I DNF’d (did not finish) a romance book last week, and I’m on the verge of doing the same to an erotic novel right now. All because I don’t give one flying doo-doo about any of the characters.
In the erotic novel, there are seven primary characters. One is an airhead, waterworks, push-over. One guy is that smarmy, guffawing boss that only hires busty women and finds ways to make them pick up dropped objects in front of him while making every conversation an innuendo. Others are creepers. The protagonist? I’d like to punch her in the face. Seriously. She’s supposedly “saving” everyone from Mr. Sexual Harassment Boss, but she’s just as bad. She’s the worst stereotype I’ve ever seen, and she gives all of us assertive, confident women a bad rap. I hate this women, and really don’t care if the others are saved/reformed/have rocking sex or not. I just don’t want to ever meet them or read about them again.
The romance was equally bad in a different way. The main character gets dumped halfway through the novel and discovers love in a newly introduced character. I have no idea whether she found her happily-ever-after or not because I dumped not only the heroine, but the entire book. I dumped it so much that I deleted it off my Kindle. I really disliked the protagonist. I didn’t hate her as much as Ms. Blackmail People Into Having Sex With Me, but I still wanted her to live in a universe far-far away.
What made this protagonist so unsympathetic? What I like to call Too Many Gritty and Realistic Human Traits. In an erotic novel or romance, it’s important for the leads to be an admirable ideal, someone we’d dream about, and someone we’d like to be. Heroes and heroines can have a few flaws, but they should be minor. Maybe the heroine thinks she’s too skinny or curvy, is clumsy when it comes to sports. Perhaps she has to put ketchup on everything, drinks soda with peanuts, or hates iceberg lettuce. These are fun quirky things, or understandable habits that make a character come to life. But real life is often filled with the not-cute. Biological factors, terribly embarrassing moments we wish would be wiped from everyone’s brains – these are the things that do NOT belong in a romantic novel. The dislikable protagonist from the romance novel was crude and clumsy. Several times she had food in her teeth, bad breath, something stuck on her shoe, etc. She lied to her best friend. She barfed a couple of times in the book. She was mean to inconsequential characters, and barely felt a twinge of regret later. She was wrapped up in a huge “me” attitude. So here is my personal DO NOT GO THERE list:
- Bad Breath- It happens to everyone, and I’ll admit I chuckle when I read all those lovely morning-sex scenes where there is kissing before the brushing-of-the-teeth ritual or at least a quick shot of Binaca, strategically placed by the bedside. Romance heroes and heroines don’t have bad breath. Ever.
- Barfing – There will probably be mixed opinions on this one. I’ve read several books where the heroine has been drunk or sick and has vomited. The hero shows how caring he can be even with puke on his shoes by lovingly wiping up his woman, escorting her home and attending to her wellbeing and safety. I’m not a fan, but I’m willing to make an exception as long as the spray doesn’t contact with skin and is not described in revolting detail. Oh, and the hero never pukes. Never.
- Potty Necessities – A character may refer to the need to use the facilities as a plot device. A book that journals every time someone needs to take a wee isn’t a romance I want to read. And no mention of the number two should ever be made. No passing of gas either. This is a romance novel, not James Joyce’s ULYSSES.
- Mean Stuff – OK, you might have a hero who is a jerk, who just needs the love of a good woman to reform him. Fine. He’s got to reform fast, because romantic leads need to be kind to puppies, kitty cats, children, and minimum wage workers. I always refuse to hire anyone who is rude to our receptionist, and I would never go out on a second date with someone who was snarky with the wait staff, parking attendant, or coat check person. Nice is sexy.
- Crude – Yes, my own main character curses like a sailor, but she’s a demon and I’m not writing a romance. A few curse words under appropriate circumstances are appropriate, but vulgar language, demeaning slang, racist comments are not. Dirty talk in the sack is fine if the book is an erotic romance or if the characters are role playing. Otherwise it just makes me wince. And I don’t wince easily.
- Sloppy Eater – I’ll admit I can’t seem to get through a day without some portion of my meal and/or beverage ending up on my shirt. A little “spillage” can be an ice breaker, a cute foible, or a transition into a hot steamy scene, depending on where the food winds up. More than once though and the character looks like a slob. A hero or heroine who constantly has food stains on their clothing, spinach in their teeth, or who sprays food particles when they talk has no place in a romance.
- Losing Body Parts – I’m joking about this one. Maybe.
OK, maybe if the book is a different genre, these can work. Zombies? Yep. Zombie romance? Nope. At least not if the zombie is one of the romantically involved characters.
What is on your DON’T GO THERE list?