Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Trouble with "Romance"

This tweet appeared in my Twitter feed today:
editrixanica Anica Mrose Rissi Do you repeatedly mention the color of a character's eyes, or oft remind us of a signature hairstyle or defining feature? Well, stop it.
I laughed when I read it, because it reminded me of something I kept thinking while I was reading a book at the beginning of July.

I'm not going to identify the book or the author, because I don't want to be mean (and bring grief on myself!). The book was a romance novel, and if I had a dime for every time the author mentioned the hero's "sun-streaked hair," I could have paid for the book (to be fair, it was a Kindle book that cost only $2.99, but still...).

Here's the comment that could bring me grief. I love a good love story, but most romance novels drive me nuts for a variety of reasons. One thing is definitely the constant (and cliched) physical description of the hero. The "sun-streaked hair" wasn't the only phrase in the book I read that was repeated multiple times. There was also the guy's "chiseled" features, his green eyes, his flat belly. It was like the author wanted to make sure I had a specific mental image of the guy's physical appearance every time he was on the "stage." I don't have a problem with the author having a really specific idea of what the hero looks like, but when the physical details are thrown in during a tense, dramatic moment, it seems sort of....well, ridiculous. If I were being threatened by a drunken former husband, I seriously doubt I would be noticing how my hero's hair is catching streaks of sunlight and falling back from his face.

Another thing that bugged me was the constant changing of viewpoint character. I've seen books which switch viewpoints from one chapter to another, but this book would hop from the head of the heroine to the head of the hero within a page. I guess the author was choosing the character whose viewpoint would be most "dramatic" in the scene. To me, though, that seems a little like cheating. Staying inside one character's head takes discipline and really thinking through how to show what's going on with the scene from what that one character can observe and interpret. I think the Harry Potter series does a great job of that. Except for a few stage-setting scenes, all the action is viewed from Harry's perspective. Several times, he interprets things in the wrong way, which makes the conclusion of the series all the more powerful. The reader gets the experience of figuring out the story along with the character instead of having sort of a detached, godlike view of what's going on with everyone.

The plot in this particular romance novel centered around a woman whose husband sold her to another man to pay off his debt. Although the buyer didn't intend to keep the woman around, of course they end up together. Because of the head-hopping, we get to see both characters' thoughts about the other one and there's really no suspense. Wouldn't it have been more exciting to have only the woman's thoughts, so we don't already know the man is beginning to change his mind? Instead, there are many passages where the author has to tell us the characters don't realize what's going on between them - otherwise, the whole plot would wrap up in a couple of chapters. Some of the plot events just seemed contrived to me, like the whole reason the scene was in there was to keep the resolution from happening just yet so the story could meet its word count.

As I said, I love a good love story, and I like a "happily ever after" ending as much as any romance reader. But every time I read something in the "romance" genre, I come away from it feeling frustrated. Now, don't hate on me, romance readers!

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