Monday, 17 March 2014

Cliche What?

Romance is a genre that gets pummeled with the cliché bat no matter which medium it is presented in. Whether it be a rom-com movie, a romantic song or a historical romance novel…they are thought to be ridden with stereotypes and clichés.

While that can be true, it is unfair to label that solely on stories that tell of romance, instead of warfare or humour.

I recently came across Anne Marble’s article -‘ Romance Clichés to Avoid – Or Reconstruct‘ – over at She listed a long series of clichéd characters and situations in romance. I recommend that you hit the link and see her thorough exploration of the following key clichés she identified.

The Evil Other Woman
You know this character. Heck you probably know one in real life. However … it’s been over done. Their reasoning for being witchy bitches is normally pretty shallow and there is nothing redeeming about them. How about changing this up some? Have the hero be legitimately torn between two decent woman, or alternatively, have the ‘other woman’ be three dimensional.

The Evil Ex-Wife
Usually she’s carked it early on. Usually many years before so that the hero’s been internalizing his anger at his charlatan of a wife for so long that it blinds him to his new romantic interest’s innate goodness. If the evil ex-wife is lucky she’s just been a whoring she-devil. Worst case scenarios include being psychotic and a whore, or an evil whore who died whilst pregnant to the hero’s best friend/brother. It’s entirely one note … and entirely over used. 

These characters are hollow. I swear that should the protagonist knock them on the head there would be a corresponding echo. These characters try to sell off their daughters to decrepid old men, sell their sisters off to brothels or just offer their supposed loved one for the lusty needs of a dude they lost cards to. They are evil for evil’s sake and do a fantastic job of propelling the plot and escalating the danger. Too bad a feather has more heft.

The Country Mouse Theme
Goes one of two ways – the countrified, virginal lass is swamped by life in London OR the big city gal is seen to look down upon her countrified hero. Either way the stories are populated with gross generalisations about country folk – both positive and negative. Whenever I spot dialogue that attempts to mimic a regional accent I groan in frustration.

When a female character has been closeted away in the country we find ourselves heading into the next cliché’s sphere.

The Naive Virginal Heroine
This is the most common cliché in the novels that I have read. I admit to enjoying it. Though it does become tedious when her naiveté and/or virginal status leads her towards sainthood. Give me a virgin with a crazy temper any day. Marble states that there are two variations on this cliché – 1) “…heroines are often virgins not because of a moral choice but because they were burned by a bad relationship” or 2) “…the “near virgins” — heroines who had sexual experiences but never enjoyed it until the hero came along“. I don’t have a problem with virginal characters as it would have been the norm in most historical romance eras, the fact that they eventually get it on with a hot lord with good personal hygiene is the more unrealistic element in my opinion.

I find the virginal hero MUCH more interesting.  Dear Author is full of ideas if that concept takes your fancy.

The Duke of Slut
Marble borrowed this term from All About Romance for the hero who fills out his pants quite nicely and would be voted ‘most likely to die from syphilis’ had he not attended Eton. He’s a man-whore. He’s a man whore who normally falls for and is rehabilitated into former man-whore-dom by a virgin. Harlots might turn him on but only the virgin can redeem him. The success of this cliché is all in the characterisation. Proof – Stephanie Laurens has taken this cliché by the balls and made it her whipping boy.

The Will Stipulation
You know this one. Two people forced to marry and then realise it was fate. Sometimes they are forced to live in the same dwelling or share responsibility for an orphan. If they don’t then the money / property / orphan will fall in the hands of the aforementioned Evil Relative. That being said, it is a contrivance that works better in historical romance as stipulations were more common in those days. Try making it work in a contemporary storyline and you’ll be sweating bullets.

Amnesia Plots
Amnesia is apparently very common if romance authors would have you believe. But to be honest, I don’t get it. Amnesia plots remove me from the situation as it is hard to gel with a character who knows nothing but that she loves a guy who doesn’t really know her as she doesn’t know herself. Just once I’d love for the amnesia striken leading lady to have a husband turn up who is lovely to look at, rich and in possession of a divine personality. Too bad hero.

The Silly Big Misunderstanding
Usually this comes as a response to a contrivance in the form of an untruth or an omission. Most of the time it is unnecessary. It drives us crazy but it is never going to go away. However, the test of an author is to make a silly misunderstanding appear to be something much more complex and meaningful so silly is never imagined.

What romantic clichés drive you mad?


Brandy said...

The Silly Big Misunderstanding is probably my biggest pet peeve. My favorite romance novels are the ones that skip it (or the author is talented enough to finesse it, as you said). I'm also way over the evil other woman thing, be she the deceased or ex-wife, recently let-go mistress, or he the snotty girl his mother wants to hook him up with. All of them just need to go.

But yeah, the tropes in romance novels are often what keep me coming back. I know what to expect and it is a comfort read.

Angiegirl said...

I hate amnesia plots, romance or otherwise. I just . . . hate them.

HA! Love your Stephanie Laurens comment. I haven't read any of hers. which is your favorite?