So, I just ran across one of my biggest peeves* for storylines–one that makes me long to throw a book. And it’s one of many, but here are some of mine, mostly in the romance genre, starting with the one that inspired this post:
1. A love triangle that is resolved not by the hero or heroine making a choice, but by the death of one of the choices. WHAT THE CRAP IS THAT? Please tell me that annoys you too. What annoys me the most is that it’s almost always the nicer guy/girl that dies. The one they SHOULD want, but they can’t help falling for the wilder, riskier choice. But it’s not a problem because BOOM! Choice one is dead! Yay for romance! I think it’s also a thinly-veiled way of allowing the main character to pursue the more unsuitable significant other without people grumbling about their choice. Given the choice between a dead person and an alive, savage rebel-without-a-cause…well, yay for romance!
2. Rationalized Adultery/Cheating. I’ll acknowledge I’m conservative, but in most books with the hero/heroine being unfaithful you can see the author laying a framework of rationalization to give their readers an out. “No, sweet reader, this is okay because of this….” And even if they’re not married but just “with” someone in a committed relationship, the minute I find myself thinking, “Well, yeah, but she’s in love with him,” warning bells go off in my head, and I feel like an unwilling participant in a moral lapse. It makes reading into a different sort of guilty pleasure.
I read some reviews for a book today where the hero was married in-name-only to someone who hated him, and he had an affair. It was interesting to see the reviewers explain again and again that it was okay BECAUSE of…. You could see they’d clearly rationalized it out in their heads. And I’ve done that…and I hate that feeling. It feels like I’ve been manipulated. Life isn’t black and white, and I’m not judging other people’s lives, but I like to live a book–and feel a part of it. So, yeah…no. I read Bridges of Madison County when it came out, and I was telling someone about it, and I heard myself justifying the adultery in it–and it made me pause and rethink things. I don’t ever want to feel like I need to justify someone else’s infidelity.
By the same token:
3. Love scenes between a hero and someone else to prove his desirability or virility. This has become a…thing in romances. Books start with a scene with the hero and some random woman going at it, and, whether he’s met the heroine or not, it strikes an ick response with me. I’m sure it’s a commentary on my psyche that this bothers me, but it does. It’s especially icky if the heroine witnesses it–which is also a…thing. Ewwww. And it’s always the hero that I’ve seen. I’ve yet to read one with a woman. I’m not sure if I’d be less annoyed with it if women were given equal treatment, but, yeah, that. You don’t have to prove to me that a man is a man, by showing it at an anatomical level. We’re good. I’ll believe it.
(Edited to add: I read one with the heroine and a random man, and it squigged me out and became a DNF. So, there you go…either hero or heroine having a love scene with someone else during the course of a story ruins a book…even off the page.)
4. Tidy fixes of physical or emotional trauma. I’ve been in a weird mood and I’ve been reading books where one of the main characters has some sort of disability–either physically or mentally. It feels like such a cop-out for love to conquer all in these books. Do people regain their sight? Yes. Should that be the magic fix-all in a book where the disability is the heart of conflict for one or both of the characters? No. I suspect this is related to my history of mental illness, but a magic fix-all or a fast recovery is an insult to all of us who are flawed and in need of love.
And we’re all flawed, and love shouldn’t be conditional on us being fixed/improved/healed. This is why I read reviews so closely–because these are the type of horrors left for the final chapters, and there ain’t no way you’re dragging me through twenty chapters for this nonsense. Everyone deserves love, not just those who can overcome or resolve a handicap.
5. Prop kids. Do you remember Emma on Friends? Rachel and Ross’s daughter who was more pivotal as a plot device than as a presence? She’d disappear for episode after episode with an explained, “Oh, so-and-so has her.” I hate when a child becomes a plot device but isn’t actually present for most of a story…because, you know…kids cramp style.
I read one book with twin babies where the mother goes to find their father, leaving them in the care of a friend for months. The twins were vital to bringing them together…but not part of the plot…because, eww…not sexy. Can you imagine having twins and then telling someone you know, “I’m going off on a path to self-discovery and finding love…here’s two months’ worth of diapers and formula–ciao!” I’m not saying I’m mother of the year (though if you follow me long enough on Twitter I will say this sarcastically frequently) but I’d like to think I’d find a way to minimize the separation or avoid it. Kids are not props. Bad author! No cookie for you!
6. Dukes, billionaires, princes, princesses. Okay, I might be alone in this as a romance reader, but this bugs me a bit. When you stop and consider how many billionaires there are in the world…. It looks like about 1600 from what I saw on websites. Even supposing a disproportionate number of them are men (which is typical of romance novels), that’s still not many. Then, they need to be single–that thins the herd. Wait, they’re wildly attractive. Number dwindles. Oh, and they’re between the age of 25-35. Uhhhh. (Here you can see the ages of the top 10.) Finally, they’re accessible in some way. And that’s where it falls apart even farther. Billionaires have security and commitments and run in a different crowd. I know “billionaire” has a nice ring to it, but… *gestures at facts*
But, wait, dukes are even more implausible. How many dukes were there during the Regency era of England? Waaaait for it. According to what I could find: 25. And I’m not going to bother with princes and princesses in historical fiction because you guys all know there weren’t thousand upon thousand.
Honestly, I feel a bit insulted that popular fiction seems to suggest that the only stories worth telling are those with impossibly powerful and privileged individuals. It feels like it’s catering to some deep fantasy that we’re all harboring: good is fine, but the best is the best. (In my head, I can hear Gaston from Beauty and the Beast saying, “And don’t I deserve the best?”) It smacks of an acknowledgement that money can buy love, and power seduces us more than that sense of humor we all claim is number one on our list. I still love books with these players in them, but it makes my eye twitch and the angel of logic and statistics sit on my shoulder and whisper in my ear.
7. The lie that abuse is fine from the abused. I like flawed characters, but no matter what baggage you’re dragging around with you–there is no excuse for abusing others. I don’t care how tormented a soul is–violence toward others doesn’t make a man or woman a tragic figure, but an abusive bully. A lack of physical self-control shouldn’t be excused just because of a troubled past. Once an author tries to convince the reader that it’s really okay, I get a little ill. The reality is that it’s true that abuse perpetuates abuse, but it’s not okay and the cycle can be broken. To be clear, abuse being part of a character growth arc isn’t book-throwing-worthy, but the author cajoling a reader into it being excusable via inner monologue or author intrusion squigs me out. It’s not okay. Don’t attempt to make me think it’s okay. The world would be a pretty lousy place if wrongs done to us excused us harming others.
So, those are seven things that make me snarl and wish I’d read a spoiler in advance. What gets to you?
*While I typically hate these things, I will admit some of these can occur in books I love, and can be done “right.”
You what I hate is when the hero rapes the heroine and basically said you wanted it. I have listen to one book that was the case. What surprised me was the number 5 stars for that book. There was other issues in the story.
I read one like that recently and even though she became consensual in the middle…it still made me angry. Not. Okay.
The book I listen to the heroine was not okay. I hated when the hero said “you wanted it” what the heck. She didn’t. Because she said that he raped her. That was my first one star book.
I appreciate one star reviews in these scenarios. A lot. Because I know I wouldn’t enjoy this book and I’d hate to waste money or time.
I really love fairy tale retelling, so the whole prince thing happens all the time, but it is expected. So I don’t mind it.
But when the guy is an average joe…sometimes that is even more fun. In one of your books (sorry everyone one of the not-published-yet ones) the guy is an accountant. It makes me smile every time he is like…but I’m just an accountant! It makes him more awesome when he gets the girl.
I was watching Super Mario Bros. with a Rifftrax and I thought…Plumber, least sexy job ever. The poor plumber is very rarely the hero. With good reason, no one wants to hear about that job. Eww. (Sorry to all plumbers who read this blog,.I hope you find your special someone too.)
In one of the romances I read a while back, there was some sort of issue with a toilet plugging and the woman getting her landlord (male MC) to take care of it. It was too much reality. I read to escape…not hang out in someone else’s average day.
On the other hand, plumbers make good money and the fact that my husband can take care of most of our plumbing emergencies is awesome…and nearly to a sexy degree. He’s my hero. So, I get that. A little.
I’ve been reading a lot of fairy tale retellings too. (I’m in a weird phase.) If the entire world feels fictional, I don’t mind princes and princesses, but if it’s meant to be historical fiction…I get pickier.
Also, stop trying to alienate my plumbing audience. That’s a huge demographic of romance author followers. Stop it!
I married a plumber! He’s super schmexy, best of the best. He’s an engineer now, but that’s no less or more ‘sexy’, haha!
Fun fact: plumbers don’t clean drains, drain cleaners clean drains!
Um, I used to do boat plumbing. A lOT of boat plumbing. Not only does working on boat plumbing not make one feel romantic, it makes boats seem a lot less romantic as well. If one really knows what horrors may lurk below the innocent seeming stateroom decks. Just sayin’, as the kids say –
“Hi Honey I’m Ho–me!” “Oh No You don’t! You throw those clothes in the washer and get in the shower now! AND FOR A LONG TIME!” true story…
Wait, what were we talking about?
Right, it’s not ok for abuse, or even “Rustic parenting” to justify same being done next gen, etc. However, I think it is not only okay but perhaps necessary at some point, that the struggles of one abused, or rustic-ly parented to not perpetuate that to be shown as a real thing to be dealt with in a character’s life and story. Of course that’s only IF it makes sense and furthers the story/theme.
Basically, giving in – defines the monster, struggling, hurting, examining, working at it, but NOT GIVING IN, defines the human being…
Thus endeth the rant of day.
Thanks for posting this one, Wendy. 😉
Oh my goodness, Wendy, you actually had a follower that was a plumber! Although I must admit boat plumber on the surface seemed more cool than regular plumber. A boat plumber could be the hero. I could totally read that book. Especially if he only built brand new never been used boats. Then I wouldn’t have to picture the evil in the pipes you were talking about.
Sorry to have an alienated you. I apologize.
I told you! Maybe you’ll step a little more carefully next time, huh? I also have a huge contingent of parole officers, tax attorneys, and carnies. So, watch yourself.
You’ve gone and done it…you’ve killed the hotness factor of plumbing…and possibly of boats.
I expect there to be a lot of inner struggle to recover from and not perpetuate abuse. There should be that character development occurring. But I’m disgusted when it’s excused because the abuser was abused.
Just a quickie, Wendy, though not in THAT way. (Ahem.)
The first romance I read–I was 12 so you know it’s an oldie–was ON THE NIGHT OF THE SEVENTH MOON, by Victoria Holt. I fell in love with it. No explicit anything, but a wonderful and amazingly convoluted twist on the “you were raped and got pregnant” trope. She wasn’t raped, they were married, but for political reasons the heroine was tricked into believing that’s what happened. The book is written in three parts,”The Dream”, “The Nightmare,” and “The Reality.” There’s a duke (or count, or something-it’s been a long time since I’ve read it), a castle in Germany (circa 1880s, if I remember correctly), a wicked, nearly-identical-looking cousin,, and a withdrawn 10-year old boy who is quite central to the plot.
Go. Read. You will have your faith in romance and true-love-conquers-all restored. I promise.
Sent it to my Kindle to read once I conquer this revision. It’s been forever since I’ve read something by Victoria Holt, but she is brilliant as a storyteller. The India Fan instilled a life-long fear of peacock feathers in me in fact…and it’s been two and a half decades since I read it. Thanks!
Yes I agree with all those tropes and I dislike the cheating and I think killing off a character is the author’s easy way out. There is nothing to resolve . The Heroine is not having to make a choice. 🙁 Ugh I agree with prop kids– I read this book that everyone loved , but i ended up seeing the child as prop in the romance book. I didn’t love that book at all. The baby was always else where.
— Absent Parents are another pet peeve of mine. Ever since Twilight it has become a thing. I also try not to read books that have been fan fiction . Okay I am rambling.
Absent parents bug me too. I think Shiver had the worst case of absentee parenting I’ve seen yet, though. He was sleeping in her bed for months (mostly platonically) and her parents never even realized he existed, let alone was in her room and using their bathroom and so on. There’s just no way they could be living in the same house and never notice that.
I do kill off one or both parents in quite a few of my unpubbed YAs, though. Of at least one protagonist. Partly so they can put themselves in harm’s way, but also because it becomes unwieldy if you have two sets of vigilant parents. I do the same to my adult characters. *shrugs* I rarely have parents who are just lousy parents who never notice their kid. Unless they’re divorced, and one is out of the house.
Absent Parents = every single Disney movie or tv show, ever.
OMG, so much number 6. And WHY is it always the hero who’s the billionaire? Why not some shero who has her big bucks and wants a down to earth guy? Also 2, 3, and 5. I seem to be picking up a lot of books lately with single parents finding second love and they end up being largely DNFs, probably because I’m childless and totally cool with that state of affairs. Not that these shouldn’t be out there for people who want to read about kids, but a lot of the ones I’ve picked up, the kid wasn’t mentioned in the blurb and that annoyed me.
You’d think they’d be called a single parent in the blurb or something so you’d know. I don’t know why it’s always the hero who is filthy rich, but it really almost always is. I think it’s supposed to add to their alphaness. I’ll admit that my characters generally aren’t scraping out an existence but none of them are billionaire playboys.
It wasn’t just Emma, in Friends, but Ben, too, who was a prop child for Ross. And ALL the children in BONES are props. it is the worst. I totally agree. If you don’t intend for the lifestyles of the main characters to change, then don’t give them kids. period. the end. Not everyone NEEDS children to have a fulfilling relationship, number one, and number two, portraying children as accessories is totally dishonest (not to mention setting a terrible example of what parenthood is.) So I am totally with you. I also kind of hate the epilogue happily ever after look they have toddlers now.
I have to admit that the Billionaire trope definitely taps into something that works for me, but I think Billionaire is just the new fairy tale prince, anyway. For me, yes, it’s awesome that they have means and money is no object, but it definitely isn’t money buying love, so much as the allure of not having to agonize over money anymore being part of the fantasy of being swept away by the love of your life to a world where you just don’t have to worry about the basic necessities and you can pursue whatever interests you have without struggling to figure out how to pay the bills.
#2 is definitely crap. Stories like that make me uncomfortable, too. I suspect anyone who is in a truly committed relationship might find it uncomfortable on some level. But I’ve never seen #3. I hope I never do.
As for #1 — anytime that the big agonizing choice is made for the character it’s a cheat. I felt that way about Bella’s transformation to vampire, too, that all this fuss was made about her making the choice not because she HAD to, because anything was hanging over her, but because she WANTED to, and then… her life is in the balance and it is either turn her while she is not even conscious anymore, or let her die. nice.
You know, since I wrote this post I’ve watched the series Eureka and, while I adore that series, it set a new bar for absent and forgotten kids. They gave the main female lead two kids (by the end) and they’re only ever there when it’s crucial to the plot, but (EVEN WORSE) they gave her son autism–which worked into the plot of a supernatural artifact at the beginning, but then they cured him with a timetravel plot leap. They cured his autism because it was no longer needed as a plot device. It’d become inconvenient–which is just horrifying. I wanted to hate the writers for that…but I couldn’t. (Eureka, I wish I could quit you!)
I’d forgotten about Ben actually. Wow, Ross really was a lousy father. He saw his son like once a season if that. Bad father!
So, you don’t like the epilogues where they jump ahead to them having toddlers? Is that what you’re saying?
I don’t mind wealthy male leads–in fact, like most women leading lives of quiet financial desperation–my fantasy definitely involves enough money that money doesn’t matter, but why does it have to be BILLIONAIRE? Why can’t it be multi-millionaire? I think it’s partly because my husband works for a billionaire…and I know how rare that is. And, while my husband’s boss is a bachelor–he won’t be on a romance novel cover that soon.
I thought that Bella should have been turned in the fight with Victoria and she could have been a vampire during the entire fourth book. Or the fourth book could have been scrapped. I agree that making it not her choice was cheating.
oh man. yeah. I didn’t even think about that but you’re absolutely right. I mean, I knew Jenna (that’s the daughter’s name right?) was totally extraneous to everything and a prop like whoa, but the cure with the timeline shift, now that you mention it, is… not cool, to say the least. Then again, Eureka kind of relied a lot on timeline shifts to reset things over and over again, so there’s that, too.
I HATE the tacked on married with babies epilogues. I think mostly it’s because I’m not particularly maternal, and the idea of having kids is frankly terrifying to me, so seeing it constantly repeated in my face that the ultimate happily ever after is married with babies, and pregnant with the next, is kind of extra excruciating. It’s like salt into this deep personal wound. Which means that it’s a totally subjective thing. I guess I’d just like to see a little bit more variation on what makes a happily ever after epilogue, to match the diversity of what is an HEA for the world of variety we live in vs it just being the same repeated image forever and ever and ever.
It’s messed up, right? I should have been completely offended, but I liked the series enough to overlook it, but honestly one of the most egregious violations of disabled characters as a plot device I’ve ever seen. I’m curious if autism boards slammed the writers for that… It was craaaaaazy how little Jenna impacted her life. I’m all for women living professional lives while having kids, but she wasn’t even around Jenna after hours. KIDS ARE NOT PLOT DEVICES!
I like epilogues, but I’d be just as happy with just a “further down the road” epilogue versus one with kids…as long as them having kids wasn’t an actual issue dealt with in the body of the story. I think most historical fiction epilogues have kids in them, though. And, you’re right, it feels very repetitive.
My Kindle version of Past My Defenses has her pregnant in it…but the print version comes with a honeymoon alternate epilogue where everything goes wrong with her allergies. See…it’s like I covered my bases with you. 😉
Hahaha. I appreciate that!!
I think maybe Eureka gets a pass because it never asks us to take it seriously. (Such as, all the ridiculousness of Doctor Who, my fave)
Whereas, when a show or novel demands that we immerse ourselves in a realistic world (of crap), we get more irritated than when we feel we’re just playin’ around.
Choice cheats (thx for the new term!) bug me not because the character didn’t have to choose after all, but because it’s the author who wouldn’t make the hard choice. How can you ask your reader to make agonizing choices in their head the entire time, but then demonstrate your own refusal or inability to do so? (I’m looking at YOU, My Sister’s Keeper!, among many others)
Letting Bella die would have been the only “choice cheat” I would have accepted in that particular book, simply because I like being surprised by clever plot twists. (And I don’t like Bella or Edward. Oops.) It drives me freaking bonkers when a book or series is entirely based on a certain theme, which theme is then violated by the ending. The theme of Bella’s character was sacrifice. You are led down this really long (and annoying) road of future sacrifice with this character, through 4 books. Then she sacrifices *nothing*!
You first introduced me to the concept of “easy choices” in books, Mary, in like a yoga class years and years ago. You mentioned what a cop-out it is in all of Meyers’ books in fact. You said, in the end, her characters never have to make hard decisions and Meyers is ultimately gutless in her ability to make the stakes she’s set play out. There’s a build, build, build and then, just kidding, you get everything you want. I think, at the time, you also said that at least in Harry Potter, people died. But it’s been all these years and that continues to influence my reading and writing and I notice when authors bail and don’t force their characters to actually make decisions.
[…] grabs one of your pet peeves in its jaws and shakes it until you scream. (My pet peeves are in this blog post, by the way.) Whatever it is about this book, you recognize that you’re only going to end up […]
4. One thing that bugs the snot out of me in TV and movies is that people heal from trauma and grief by the next event or episode. I get it that it’s not the point of this plot or storyline. But it wouldn’t kill them to at least occasionally refer to the issue in future events or episodes. The VIEWER doesn’t even heal that fast from the loss, so they character shouldn’t either. Even just to acknowledge to the viewer that the writers are sorry they hurt you. But whatevs.
Books are usually better at this, because they are more likely to have side plots, sub plots, and inner musings. But even then, some books commit this needless crime also.