Archive for May 21st, 2010

Recently, I’ve been reading a series written by a Prominent Romance Writer in her salad days. It concerns a family of sisters and the men who love them, and it’s pretty enjoyable, except for one thing. All the sisters seem to loathe the men they end up with, at least initially. And they show this loathing by throwing hissy fits. They snarl, they toss insults, they flounce off in a huff. The heroes never seem to find this behavior surprising. In fact, they’re immediately smitten.

Now far be it from me to criticize romances for being “unrealistic” (realism has never been much of a requirement for me in a romantic plot), but that particular romantic trope has always bothered me. The hero is supposed to find the heroine’s spirit appealing. She’s a spitfire. She’s untamed. She’s someone who’ll give him a good fight. And gosh she’s just gorgeous, too. Every time I see this reaction, I find myself thinking “Really?”

Consider this hypothetical situation—it’s the first time you meet someone, and he behaves like an absolute jerk. Do you say to yourself, “Boy howdy, look at the pecs on that guy. And he’s spirited, too. Can’t wait to see him again.” Nah. You say, “Geez, what a freakin’ jerk” and go on your way. While I can’t guarantee what the male reaction would be, my guess is it would be fairly similar.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’s possible to have legitimate friction between hero and heroine when they first meet. Heck, I’ve even done it myself (see Wedding Bell Blues). It gets the necessary conflict going from the start. The problem for me comes in the way that conflict is handled.

In one scenario, the hero simply ignores the heroine’s jerkiness or he finds it wildly attractive. In another, hero and heroine mend their differences fairly quickly and begin finding some kind of common ground that will allow the plot to proceed. Of the two, I’m a lot more comfortable with the second possibility. Among other things, it allows the author to let the hero or heroine start acting in a way the reader can find appealing too since it’s unlikely we’re going to be as charmed by irritating behavior as the other characters may be.

And that’s the problem I have with this particular Prominent Romance Writer’s series. Since the hero finds the heroine’s bitchiness attractive, she has to keep being bitchy. And that, in turn, means that the reader has to either make excuses for the heroine (she’s under stress, she doesn’t realize what a great guy the hero is because he reminds her of her nasty ex-boyfriend, etc.) or, quite probably, start to dislike her. It’s this second possibility that should give an author pause. Maybe the hero is willing to tolerate Miss Pris, but it’s quite possible the reader won’t.

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