NaNo Day 10:
A Reader’s Top Ten Guide for A Great Romance
by Marie Harte
Thanks, Delilah, for letting me blog here today. I wanted to write something different, so I switched hats from writer to reader. And I was off and running…
As a writer, I like to know what readers want. I’m not so much into trends. I don’t like jumping on the vampire bandwagon just because those books might be popular. If I have an actual vampire story in mind, that’s something else. I’m talking about common threads that appeal to readers. Strong heroines, alpha males, sexual tension, that kind of thing.
Then I had a thought. Hey, I’m a reader. Why not list what I’m looking for in a story? I can read a three to four hundred page book in one sitting in a few hours, easy. I can’t say how many books I read in a month or year, but during my crazy (book-obsessed) days that fluctuate from month to month in between deadlines, I can easily read two or three in a day, especially if the stories are shorter. Of course, a lot of that depends on time, too, because I do have a family and a day job writing.
From what I’ve read and seen over the years, I have a lot in common with the average Sally Reader. So here’s my top ten list of what constitutes a great romance, in no particular order.
1. Likeable characters. The hero and heroine (or hero and hero, whatever floats your boat) don’t have to be the nicest people on the planet, but at some point they have to be likeable, and not ten pages from the end. There’s nothing worse than trying to read a book about people that are either whiny, annoying, or TSTL (too stupid to live) for 350 pages.
2. Sexual tension. I write erotic romance, and I like to read it. But when the characters hop into bed on page 3, it kind of takes away my enjoyment to see them struggle for it. Now a few authors have made this work by throwing in the requisite plot problems and angst, but by and large the easy hookup doesn’t appeal to me.
3. Gratuitous sex. Yes, I feel awful for saying this. Especially since for so many years I read stories where the characters could barely hold hands before the author cut to a new scene. Erotic romance has “erotic” in the title for a reason. It involves sex. But sex for sex’s sake shows. When the physical builds the emotional, it works. You can tell when it doesn’t.
4. The right angst. I am drawn to tortured heroes and heroines. I think we all are. It’s normal to want to see people build themselves back up after being thrown down a peg or two. But when the characters suffer page after page after page, it takes away from the joy to be had in the story. And real or not, rape scenes do nothing for me. I don’t like reading about it, and I don’t even like references to it with the main characters. Then again, that’s a personal pet peeve, but we are talking fiction, a place where anything normally goes. And hey, this is my list.
5. Character growth. I find it common anymore to read a book where one of the two characters grows but the other remains stagnant. It’s like the author puts so much into making the heroine a strong woman, she forgets that the hero is more than a foil for the heroine, but an actual part of the story. Let him grow too, damn it!
6. Humor. Just because a book is dark doesn’t mean it can’t have funny moments. Fiction mirrors reality, right? Well, people do laugh at funerals. Life isn’t all one shade, but a rainbow of emotion. Throw it all in there, I say.
7. Believable conflict. There’s nothing worse than reading a story where the hero and heroine don’t get along because of a simple misunderstanding. One short conversation between the pair would eliminate all problems and make the whole story crumble. That’s not believable conflict. Layer stuff in there, make us, the readers, want to see how they solve their problems. A phone call where the heroine admits she threw out his favorite shirt, and she’s sorry, and why can’t they all just get along, doesn’t cut it.
8. Chemistry. The main characters have to have it, or the story won’t work. Just because an author creates the pair or threesome or group involved doesn’t mean they fit. And yeah, I’ve read romances where the hero seems better suited to a secondary character and the heroine should be lesbian. It’s like the author doesn’t know her characters.
9. If everyone’s special, no one’s special. One author I used to love and now can’t read anymore gives all her characters god powers. Yeah, all of them. They’re all immortal, so where’s the scare factor? Why should the characters worry when they can snap their fingers and have an HEA whenever they want? And seriously, is every character really that handsome, pretty, white, skinny-with-boobs or tall?
10. Don’t break the rules. Authors create worlds and a set of rules that go with them. So when I read about a hero who can’t do X, then thirty pages in does X, it annoys me, especially if there’s no explanation as to why he can do X. It’s like the author has forgotten her own rules. Sure there are exceptions to the rules, but if there are too many, why have the rules in the first place?
I love to read and always will. But as my budget gets tighter, my choices in what I read narrow. I might chance a new author when all my favorites have nothing out, but burn me once, and I probably won’t be back to read more. Even my favorites have only so much leeway before I’m moving on to someone new. And with the sheer breadth of choices out there, thanks to epublishing and our friend, the Internet, I don’t have to search far and wide for a new and temping read anymore.