a particularly romance character, though it drove me crazy when I was recently rereading Georgette Heyer’s False Colours. The mother is one of those “adorable” dimwits who can’t handle money and ends up hopelessly in debt, causing her sons considerable difficulty. It may be because I come from a long line of women who handled the family finances, but I HATE that character. She’s akin to that staple of 1950s sitcoms, the wife wheedling her husband to buy her a fur coat or an avocado refrigerator or whatever. If they can afford it, there’s no reason she shouldn’t have it. If they can’t afford it, she should shut up.