I’m as romantic as the next person, but let’s face it – it’s hard to find a well-written romance in fiction these days. From poorly-written triangles to relationships based solely on sex, it can be difficult to find any kind of fictional romance that doesn’t make me want to slam the book against my forehead before tossing it out the window. A romance, even as a subplot, can make or break a book, and so today I want to touch down on a few of the nastier commonalities found in fictional romances.
Note: As always, these are my opinions and do not reflect the collective opinion of all readers everywhere. You may agree or disagree with my points, and as always, there are exceptions to every rule.
- Arm-grabbing/dragging. Now this may very well be one of the most iconic tropes in KDrama history, but 99.9% of the time, this ain’t romantic. Dragging a girl around by force isn’t sweet or caring unless you are literally saving her life from an extremely inevitable death. Is an assassin waiting right around the corner and only the guy can see said assassin? Then okay, it’s permissible to drag the girl out of harm’s way. But if a girl gets fed up with a guy and goes to walk away? Then it’s definitely not okay to just grab her arm and haul her away somewhere.
- Stalking. I will never understand why this one is so popular. Even if it’s a cliché YA story where the FMC is some kind of Important Being and the guy is one of the Only People Who Knows, following her around everywhere she goes is not acceptable. Trailing her around like a creepy person isn’t going to win you any points. If you notice somebody stalking you, call the police. If you don’t notice somebody stalking you and then you find out later that they did, call the police. Don’t just let yourself be stalked. This trope is even worse when it’s the girl’s boyfriend. Ditch him. And do what? Oh yes, call the police.
- Bullying. This is one of those lines that I see crossed way too often in fiction: the hot, broody boyfriend (who is probably a total jerk, but man are his abs nice) gets angry at his girlfriend for anything and everything. She was speaking to another man? How DARE SHE. She forgot to call him and let him know where she was? HERESY. This bothers the absolute bedazzle out of me. This is the kind of behavior that would make me get a restraining order for this dude.
- Constant Bickering. To a certain extent, bickering can be fun. If characters have good chemistry and obviously enjoy each other’s company, bickering might even be a kind of love language. But if all a couple does is bicker, that isn’t a sign of a good relationship. It stops being cute and starts being downright annoying. You have to base your relationship on more than the ability to banter and sass, because banter and sass do not a healthy, whole relationship make.
- Sulking. This is another singularly unattractive trait. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my man sulking every time I disagree with him. It’s childish and shows a distinct lack of maturity. Unfortunately, many authors seem to confuse three words: moody, broody, and sulky. Moody can be an interesting character trait (when it isn’t overdone). Broody is trickier because it’s so easy to slide into sulkiness. Sulkiness is not attractive, nor is it cute, nor is it endearing. Get over yourself, my dude.
- Miscommunication. UGH, JUST MAKE IT STOP. I’m so weary of this trope, I cannot describe. Listen, I know that misunderstandings happen. They’re a part of life. But when that’s the author’s fallback for creating tension – well, that’s just bad, lazy writing. Now of course nobody wants to open a book just to read about everybody getting along beautifully, but there are much better ways to create tension than miscommunication. Characters need to talk to one another. They need to be truthful sometimes. And honestly, nothing is more annoying than having Character A confess something relatively minor to Character B and having Character B pull the whole ‘I can’t believe you LIED to me, I’m breaking up with you before you have a chance to explain’ shtick. Or any of the related shticks. Honestly, guys, miscommunication happens, but it doesn’t happen every time two people turn around. Please throw some actual understanding in there, or I’m already done with your novel. Which leads me to…
- ‘For Your Own Good.’ Ah, what a classic. Character A is withholding information from Character B and decides to shove Character B away in order to ‘protect them.’ Well, bully for you, Character A, but chances are Character B is an adult who can make their own decisions and does not need your frankly ridiculous relationship ideas. This only works if Character A realizes they made a wrong choice and repents of said decision. Otherwise, Character A is basically a controlling jerk who probably doesn’t deserve Character B in the first place.
- Over-protectiveness. This is closely related to the ‘bullying’ point I made, but at least with over-protectiveness I can see where an author would go wrong. An author wants to write a protective guy because it’s a trait they like, but they like it so much that they overdo it, and their character goes from a sweet, caring guy to an overbearing tool. There’s a difference between a classic gentleman opening a door for a lady and said lady finding out that her boyfriend has ordered a limo to pick her up every evening because he doesn’t want her taking a taxi. Or walking. Or driving her own car. That’s just creepy.
- Triangles. It is extremely rare that a love triangle is both a) plausible and b) acceptable, for several reasons: mainly because love triangles usually fall prey to several terrible clichés. My least-favorite is the indecisiveness of the FMC. Okay, I get it – you have two great guys fighting over you and both are completely different and yeah, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. But you can be very sure that the second a FMC says something to the effect of ‘I just can’t decide!’ that I’m 500% done with her. Lady, make up your mind. Keeping two guys this attached to you is cruel. Also, if a guy walked up to me and said ‘Hey, I’m in love with you, but I’m also in love with this other chick and I just can’t make up my mind,’ I would probably say ‘I think I can help with that!’ and walk away with zero regrets. Another peeve I have about triangles is the fact that so often there’s no real reason for either guy to be in love with the girl. They might both be magnificent demigods with washboard abs and dreamy eyes, but the gal is probably plain, clumsy, self-deprecating, and about as interesting as a piece of cardboard. Bonus fail points if she’s ‘chosen’ somehow. Double bonus fail points if one third of the triangle just feels ‘like the girl needs protected’ for no actual reason other than she’s literally helpless. (For those of you who adore love triangles and are feeling a little crushed, don’t despair! I’ll be writing a post soon on how to write love triangles that actually work. Stay tuned.)