This genre is full of traps. Adjective abusing, bear-sized traps. If used correctly with a light touch and believable characters these stereotypes can lead to a romance that gives the reader that squirmy, this-is-so-sweet, starry-eyed feeling. Speaking as a reader, it is THE BEST when a book gives you that feeling.
Speaking as an author it’s a hard balance to get right. If used incorrectly (I’m looking at you, “musky” scented manliness) it leads to some awkward, kinda gross, never-read-this-author-again ridiculous. It’s a thin line to tread, especially when your main characters are involved with something as personal and messy as a physical relationship.
Not enough pulsing, and your characters might as well be scrolling their phones on separate couches on a Monday night. Too much throbbing, and your characters are just grossing people out. Here are some of the tropes I have learned to adore and detest, usually at the same time.
- The “We Had a Relationship Before (It Didn’t End Well)“ Either some stupid misunderstanding or a real, serious issue separated our lovers in the past. Neither is a formula for happily ever after. If the misunderstanding could have been cleared up with one heartfelt conversation, why wasn’t it? If it was a real issue, why is it all of a sudden not going to be an issue? There are a lot of ways to do this second chance for our lovers and it can end well, with believable obstacles and resolution. It takes a lot of care.
2. The “Damaged With a Heart of Gold“ main character. Most people who have gone through enough to be damaged have emerged with unhealthy coping mechanisms and a fear of commitment. This is not sexy, or romantic. But I love my brooding, dangerous hero who can only be saved by the power of the Right One. Even though I know that in reality this makes for a co-dependent, toxic relationship, I still want to immerse myself in this fictional world where a damaged person can find solace and healing with just the right person. Everyone wants to read this trope and imagine themselves as that special One. Authors, just go with it. Write those bad boys.
3. “The Florid Descriptions” Velvet fire, velvet steel, flames, arrows, electricity, explosions, heat, gasping, moans, and other indications that our characters are having a damn good time. It’s either a great time, or a concerning description of torture methods. These are descriptive and evocative when done well, but you can overdo it easily. So easily.
4. The “Dictionary of Synonyms for Engorged” I kid you not, I read a Regency novella where the heroine and hero had separated after a drama filled marriage proposal and refusal due to a stupid misunderstanding (See #1 above) and meet up at a ball years later. Pushing through all of the merrily waving red flags I kept reading, only to hit the part where they’re dancing together and he’s fighting back a huge erection. Like, this time the poor man’s member may actually explode as they threaten to do any second in badly written erection scenes. Not once, but multiple times, he thinks about how he has to keep it together and immediately loses the battle because of her gorgeous hair, or a glimpse of her cleavage, or her scent. Annnnd I’m done. There is a difference between being attracted to your dancing partner (yay) and being at risk for premature ejaculation in front of hundreds of the haute ton (boo).
5. “Reaching Completion in the Same Breathless Instant” This is in every romance that includes sexy time. Why? Because it is. It sounds amazing, reads amazing, and sells those books. If the author is good I’m so in love with the characters that I believe it. In the cold world in which we live, does this actually ever happen? Sometimes, if you’re super lucky and you and your partner are on the same page and feeling it, yes. But unless you have some tricks or toys (good on you) it happens enough times in your whole life to count on the fingers of one hand and have lots of fingers left over. Most real life sex ends, hopefully, with two happy people but not at the Same Time.
6. “Amazing Outdoor Sex” In the average temperate climate there are not many times of year you would even want to attempt this. This is without the added considerations of bug bites, snakes, furry woodland creatures, sharp poky things in your soft bits, dirt in places that is going to give you a UTI later, and sudden police. Just . . . at least have your characters be super sure that they’re alone, unless that’s the kink you’re writing.
7. “Don’t Be Silly, Protect Your Willie” Is it too much to ask for a quick line about unwrapping a condom? [Without overdoing it see; Shades of Grey.] Or the main character reflecting on how glad she is she has her trusty nuva-ring? Yes, it kills the mood to stop the love and put on the glove. Unplanned pregnancy (otherwise known as the Surprise Pregnancy trope) kills the mood much, much more. Most readers actively hate the surprise pregnancy trope because it’s like a big whack in the face from cold, hard reality interrupting your cozy reading time. Have *smack* your *smack* characters *smack* use *smack* protection *smack*. In historical romance you’re on your own with Google (fun fact, women used to use actual sponges soaked in lemon juice and they shoved them up exactly where you’re suspecting). Or relying on the pull-and-pray. But no matter what method you choose, USE ONE AND HAVE YOUR CHARACTERS DISCUSS IT.
featured image via stocksnap.io & Jessica Ruscello