Top Ten Romance Writing Cliches

As I started writing the sequel to Enemy, Beloved, I realized I wanted this book to be different. I wanted it to stand out from the other vampire, shapeshifting, otherworldly books out there. I’ve heard from agents/editors countless times, “Bestselling novels are the same, but different. A unique twist on a stable, selling platform.” Great advice, but you wouldn’t know how to make your novel different unless you first know about all the others out there, right?

Obviously, that means you have to read what you write. A lot. *As a side note, you should also read things from other subgenres as well. I learned so much from Monica McCarty’s The Chief and The Hawk it’s mind-spinning. Historicals are much different from paranormals (and that’s probably a blog post all its own), but the point is to read, read, read, then write something unique.

I’ve been reading a ton lately and the more I read, the more I notice similar slogans, familiar story lines, dialogue that the author was using to beat a dead horse…well, okay, you get where I’m going.

In the spirit of putting different spins on the stories you write, I give you “Top Ten Romance Writing Cliches.”

10-The use of “Running his fingers through his hair…” at every turn. I have to be careful for this one. When I picture my hero frustrated, pacing a tight circle, the first thing I see is him scrubbing his hands across his head. But do you see that too? Haven’t you read that a million times? I have. It’s beginning to get to me. In my next book I’m going to toss all the “fingers through the hair” and come up with something different…as long as he’s not picking his nose. Heh-heh.

9-Big busted heroines with tiny waists, bright doe eyes, full lips, flowing mahogany hair…and no self-esteem. Why would the hero want her? She’s not worthy of love. She’s a virgin, cast aside by society. Really? How many women in our society are like that? Do you really think Kim Kardashian, Salma Hayek, or Fergie make themselves victims in that way? Or do they use their beauty to get what they want? I’m not saying they don’t have low self-esteem–they might–I’m just saying the “stunning woman with low self-esteem who has never gotten attention from a man until the hero comes around” is a little played out.

8-The only person who sees the heroine as breathtakingly beautiful is the hero. Something to watch for: If your heroine is as strikingly gorgeous as you say she is…and there’s other beta-heroes in your novel, how do they react to her? Wouldn’t they have some sort of a reaction resembling your hero’s? How does she respond to that attention?

7-The evil ex-wife. The malicious woman who spoiled the hero for other women. Because of this baggage, he believes all women are evil, treats the heroine like garbage…until she proves to him that she’s different. The ex-wife doesn’t even have to be on the page. Once again, if you haven’t read Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, you need to. Rebecca manages to terrorize Maxim’s new wife from the grave the entire novel, but instead of getting stuck in that cliche, DuMaurier makes Maxim stronger for the loss and keeps the past-dwelling at an absolute minimum. Good stuff.

6-Meeting in bars. I don’t know what it is, but lately every book I open has something to do with the hero and heroine meeting in a bar-type setting. A club. An after-hours lounge. A bar at a prestigious restaurant. They’re all the same. Mix it up a bit. I don’t care for bars–never have. Give me somewhere else to connect with your lead characters.

5-The sexually charged hero who refuses to settle for one woman…until he meets the virginal heroine, of course. She challenges him, making him lose his mind before changing it. I think if this one is done right, it works. (*Read McCarty’s The Hawk) However, sometimes I feel like if the hero was the Casanova the author painted him to be, why would he be choosing this naive woman to settle down with? Why does he want to settle down at all? Not fifty pages earlier the author wrote that the hero LOVED his playboy ways. What does the heroine have that’s so special? Maybe that’s the fault. What makes the heroine “special” doesn’t off-set the hero’s “desire” to be a player.

4-Avoid phrases like: all walks of life, give the devil his due, never a dull moment, behind the eight ball, hook, line, and sinker, nipped in the bud, bitter end, by hook or crook, calm before the storm in the nick of time. You get the idea.

3-Stipulations in Wills. Loved one dies, forcing two people together from the grave. Usually, one person has to marry before a certain date or work with someone on a project on a strict timeline (forcing them to work nicely together and fall in love). Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a say-it-like-it-is type of gal. If my grandmother had a stipulation in her will that I had to marry a guy I despised (granted I was single), I would simply get a really good lawyer and fight it. My first reaction would not be to bitterly fight for the money alongside a “hero” who also greedily wants the money. See my problem?

2-Shadowed eyes. Oh, there’s something behind them. But what? Is it a secret? Does the vampire hero want to drink from your vein? Does he have to use the restroom but is too embarrassed to say something? Okay, okay, I’m being a tad ridiculous. But the cliche is ridiculous when it’s overused.

And the Number One Cliche in Romance Writing is…

1-The evil other woman. You all know who I’m talking about. She’s the hero’s gorgeous co-worker with the hips that won’t quit. He pays no interest. (Of course, right, because what man would????) Every time she enters the scene, the heroine feels insecure and jealous, the hero is oblivious, co-worker flirts before leaving the room, and the hero and heroine fight. Played. Out. I’ve read versions where the evil other woman purposefully tries to split up the hero and heroine. I’ve also read versions where the evil other woman is a current or past mistress, trying to sink her claws back into her man before the heroine can. Here’s an idea…what about the co-worker who’s smoking hot and is actually, I don’t know, NICE? Why does she have to be evil and assertive to balance the heroine’s meekness? How about making the heroine strong and confident in herself?

These are just my opinions, of course. I realize the reasons we find these everywhere are because they really do work. We like reading the familiar. We enjoy twists and turns an author throws at us. We like reading about “the same, but different.” So now go and write it.

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3 comments on “Top Ten Romance Writing Cliches

  1. You have some valid cliches here. I've been guilty of a few myself (running hand through hair, for one). I'm going to pass this on. Fun post!

  2. Aubree says:

    greeeeeeat post!! i mean really! most of (and by most of i really mean all) of the historical romances i have read have the casanova type hero who settles down for the virgin and i'm always confused as to why that happens. nice analysis. and the breathtaking heroine with the perfect body? been there read that. (a billion times)but i must plead guilty to the "running hand through hair" literary crime. oi. it just works so well! ha.

  3. Theresa–Glad you enjoyed it. *I smile as I run my fingers through my hair. Ha!Aubree–Funny you said you've read the breathtaking heroine with the perfect body a billion times…yet we still read about them. Guess that means no matter how cliched, if it's done right, we'll read it.

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