Plotlines That Could Take a Break

originality On the whole, I don’t mind seeing variations of the same old plot in what I read. Well, I do read plenty of genre literature after all! The finesse and/or psychological depth in which a well-known plot is handled can actually enrich my pleasure in reading a great deal. That said, there are a few plotlines out there that I would really like to retire for a couple of years or so, and which may very well keep me from buying a new publication unless it’s by an autobuy author.

My top overused plotline at the moment is the heroine who writes romance (including chick lit) and/or erotic novels. There have been a number of them in the last few years, and I wish they’d take a break. The romance/erotic novel writer heroine may lead to any or several of the following scenarios, which I’ve read to a surfeit:

-The heroine has only experienced bad sex before the hero comes along, but her own sex scenes are ever so thrilling.
-The heroine has had lots of good sex before, added to lots of research, and now there is an issue about how she knows everything about sex.
-The hero makes sweeping assumptions about the heroine due to the erotic novels/romances she writes.
-There is constant identification between the heroine and her fictional characters.
-The heroine bases her latest fictional hero on this hot man she’s just met/she’s known for years.
-The world in general reacts with great snobbism to the fact that she writes romance.
-In a historical: The heroine instigates an affair with a rake for research reasons.

Been there, done that. Now what I’d love was a heroine who wrote travel books, or YA fiction, or fantasy.

Another plotline I’d really like to see retired for a couple of years is the whole idea of fated mates. This can be found in about every other paranormal, or that’s my impression anyway. Now what is so romantic about a gent taking a single sniff at a lady and instantly knowing, without any doubt, that she’s The One? Suppose she had used a different deodorant that day? As you can see, I am not fond of the plotline as a rule. Whenever I read a book with this motif, a little inner demon keeps asking nigging questions, like: What if she’s not into furry and refuses him outright? Why does this never ever happen when the woman in unattractive (except in her own eyes), or the man is paunchy, or either one is suffering from animal hair allergy? Why, oh why, does the partner so chosen, perhaps after some token resistance, always accept this must be so? So I really like to see a werewolf hero who choses his mate because of, well, liking her. Or lusting after her great body. Or because her dad’s the alpha and the hero wants to become crown prince. Just not the fated thingy.

I’m also getting a tad bored with all those traumatized heroes. Yes, I realise many, many readers love a suffering hero, a hero with a dreadful past he must come to grips with. I only wish there was a more of a mixture here. Sometimes, I just yearn for a happy-go-lucky guy in a romance. No angst, no PTSD, no brooking or scowling; just a good-humored man who is content with where he is and what he does.

How about you? What are plotlines that you think have been overdone recently, and that should take a break? What variations of these plotlines would you prefer instead?

-Rike Horstmann

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29 Responses to Plotlines That Could Take a Break

  1. Rose says:

    The character trait I get tired of is the uber sexually experienced hero. I’m not sure what the appeal is in a man that has slept with so many women. STD’s aside, I just DON’T find it attractive when a man is willing to sleep with every woman he meets. How is that supposed to make me (oops, the heroine :-) feel special? The only plot that can evolve from there is that this heroine is SO special, that she turns him on like none of the other millions of women he has slept with (yet she doesn’t think she’s attractive and happens to be slightly overweight). I really find it a bit hard to believe when a hero is all “I’ve pleased EVERY woman I’ve EVER slept with.” Because we are all the same right? Start with move A and proceed to move B and “voila!” orgasm. I like a hero that is less experienced, that his attraction to this woman makes him want to be a better lover.

    I get a little tired of virginal heroines also. It’s not so much that they are virgins, just that they are stupid and have no idea what happens during sex. A line that I would like to see retired or at least left out of half the books I read is “He must be crazy, that thing is so big, it won’t fit inside me!”

    When I read a book where the hero and heroine are both moderately experienced at sex, I think “how refreshing!”

  2. Ali says:

    I’ll be honest… I know the whole mated thing has been overused, but I still like it, hehe
    With the heroine as a romance writer, I haven’t read/seen too many of those recently.
    Now, with the tortured hero, you’re right. I used to be in love with the tortured hero, but now I think I enjoy it when it’s the heroine who’s tortured… I’ll give the tortured hero a break for a month or so :)

  3. Lucé says:

    I like virginal, but not stupid, heroines. I dislike heroines (especially in historicals) that are experienced without ever having been married. For me it’s just a cultural/personal preference.

    That said, I agree with Rose, I get an icky feeling when a hero is promiscuous and has indiscriminate sex with tons of women. I like experienced heroes that are not “sluts” and that exercise self-control (especially when this self control is tested by the heroine (such as Marcus, Lord Westcliff in Lisa Kleypas’s It Happened One Autumn).

    Regarding tired plots, I feel that the right writer can make anything work in my case, as long as she does not underestimate my intelligence.

  4. Lucé says:

    I love, love, love, tortured heroes, but the cause for such torture has to be legitimate and not an excuse to move the plot along.

  5. Bungluna says:

    I’ve grown tired of the historical heroine who decides she’s never getting married, therefore it’s acceptable to jump into bed with the hero. And the hero who beds her because he knows he’ll marry her eventualy, making all right with the world.

    I would also like to read about a hero who WANTS to get married! All these men who avoid marriage like the plague for no good reason that I can see are getting tedious. Especialy if they come from happy families and see happy couples around them.

  6. Katie Mack says:

    I am *so* with you on the tortured heroes. When you find a book with a normal, happy guy it is very refreshing.

    I agree with Rose on the uber-experienced heroes, and I’m so tired of virginal heroines. It’s like their virginal-status is code for Purity & Light. Blech. Give me an experienced heroine any day of the week.

    I’m also sick of the heroines who’ve only ever experienced bad sex before the hero. Give me a break. That’s been so overdone.


  7. Wendy says:

    I loathe fated to be mated with every fiber of my being. Loathe it. It completely robs the characters of free will. They have no choice. And frankly, no choice, no free will = so not sexy IMHO.

    It’s gotten a lot better in recent years, but I’m fed up with The Code. Virginal never been kissed or only had sex once and it was so bad she must be “no good” at it = heroine. Of course! Actually enjoys sex, has a smattering of self-confidence, isn’t afraid to go after what she wants = Skanky Ho-bag Evil “Other Woman.” Of course! I’m not saying there is anything wrong with virginal heroines, but there is also nothing wrong with a heroine who has had sex before and ::gasp::actually enjoys it. The Code gets my feminist back up.

    The other plot device that is driving me bonkers lately – The Character Who Won’t Read The Letter. Or e-mail. Or whatever. This happens a lot in historicals. Instead of reading the hero’s letter(s) that would explain everything, the heroine either burns them without reading them or marks them return to sender. Seriously, who does this? The lack of any kind of curiosity baffles me.

  8. nana says:

    Hm. I am trying to think of a plotline that I see as “overused” instead of just as “annoying.” In sort of a parallel to Bungluna’s, I think mine would be the commitment-phobe heroine. She’s all over Harlequin Blaze these days, and she never has a good reason – it’s always something like “We can’t have a relationship because… I never have relationships.” I just don’t feel any kind of character arc/growth or building plot tension. You know it’s going to be resolved in some magical Aha! moment, and you sort of feel, why do I even bother?

  9. Annie says:

    I’m tired of seeing bad parents in romance. “I hate my father” seems to be the norm to set up a tortured character who has suffered much emotional or physical abuse. It can be a compelling plot in the hands of a good writer, but more typically it seems very extreme and unbelievable.

    Note to writers: happy people from happy families fall in love and are happy. You don’t need gimmicks to fuel the passion between the hero and heroine or to explain bad behavior.

  10. SusiB says:

    If you ask me, the fated mates plotline could just go away forever. Most of the time, it feels like the author was just too lazy to show me why and how the hero and heroine fall in love. For me, one of the main points of reading a romance novel his seeing why these two characters are perfect for each other and what they think is so special about the other person!
    Another plotline that I find very annoying is the makeover. There are some good makeover stories, but I really hate it when the heroine has to lose 20 pounds, replace her glasses with contact lenses and wear designer clothes to be good enough for the hero.

  11. Allyson says:

    Oh man, so much agreement on the ‘fated mates’ thing. I actively avoid it. I would so love to see a book where the heroine is plagued by a guy who THINKS he’s her ‘fated mate’ and she’s like ‘uh no dude’…and the hero’s someone else entirely. That would be awesome.

    My own peeve, this comes up mostly in historicals. The ‘I’m not good enough for you, so I’m going to leave you’. Enough already! Nobody would actually ever do that! And it’s extremely insulting to the other party. Also I hate the plot where the heroine loves the hero, often has slept with him, and she won’t marry him for a dumb reason..either the above ‘not good enough’ or ‘he hasn’t said I love you’ or whatever.

    If I were a historical heroine, and Lord Rich And Gorgeous proposed to me, even if it was just ‘out of duty’, I’d be like ‘heck yeah!’ I’d prove my awesomeness after we were married. Most people in those days married for duty, so I’d not feel that he was really losing out on much either. And if we’d already slept together, there could be a pregnancy so you better bet I’d be all over that proposal.

  12. Lynn Spencer says:

    I could truly do without the series of friends or brothers in Regency (or occasionally Victorian) England who are all spies and then all settle down one by one with each one getting his own wallpaper historical.

    Also, the historical heroine who jumps into bed with the hero either because: (1) she’s curious or (2) she wants to make herself impure so she can’t be forced to marry.

    And I totally agree with you, Wendy, on the Code. I don’t usually care whether the heroine is a virgin or not, but the whole “If she likes sex before meeting the hero and his magic wang, she must be a SLUT,” shorthand for characterization can be locked away forever as far as I’m concerned.

  13. konyha says:

    Eliminating the “fated mate” theme means leaving a lazy writer with the skeleton of a poorly-written story. This is likely the case for most shape shifter romances.

    On other hand, destiny or the “fated mate” interplay sure would have come in handy the first time we tried to mate our 125 pound Great Pyrenees Mountain dog with a neighboring Pyr. I assure you there was nothing romantic about that fiasco.

  14. marcella says:

    Allyson: I would so love to see a book where the heroine is plagued by a guy who THINKS he’s her ‘fated mate’ and she’s like ‘uh no dude’…and the hero’s someone else entirely. That would be awesome.

    If I’m not mistaken, try Katie MacAlister’s A Girl’s Guide to Vampires.

  15. Illyria says:

    Uh, no more uberspies running around Regency England kthnxbai.

  16. Sarah says:

    I don’t have a problem with virgins in historical romance, given the potentially disastrous fallout of having a pre-martial affair. In contemporaries though, I prefer a heroine with experience. Now it’s abnormal to be a virgin in your late-twenties.

    But yes, the fated loves must go (I’m looking at you, Christine Feehan).

  17. Lucé says:

    As I said, for me virginity (in historicals and contemporaries) is a cultural/personal preference. By the way, I married when I was 27 and very much a virgin, so I guess I’m abnormal ;-)

  18. Laura says:

    I’m among those who can’t stand the ‘duke of slut’, so much so that if there’s even a whisper of ‘rogue’ or ‘rake’ on the blurb, I’ll stay far away from it.
    I also dislike virgin heroines. It gets on my nerves when the hero abandons his mistress (whose only fault was in sleeping with him) for the pure and untouched heroine: it doesn’t sound romantic to me, it sounds a bit sick.

    Another theme I’m really tired of is the ‘childhood friends become lovers’, especially if the heroine has been carrying a torch while the hero sleeps with anything moving. It seems there a dozens of books with this plot line nowadays

  19. Katie Mack says:

    I, too, am so in agreement with Wendy on The Code.

  20. JMM says:

    I know I’ve said this before, (many, many times. For me, the issue isn’t “virginity” per se; (although I think there are too damn many virgin heroines; especially virgin widows) it’s the fact that SO MANY heroines are so unbelievably IGNORANT.

    They don’t date.
    They don’t masturbate.
    They don’t fantasize.
    They have never seen a penis, even in a picture.
    They don’t ever feel attraction for ANY man but the hero.
    The instant they do feel attraction, they’re doing the beast with two backs with guys they barely know – most of the time, without a condom.

    And I hate that the heroine’s virtue is often the only quality she has.

    Too often, it’s… ignorance instead of innocence.

  21. Allyson says:

    Yes, that’s one thing that confuses me, especially when readers say they prefer a virgin heroine because of ‘morals’. 1) why not demand a virgin hero too, I’d think that’d be just as bad 2) why is it ok for the heroine to sleep with the hero immediately if ‘slutty’ heroine behaviour is the issue?

    But, I don’t come from a cultural perspective that prizes female virginity, so I don’t really *get* it on a gut level.

  22. JMM says:

    What morality?

    The heroine walks around in a state of lobotomized asexuality until the hero comes along, then humps him because he’s the first guy who turns her on.

    And yes, I wonder why the HERO isn’t subject to the rules of “morality”.

  23. Rose says:

    Ahh, virgin heroes. Jamie Fraser comes to mind. It worked for me :-)

  24. Heather says:

    Ahhhh…Jamie Fraser…melts my heart

    I could REALLY do without the mistaken identity plotline. Can we just have one 5 minute conversation as mature adults and move forward without all the lies? Or even worse when its paired with a convenient case of amnesia – i.e. innocent heoine gets knocked on the head, wakes up in the arms of uber alpha hero who thinks she’s some infamous or deadly courtesan who he must either “posess” or “teach a lesson to” and of course she lets him because he must know her better than she does since she can’t remember and then the inevitable “oh, you were a virgin, now I feel remorse for treating you like a slut and must marry you tomorrow.

  25. NicoleD says:

    Yes, Jamie Fraser – always comes to mind..sigh…

    I don’t mind the virginal heroine — done right. If her age is more of the long in the tooth side…then she’s HAD to have seen the very least. Those over-pampered, nitwits, who gasp at every remark – do not cut it for me.

    As far as “man sluts”…the I’ve done everything and everyone that walked and now will stop that I’ve found YOU..the one true virgin for me…..that plot line is so far fetched – it has got to go.

    Give me the hero who is not too experienced either sexually or even how to deal with females- and that’s fun to they may flounder about trying to figure out the heroine.

  26. Maria R. says:

    Hmm, on Jamie Fraser, he’s a virgin who then goes on to have two one-night stands. So, is he a male virgin or a man slut?? Not like I really care seeing as he’s one of my favourite heros of all time.

    As an un-tortured male, I loved Declan Fitzgerald in Midnight Bayou (N. Roberts). Rich, good-looking and successful without hating his parents or thinking that no one could love him without his money.

  27. Lucé says:

    NicoleD: I don’t mind the virginal heroine — done right. If her age is more of the long in the tooth side…then she’s HAD to have seen the very least. Those over-pampered, nitwits, who gasp at every remark – do not cut it for me.

    Exactly! Virginity should not be synonymous of stupidity. I also like heroines who are not virgins, of course, but I don’t like heroines who indulge in casual sex or have been promiscuous. I dislike slutty heroes too.

  28. Tami says:

    I like the virginal heroines over the experienced (but some how still innocent, never had great sex before the hero) heroines. That to me is so much more darn annoying! Why can’t the sexually experienced heroine have good to great sex before the hero? He had! It’s certainly more unbelievable and tiresome than the virginal heroines who are ignorant of sex. Or the very experienced heroines who still so tight or tighter than a virgin! Gasp!

    I also hate authors starting the book with the hero having sex with his mistress. Gah!

    I think I digressed from the main topic of overused plotlines?

  29. Vickie says:

    Not only are there certain plotlines that need to be retired for a while, how about the same old cliche’ words used in the titles of romance novels. I often will pass over certain novels just because of the words used in the title.

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