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.”