Post Traumatic Romance Reader Syndrome

While I was reading a book last week – a good one, one that I was really enjoying – I found myself reacting in an unexpected way. The book was swimming merrily along, with a hero and heroine I liked and a plot I enjoyed. Then they are caught in a somewhat compromising position, and the hero proposes. The heroine doesn’t say yes immediately, and that’s where I lost it. While I hesitate to compare myself to someone who spent a year in combat and then hits the ground when there’s a loud noise…well, that’s almost where I was, metaphorically.

All I could think immediately was: “What? Is she really going to say no to him, even though she’s attracted to him and down to her last guinea? You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t handle this anymore!” If I’d waited two seconds, I’d have found out that she soon says yes. She reasons out her response, thinks it out, weighs her options – and says yes.

I didn’t really stop there, though. Later on in the book, she makes a decision that isn’t the best. She goes on a ride with a male friend – one who is not entirely trustworthy – a man she knows her husband dislikes. I nearly flew off the handle again. Surely she’d read romance novels before! Didn’t she know this was a bad idea? What was she thinking? Well, as it turned out, she was being human. Making mistakes she was sorry for later, like humans do, and people in love do. It wasn’t the end of the world, and she worked it all out with the hero – who was not an unreasonable, unforgiving jerk, but a nice guy.

But apparently, I’ve been burned before. And burned, and burned. To the point where if I think a book is going to hit upon a hot button or a cliche that has annoyed me many times in the past, I put up mental walls and (metaphorically, of course) hide under the table, screaming. In this case, it was completely unwarranted. I ended up giving the book a B+ for heaven’s sake.

I’m not really sure how I got here. Is it because I’ve been reading romance seriously since 1993? That’s a long time – almost twenty years. And I’ve been reviewing for most of that time, telling people what I think about most of the books I read. Or maybe it’s that I’ve just read a lot of books that push my buttons in the last few years (I swear heroes didn’t always have to propose twice, but maybe they did and it’s just reached critical mass in the last couple of years).

After my recent experience, I’m going to try to give books a chance before I, um, hit the floor. Because maybe they’ll work it out. Maybe the heroine is just reasoning things out, and maybe the hero’s not a horse’s ass.

What about you? Are do you ever get Post Traumatic Romance Reader Syndrome? Do little, seemingly benign plot devices send you to a place you’d rather not go?

– Blythe Barnhill

12 thoughts on “Post Traumatic Romance Reader Syndrome

  1. I don’t think the reason for PTRRS is because of being a reader a long time.
    Don’t you think that when a writer gets this reaction from her/his story she has done a credible job in the telling of the story. When we read we get invested in the characters and react happy, mad or sad,accordingly. I just put down “The Siren” by Tiffany Reisz and it left me with some soggy tissues, although I squirmed my way through the book with BDSM the characters were so realistic and interesting. This book is a series and I cannot wait to dive into “The Angel” and “The Prince”.
    This is a writer who will give you kinds of PTRRS!

    • Well, the problem I saw was that I was OVER-reacting emotionally, without even giving the author a chance to resolve the issue and see where the story went. and my reaction was more along the lines of “Oh, God, I can’t handle this plot device.” It’s a little different than being pulled in emotionally, though to your point, I was pulled in enough to really care about the characters.

  2. It just depends. When the writing is good I will stick through many PTRRS moments or TSTL moments giving the author time to work the issue out. If the writing has been bad, if I have been dragging myself through the book anyway and this is just one more reason to hate it, then I might quit. I tend to finish books once I start them but recently I have been letting myself off the hook when the book just isn’t working for me.

  3. Sometimes I think it’s because I read too much. So, I need to switch off to old favs, different genres, or non-fiction to get a break.

    Ironically, I’ll tolerated stuff from one author that I won’t from another. I’ve read now 3 of the for KA “Mystery, Wild, Motorcycle Man” books. They’re annoying, go on for ever and ever, need to be editted and if you read one after the other the plots are nearly identical. Usually, I’d quit reading, and find something else…. these I’m sucked right in until the end.

    I don’t know why?? Is it the length?? The fact that they talk to each other even when he’s bossy and she’s TSTL?? No idea… But in the end I think it’s simply that they are different in voice, tone, setting etc which is why I like them.

    That’s the bottom line…. too many books are carbon copies of other books by other authors. I’ll tolerate stuff that usually annoys me, if you make it new and interesting.

  4. Blythe, I am completely with you as regards heroines who reject the hero when it’s really, really stupid to do so. There are some reactions in romance that are so clichéd it’s painful when you come across them.
    But it can also be risky for an author to leave the well-trodden paths. In Susanna Fraser’s An Infamous Marriage, the heroine is shattered because of the way her community gossips about her. (She had some very bad experiences with being gossiped about as a teenager, and when it happens again, she just explodes.) When I read this, inside I went: Come on, it’s just gossip! You won’t take that too serious, will you? I was all inclined to despise her for it when I caught myself short and realised I was happily and thoughtlessly giving in to romance clichés. In a romance, a heroine is NEVER impressed by gossip, but always rises above it without much effort. The pain of seeing yourself pitied and talked about by your whole social circle didn’t register with me any more. So I pulled myself together and really imagined what the situation would be like, and all of a sudden I could feel deeply with what the heroine went through. I still believe the author took a risk with giving her heroine a failing that does not conform with the high-mindedness we have come to expect.

  5. When I saw the title, I got all excited because I thought it would be about something entirely different. When I read a REALLY great book, it’s hard to enjoy another book for awhile because they seldom hook me as well as that last really great one did. That’s what I thought you meant.

    Anyhoo, as far as those hot buttons that you were really talking about, I had to just give up reading contemporary stories because I’d get headaches from all the eye rolls and my family might have been planning to commit me because of all the out loud “Yeah, right. As if.” comments I’d mutter.

    I can handle a whole lot more in historicals and paranormals because they are escapism reading. But set that book in the real world here and now and I have pretty much zero ability to suspend belief or even muster up any patience.

  6. You know, I read a certain book when I had only been reading romance for a short while and even then I was thrilled to encounter a heroine who, when proposed to by the man she loves, actually says yes. That’s how tiresome a cliche it is.

    I do often catch myself going “oh no, not again” while reading. And sure enough, sometimes the situation isn’t what it originally appeared, or there was some yet unexplained reason, what have you. And it’s bad because it creates an unjustified negative feeling about the book that can be hard to overcome. Don’t know if there’s anything that can be done about that.

  7. Genre fiction especially relies on tried and true conventions, which is usually reassuring to readers. When the devices strike a nerve though it’s perhaps a device that isn’t plausible for the reader. When that happens to me, the book does lose some credibility and depending on the strength of the writing I may or may not be able to overcome my aversion. In my case I’m extra sensitive to power dynamics between couples and cringe if a woman is presented as a victim. This particular plot often causes me to reject a book. Having said that one of my favorite romance novels is Joanna Bourne’s _The Spymaster’s Lady_ and this is a novel that has an uncomfortable amount of time devoted to the hero’s control over the heroine. Bourne allowed for enough flexibility in the heroine’s special qualities that enabled her to outsmart the men in the novel enough that I stuck with it, which in lesser hands is probably not something I would have done.

  8. This is funny you should mention it, I was just writing a review about a book that would have been an A+ 15 years ago but, many bad historical romances later, I had to give it a B+ for pretty much the same reasons you’ve listed!

    Not sure if there is such a thing as Post Traumatic Romance Reader Syndrome but I definitely have it.

  9. Seems to me that some things in romance fiction just have to be accepted as part of the genre. Some way or another, authors have to set up conflict.
    Tried and true methods, even though they might be cliches work more often than not, allowing the the writer more scope for development than if an unusual or new method of establishing the conflict were chosen, for the author doesn’t have to spend time validating the new. As MaggieAAR states, it all depends on the author.

  10. I have totally experienced this lately. The one for me in historicals is the “since I am never getting married, I will leap at this one, last opportunity to experience sex to carry the memory into my lonely, olden days.” This has become such an obvious way to include sex scenes without building them into the character or plot. Just “wham-bam” it’s time for the sex. I find myself rolling my eyes when the heroine makes this decision, especially when it comes too quickly in the story.

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