Guest blog by Elizabeth Lennox, author of Buy: The Tycoon's Resistant Lover
When we open or download a romance novel, there’s always that initial sigh of contentment. We sit in our favorite chair, curl up with a cup of tea or glass of wine and scroll down to that first page. Sometimes we’ll stare at the cover one more time, really bind those images into our brains before we start reading.
But we’ve all experienced that disappointment, the frustration even, when we’re a third of the way through the story and we accept that this story isn’t ‘working’ for us.
What is it about that perfect romance? That need we have in ourselves that we want to read through the words?
There are five things that I’ve discovered that I need in a romance and if they aren’t there, I have to toss the book across the room in disgust.
First, and we all know this is coming, there has to be a tall, handsome male lead character. He must be muscular and intelligent. He doesn’t have to be funny or charming, in fact, many times, the men we most relate to are the grouchy ones, the men who are troubled with a difficult past or event.
I remember reading a romance where the man was shorter than the woman and he wore glasses. I’m not opposed to glasses so much, but there was a startling acceptance of a weakness in the man that I had to work through mentally. But I simply couldn’t accept that the man was shorter than the female lead. I re-read the description of the man and the initial interaction with the two lead characters because I just couldn’t believe that the man was shorter.
I know this is a simplistic and superficial need. But it’s a desire we share as we crave. We want the men in our stories to be larger than life, to be invicible and overcome obstacles. We want a superhero.
The men in our lives that we date or marry are probably wonderful, caring, gentle creatures, but they are human. When we read a romance, we don’t want reality. He must be strong and tall, able to protect us from whatever demons may arrive.
Secondly, we want to picture ourselves in the female characters. We want to BE that female. There seems to be more leniency in the physical characteristics – she can be waif thin or struggling to lose those last ten pounds. She can have any hair color because, well, face it ladies, so can we!
So when she struggles through those challenges in her life, we can relate to our own struggles. When she courageously faces down a demon, be it a financial demon or an actual one such as in the paranormal genre, we want to think that we could overcome that issue as well.
Once those two characters are established, we next need that undeniable sexual tension. Let’s face it ladies, we don’t get a whole lot of that in our lives while shuffling our kids from school to ballet, choir practice, gymnastics, tae kwon do and school rehearsals.
It doesn’t matter if the characters hate each other at the beginning or know that they’re in love, but that sexual tension, that yummy, almost tangible need for the other person, must be evident. If it isn’t, what’s the point? I’ve read several novels where the characters don’t have that. I keep reading and there was one point when I was halfway through the story and they still didn’t have that sexual tension. This one wasn’t thrown across the room, but it was placed in the ‘give to the library’ box with disgust and disappointment.
So we have a hot, male body, a female we can connect with and lust surging through the air. Don’t you just hate it when there’s an unrealistic plot? There was a book that came out right after an author’s divorce that I just rolled my eyes as I read. The male and female rush towards each other, then she pushes him away. She gives into him again, then pushes him away. I think this happened four times before I gave up with frustration. And when the author has our minds dashing from one place to the next with no connection from one scene to another…how is a gal to follow?
We don’t need complexity. We’re reading for enjoyment, not college credit. Romance readers already have complicated lives. We’re reading romances to escape from those lives, to dive into something different. Miscommunication, misunderstanding, secrets or even secret lives, are all great plots. I even appreciate some sub-characters that add texture and conflict. But when I read something that makes me have to take notes, it isn’t worth the effort.
And lastly, the happy ending can fix so many plot errors, can’t they? When we get to the final paragraph and we’re clenching the book with our hands, wanting the characters to get together but not wanting the book to end, that’s when sigh with happiness, feeling as if our world is complete somehow. Those are the books we share, or the authors we tell our friends are the ‘must read’ books. If we’ve gotten through a mediocre plot but the characters have a happy ending, I’m a simple kind of woman. I’m satisfied. If all the five criteria are there, I’m thrilled! And add an epilogue where I can find out that the characters are still happy in a few more years and life is good. And then I reach for the next story….