Literally decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.
These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger instead of a pleasurable diversion. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.
Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers
- Reluctant Heroes
- Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
- Cliffhanger Endings
- Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
- Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
- Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
- Promiscuous Heroines
- Contrived Endings
- Waifs and Silly Heroines
- Long Separations
- Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
- Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It
Historical Romance Deal Breaker #7: Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
Don’t get me wrong: I like an attractive hero as much as anyone else. But I don’t really care for one who is so good-looking that serving maids drop their trays at the sight of him, and women flock to him by the dozens. Because even if the heroine is gorgeous herself, it just seems unlikely that a guy facing that much temptation everywhere he goes would be faithful to one woman forever, no matter how much he wants to. Especially if he’s never even tried to stick to one woman for any length of time. And especially in historical romances, where gentlemen aren’t really expected to be faithful to their wives.
And as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, a gorgeous hero falling for a plain-jane heroine is just not believable either. There has to be something attractive about a woman for a man like that to notice her. Perhaps he is the only one who sees it. But he’s not going to be thinking about her inner beauty during the entire story, at least not enough to prevent him from noticing all the beautiful women throwing themselves in his path. And speaking for the plain-jane heroine, how happy an ending can it be when she has to face this sort of thing the rest of her life? A very clever author might be able to manage it, but most stories like this leave me unconvinced.
Actually, a hero doesn’t have to be more than moderately attractive, in my opinion, as long as he has the requisite heroic qualities and truly loves the heroine. Perhaps it’s because I am one of the women who does not tend to judge by outside appearance. A hero with a scar or a limp or even a few wrinkles doesn’t phase me, as long as his other qualities measure up.
Judging by the washboard chests of the heroes on the covers of most romance novels, however, I’m thinking perhaps I’m in the minority on this. But then, I was never one to buy a book based on the cover; I’d read the blurb on the back to get a hint of the plot first. Attractive covers are nice, but I always carry an image of the characters in my mind as I read, and often they don’t look at all like those some artist (who may not have even read the book) conceived.
What about you? Do you drool over heroes with ripped chests or prefer them to have more substance?
*Disclaimer: This series of “deal breakers” is meant to refer to books labeled historical romances, and not to erotica, which is a completely separate sub-genre and has an entirely different purpose.