by Elisabeth Wong
Okay, I guess it’s confession time: I’m a love skeptic.
To a certain extent. And if you were wondering, yeah, that confession was for my own sake too. I don’t know that I’ve acknowledged this trait in myself before – not because I’m ashamed of being a skeptic, but because romance in general is a big no-no for me. Horrified gasp! Yes, I’m one of those people! I’m that girl whose parents wouldn’t allow her to date in high school; that one girl who (what?) hasn’t owned up to having a crush on a guy for like eleven years now.
Okay, it was eleven until like last summer, but in my defense, I was tired. (Completely and 100% relevant.)
But here’s the thing. I’m a love skeptic, yet I really enjoy well-done romance novels/stories. You know, those stories with the characters you love, with a relationship that isn’t too forced or dramatic or cheesy or unrealistic, where you can actually relate to the people and feel like you could have them as friends in real life.
In other words, most YA romance = no go. (Someone please agree with me, because otherwise this just got really awkward.)
As a skeptic, however, every poorly written romance makes me want to tear out the pages of the awful story, burn them, then scatter its ashes to the wind, bemoaning the existence of such creations and the fact that they could get published in the first place. I mean, yes, writing is subjective, and sure, there are people out there who would probably enjoy reading it as much as I would enjoy destroying it; but you know what romance I’m talking about.
It’s the kind of romance where either the guy or the girl (or both) are puppy-like carcasses who follow the other around with hearts in their eyes just because they have nothing better to do with their undeveloped lives. It’s the kind of story that the author threw together just because sticking hundreds of convenient clichés into the plot make everything that much easier to get to the “nitty gritty.”
It’s the kind of piece that you probably don’t care to read because you can tell that the writer is basically kissing up to the reader by trying to incorporate all these fangirl-able scenes where the macho dude is striking his pose in the beaming sun as he rides off on his elegant pony and the beautiful girl stares on longingly with her hands clasped together.
(I don’t actually think that that last one was a run-on sentence. Someone hand me a grammar handbook.)
SO! Here’s what’s up. Romance novels are great; we need them. Something in us is wired to be attracted to the kind of unconditional love Christ has shown us, and no, it’s not a sissy or dumb thing to write love stories or to enjoy reading them. But just as with any other story, there are way too many things that can go wrong with your fictional romance, so here’s a long list of things that really annoy me in love stories – and should therefore be banished from the face of this planet, because if it annoyed me, oho, it just asked for trouble. (Sarcasm.)
But here are the big romance no-no’s:
1. Flat lovers. Most people don’t like a flat character. Flat lovers are even worse, because that means you just created Miss Beautiful here just to satisfy your character’s/your own “relational needs.” These people you’re putting into your stories are just that – people. Have you thought about the situation from the other side? Have you put yourself into both of the characters’ shoes? In real life, there are no filler characters; there shouldn’t be any in stories, either, especially when the lovers should play a rather important part in your romance novel.
2. Unrealistic lovers. You add this guy who’s willing to accept rejection again and again from the same girl when he really would have moved on by now. Then there’s that girl who follows her crush around every second of the day when he doesn’t even know of her existence. But part of writing is about being realistic about the people; even in fantasy or sci-fi stories, the characters are always one of your anchors to draw the audience in.
If your character’s significant other is this romantic, perfect zombie, what kind of audience are you writing to, and what kinds of expectations are you setting for future girl/boyfriends? Your characters are still supposed to be human (or supposed to resemble humans in their thoughts and feelings, because otherwise the readers won’t be able to relate). They still mess up, and they do have feelings and needs for affection as well, believe it or not.
3. Convenient clichés. He’s the prince or some super famous guy who’s totally loaded, and she’s this poor hardworking girl that he’s happened to find a fancy for. Or hey, they run into each other on the street, then discover they’re working at the same company. Oh! What if their friends totally prank them and somehow make this embarrassing moment for them? People, NO. You’ll get people like me rolling our eyes so hard that we’ll see the backs of our heads. (Which would be kind of cool, I guess, but then there’s always that one kid who freaks out at the sight. Have fun cleaning up his lunch.)
4. Relationships that are forced/cheesy/too fast. Look, we’re just friends, but a few days after meeting each other, maybe we can work it out to be something more, you know? Yes, we do know, unfortunately. We also know about your friends, in whose case we’re really wondering why these two characters are suddenly pushing their lips together when they never seemed to work as a couple in the first place.
I know you’re the Almighty Powerful Author and can do whatever you want, but newsflash: you can’t really do whatever you want when you have an audience. When you’re just writing for yourself, it’s great, but if you’re asking people to believe your story, you can’t just throw anything out there. People are people, and some people just don’t like certain people. This is life. And if most of your readers are not so happy about your romance, maybe your couple doesn’t work together as well as you think.
5. “Exotic” romance. It’s cool that the writing community is trying to diversify… but if you’re going to try to add some other country/culture to your romance, or any story really, do your research and do it well, because otherwise you will be the laughingstock of every person who actually has knowledge of what you haven’t personally had the opportunity to have experience with.
Don’t just plop your character in India because it’ll be “unique”; do it because it would actually add to the plot or theme, or because you really know what you’re talking about and are trying to share some actual experience. If you don’t know the culture or country or traveling yourself, don’t just settle with Google: ask people who have gone through what you want to write about, and they’ll be able to give you all the little details that make the story come to life.
These are personally my main sources of cringe for romance. I would like to add something fluff-headed like, “Avoid the dumb romance clichés,” but since nothing’s new under the sun, I guess that’s pointless. Plus, clichés can often enhance a story as long as they’re used strategically.
And another confession: I’ve never written romance before, so I have no idea how hard it is. Cool for you guys who do write it. Hope this helped or gave you something to think about.
Guest post contributed by Elisabeth Wong. Elisabeth originally created her blog for a creative writing class and continues to pour out her thoughts from there. She also goes by 时慧 and 雪（ゆき).