All readers have their pet peeves. It’s why we love some romances and hate others. After reviewing over 900 romance novels, the vast majority of them historical romances, I have developed a few pet peeves myself. So here are my top ten. In putting them down on paper, I wanted to speak for other readers whose reviews I see on the Internet (along with my own) and hopefully, this will help my fellow authors avoid some pitfalls. I’d love to know your pet peeves, so do comment.
Here is my list of "The Terrible 10":
1. A “Lazy Historical”: Improper forms of address, inaccurate history, and/or wrong ship terminology.
These days, research is much easier than the 80s or even 90s, so there’s no excuse for failing to get things right. If it’s a Regency or other novel that includes nobility, there are rules for how they are to be addressed. And there were also customs as to how a lady was to be treated. It might make it easier for the author if everyone is on a first name basis, but it was not the case, except among spouses and family. Even close friends in the nobility would use titles.
There is no excuse for getting history wrong, either. I admire authors who do their homework. One author was unhappy with me when I pointed out the town in Scotland in which she had set several scenes didn’t exist until 150 years after her story (named for a fort, it was easy to check). I would have thought she might have looked it up, no? If an author wants/needs to deviate from history, all she has to do is include an Author's Note saying why.
Lastly, if you want to write a story set on a ship, you need to get the terminology right. I did hundreds of hours of research for my own seafaring romances. There are no stairs, floors or ceilings on a ship. Generally, portholes (if you mean windows) did not appear on schooners in the 19th century and crow’s nests came in with the whaling industry. A merchantman, even a privateer ship, would have used "crosstrees" for a lookout's post. And those round baskets on ancient ships (if the shrouds of the upper masts attach to them) are "tops". There are correct terms for all these things; one has only to look them up.
2. Not enough emotion to engage mine. Witty dialog, clever storylines and great hooks may be preferred by today’s publishers, but if you can’t engage my emotions, if you can’t make me care, I won’t be rating the book 5 stars. Telling me the hero and heroine are in love does not suffice. I want to see it happen. Better, I want to feel it happen. It takes time to build characters, to convince me why I should love or hate them. Only some authors get my 5 star emotional rating. These do it right: Penelope Williamson (a two-Kleenex box author), Kathleen Givens, Nadine Crenshaw, Virginia Henley, Joanna Bourne, Betina Krahn and Iris Johansen, to name a few.
3. Simpering, whiny or shrew-like heroines. Some people might like the weak, simpering females. Or shrews, harping at the hero. Not me. And it doesn’t make me happy if, later in the story, a weak heroine suddenly becomes a Valkyrie. Not buying it. Mind you, if there’s a valid reason, I expect the heroine to cry. People do. But if she is constantly teary eyed and whimpering, I won’t finish the book nor read another by that author. I like my heroines with backbone, but not snippy or snarky, mind you. I’m talking about real character. Inspire me with courageous heroines who won’t be dictated to, who rise to meet life’s challenges and you just might make me a fan. A good example is Fallon in Princess of Fire by Heather Graham, who refused to be cowered by William the Conqueror. My nearly 300 5-star reviews on Goodreads are replete with other examples.
4. Contrived, improbable plot elements. So… I’m reading along, enjoying a great romance when suddenly, wham, out of nowhere something happens that just doesn’t fit—and isn’t believable. I know it’s romance, but it has to be natural…not contrived just to get the story moving in a certain direction. This is really important and can turn me off to an author quicker than anything. I have found that authors who engage in this do so again and again. I won’t mention names but suffice it to say these did not garner my highest ratings; and they are not on my best lists.
5. A research dump. I really appreciate it when the historical romance reflects the author’s thorough research. I can always tell and I give them high marks for it in my reviews. But don’t dump everything you learned into long passages in the story. If the heroine is a potter, I don’t need the encyclopedia version of everything there is to know about pottery—or fossils, or painting, or stone masonry, etc. I don’t need to go back to school. If I want more details, I’ll look them up. I can give you many authors who incorporate their research very well. A few whose names come to mind are Virginia Henley, Heather Graham (aka Shannon Drake), Nadine Crenshaw, Cynthia Wright, Elizabeth Stuart, Meredith Duran, Joanna Bourne and Penelope Williamson.
6. Moral lectures disguised as romance. Yes, I know poverty existed in the past centuries (as it does now), and I don’t mind if this is reflected in the story, but don’t lecture me on the importance of being socially responsible. Don’t lecture me on the evils of slavery, natural healers that aren’t really witches, the benefits of vegetarianism, being charitable to the poor, etc. I get it. Reflect it, but don’t moralize. If you feel strongly, write an editorial, not a romance.
7. A character acting inconsistently. You know this one…a smart, savvy heroine who suddenly does something really stupid. In once romance I read, the heroine, who had been pretty smart up until this point, suddenly goes along with an abduction. Doesn’t scream, doesn’t fight. Nada. It was so disappointing it threw off my whole feeling about the story. Or, consider the hero who has always been a noble, forthright guy, who suddenly believes the worst about the heroine with no real evidence or provocation. Ugh!
8. Manufactured conflict and sexual tension. It’s gotta be real. It should come naturally out of the circumstances and the lives of the characters, but in some romances, it comes out of thin air. That will sour me on a story quicker than anything. You know what I’m talking about: arguments that should never have happened; misunderstandings any normal human being would clear up with one sentence—those things! I give highest marks to an author who has an intriguing plot that naturally develops and holds my attention, one who does not throw a wrench into the works merely to try and create conflict.
9. Love scenes that don’t match the characters or are the same in every one of the author’s books. If the heroine is an innocent virgin and suddenly she is seducing the hero with moves like a practiced courtesan (and especially the word “Please” as a euphemism for “do it now”), you just lost me. The love scene has to match the people involved and their experience. If you want a courtesan’s moves, then make the heroine an experienced woman of the night. A failure to match the love scene to the characters can be subtle. If the heroine is insecure and her past reflects bad experiences with men, she isn’t going to jump into bed with the hero and take the initiative in lovemaking. No way. It must seem like the kind of love scene these two people would share. Really good examples can be found in Joanna Bourne’s novels, particularly The Black Hawk. Oh, and authors, please don’t make all your love scenes the same in every book you write—readers notice!
10. A cover that has nothing to do with the story or a title that doesn’t do it justice.
I realize some authors have little to do with this (it’s their publishers), but with more and more Indies designing their own covers, it’s a legitimate gripe. Real examples abound: A handsome pirate with black hair and dark eyes on the cover, but the hero has blond hair and silver eyes! A Highlander in a plaid kilt on the cover but the story takes place centuries before the Scots wore kilts. A heroine described as “plain and plump” but the cover shows her a beauty with a devastating and very slender figure. Please.
I know the publishers are selling romance like the cable outfits sell sex, but when they use a title just because it sounds like a book that is selling well, or they think the words “duke”, “seduced,” “ravished,” or “in bed with” will make us buy it, they won’t. At least not me. To me, such a title cheapens what may be a serious historical romance.
And don’t use words in the title that aren’t related to the story, like “pirate” if there’s no pirate in the romance (yes, I encountered one like that!), or “seduced” when there’s no seduction. The authors I’ve talked to hate it when publishers do this, though they have little say about it. But the Indies do. Too much skin on a cover says “erotic romance” to me. And a couple who look like they are in their teens says “young adult”. Keep it accurate to the genre, the historic period and the characters.
A great list...and one I'll be looking over time and again just to remind me to keep it right. Thanks for posting.ReplyDelete
You are welcome, Kaki. I consider you one of those whose work shines. I love sharing story ideas with you. I always learn something!Delete
We seem to have quite a few peeves in common :)ReplyDelete
I concur... totally!ReplyDelete
Thanks for commenting, Gaelicark. Glad you found some common ground.Delete
YES! Especially about the cover and title. As a newbie author I cringed when my cover showed up and my blond, clean cut, clean shaven hero had dark slicked back hair and a full beard. Aaaaahhhhhh! Luckily my publisher listened and changed my cover. There was still some slicked back hair but it was blond and no beard. Phew!ReplyDelete
Thanks for commenting, Kari. I know it can be frustrating for authors who have no control. You got lucky!Delete
Your comments about the cover and title is spot on! I've passed on buying many novels because I found the covers to be poorly done, or inaccurate (Victorian style dress for a Regency novel, etc) and I hate when "bedroom" words are used in the title. I don't mind bedroom scenes per say but let it be a surprise. If it's in the title I'm apt to think it's all raunch and no plot.ReplyDelete
Just so, Rebecca. And it's frustrating for the authors who have no control, too.Delete
Covers that don't match the story line content are a big pet peeve for me, as well as love triangles. I have a difficult time with love triangles especially if all 3 people involved are deserving of a happily ever after. In most cases the author will eventually write a story line for the 'also ran' but throughout the initial story my anxiety level grows. I also have an issue with 'romance' authors, or writes of erotic romance that use ONE particular word -there is NOTHING sexy or romantic or exciting but this particular word...never was, never will be. It is very derogatory towards women especially when used as a negative.ReplyDelete
A good add to the comments, Sandy. I'm so glad readers (and writers) are making their opinions heard. Thanks so much for commenting. -Regan (scratching my head to figure out what THAT word is!)Delete
Oh I know that word! You can use the F word in many ways some even affectionately but THAT (I'm assuming it starts with C) is NEVER said with anything other than dislike or in a derogatory manner. Some say we women should 'take it back and make it ours again'. No thanks! Don't want it, you can keep it and don't ever call me one!Delete
Ah, yes, I do agree.Delete
Good blog post! I think your list covers any time frame for a book. As a contemporary romantic suspense author, I try to stay far away from writing these Pet Peeves. And, as a reader, there are some that make me, knowingly or unknowingly, put the book back on my TBR stack. Thanks for the reminder.ReplyDelete
It's a reminder to me, too, Claudia.Delete
First of all, I refuse to read anything with the word "Devil" in the title. That is a hold-over from the rapey romances of the 1980's and it needs to go away. And, seriously, what is the deal with putting wide hoop-supported skirts on the covers of Regency romance novels? Stop it. Also, how hard is it really to put a blonde on the cover when author clearly states character is blonde? I have never understood that one. End of rant.ReplyDelete
Too funny, Diana. Stock images correct to the period are sometimes hard to come by (the one on the cover of To Tame the Wind was a custom shoot).Delete
I think my least favorite thing has to be miscommunication as a plot device. The scenes where the hero (or heroine, I suppose) says, "Wait! It wasn't what it looked like. If you'd just listen, you'd understand!" and the heroine flounces away, refusing to listen. Just stop! Listen like an adult. If you don't like what he says, then walk away when he's finished, but don't let pride make you ignorant. If the problem in the story can be solved with a simple conversation between adults but it doesn't happen, then I don't want to read on.ReplyDelete
Well said, Amy.Delete