|credit: istockphoto.com/(c)Bulent Ince|
Like Sci-fi, Mystery and similar serial-type genres, Romance operates under certain set conventions, with the Happily-Ever-After or HEA as the prime directive. I'm happy with HEAs. We like to get what we expect - that's why chain businesses are so successful.
Romance novels characters tend to exhibit a stock set of traits:
1) The heroine is (pick one or more):
a. a spunky spitfire from the wrong side of town, or the right side of town, family either tyrannical/abusive/interfering or perfect
b. innocent and unaware of her beauty
c. experienced, with a broken heart in need of healing
d. secretly yearning to be dominated
e. a supernatural being who may or may not know her own power
f. a cowgirl
2) The hero is (again, one or more):
a. fabulously wealthy and powerful, but his life is empty
b. the epitome of male strength and beauty
c. dominant, alpha male who is a player, until he meets the right woman
d. dominant alpha male in need of healing
e. a supernatural, all powerful being, who can be tamed by the right woman
f. a cowboy
After you stir the heroine and hero together in a good stew of a plot, be it gumbo or beef bourgignon, all romance boils down to a handful of fantasy themes. The heroine changes the man for the better, the heroine gains protection/care from the hero, and/or the hero and heroine alike are loved for their own special selves. Oh, and the sex is always earth-shattering, vanilla or otherwise.
Again, this is all gravy to me, even if my own feminist sensibilities make me a poor heroine candidate. Romance novels are works of fiction and, when well-written, I suspend my disbelief to 'The End'.
Where I struggle as a reader and potential writer of romance, is in the down and dirty descriptions. Romance writers work hard to stroke all our senses, but certain words or phrases pop up so frequently that they feel more like assault and battery. Here's my list of top offenders:
1) Let's start with laving. There's a lot of laving in romance novels. Now I'm happy to be both laver or lavee in real life, but I struggle with the word itself, because it is a writing only word. The dictionary meaning is to wash or bathe, but in romance novels it seems to be a stand-in for the word "lick". It's possible that I don't hang with the right water-cooler crowd, but no one uses lave in conversation when I'm around. You never hear anyone say "Sweetie, lave the edge of your ice cream cone, or you'll get chocolate all over your shirt." So can we agree to consign lave back to it's archaic origins, except, perhaps, for cats cleaning their fur*?
*Allowable in feline shifter novels, natch!
2) My nose is twitching over my next bugaboo, smells. Heroines give off a stock stable of aromas, usually peaches, vanilla, or strawberries, or some combination thereof, with roses and honey glopped on every now and then. These odors pose an irresistible draw to the male, particularly if he is a supernatural being with a heightened sense of smell.
These are evocative scents, likely chosen because they are familiar to a broad audience. But are they really the types of odors to attract our domineering beast of a man? I conducted extensive mental research, seeking alternative colognes. I whiffed and sniffed through other fruits first: mango, kiwi, cherry, banana, apple, coconut. All perfectly pleasant bouquets, but I'm not sure they have that necessary alluring impact. Well, the banana and coconuts combo could work for tropical beach settings, if it weren't so Freudian.
I did the same for flowers, but neither fruit nor flower seemed to truly capture the essential perfume guaranteed to attract men. I decided to go a primary source, my husband:
Me: "Honey, what's the best smell ever?"
Bacon? BACON! Yum. You-reek-ahh! The man is a genius. No predator could resist bacon. Let's see how it works:
|source: istockphoto.com/(c) Andreas Gradin|
Erm, uh-uh. No. Evocative? Yeah. Romantic? Bleah. I flung my bucket at hubby's well of male knowledge again.
Me: "Okay, what smell turns you on?"
Hubby: "Nachos and Beer."
Me: "Nachos and Beer?"
Hubby: "Yeah. Reminds me of date night."
I decided that Hubby is an unreliable source. Plus, we are clearly in a rut and I am wasting money on scented body products. I suppose I must reject Bacon, Nachos and Beer, at least as aphrodisiac scents, but let's agree to expand beyond roses, strawberries and their over-used compatriots.
3) In the realm of sound, I only have one small quibble. Too often, in the midst of their passionate nookie, the heroine performs some sort of move that causes the hero to make a "nonsensical sound."
At the risk of exposing the limits of either my imagination or experience, I confess, when I read the phrase "nonsensical sound", the soundtrack from a Three Stooges movie starts running through my brain, all nyuck,nyuck,nyuck. Then the heroine falls off the bed in a fit of uncontrollable laughter, never to share a booty call with our poor hero again - though she will dine out for years on the nyuck-nyuck story with her BFFs. I vote we stick with the usual snarls, growls, groans and moans and relegate the nonsensical sounds to the Stooges, the Marx Brothers, and kiddie lit.
4) Cup size. I'm not talking about Grande vs. Venti here. Let's just say that some authors repeatedly feature heroines who bemoan that they must do more with less, while others prefer to cast the same buxom lass with the bodacious ta-tas. Here's the problem: When I read multiple books by the author whose heroines always display that barely a B-cup, or overflowing double DDs bosom, I assume that the author's sporting similar-sized lingerie and is working through her own body image issues. And that's TMI. Change up the girls, girlfriend!
|credit: istockphoto.com/© Cathy Keifer|
So Alpha males and Spunky gals, let's recap our new romance rules:
1) Limit laving - one lave per novel, please!
2) Start sniffing around for new scents.
3) Nonsensical sounds are nonsensical, unless your name is Curly or Moe, or you're the Toon dating Jessica Rabbit.
4) Women come in all shapes and sizes and so should your leading ladies.
5) Less tongue is more and sheath your teeth at the door.
Happily Ever After Writing!