Tag Archive | Diana Gabaldon

Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

Rules are made to be broken.

If every historical romance author took notice of my twelve “historical romance deal breakers” and endeavored to avoid them all, would their books be better…or just boring?

I think probably both would happen.

Many of my favorite books use a well-worn plot and make it unique and different by creating lovable, memorable characters and settings that draw me into the story with them. The author doesn’t need to break a rule to keep me turning the pages. Even though I know there’s going to be a Happy-Ever-After ending—that’s why I read romance novels, after all—I am still eagerly anticipating the scene where the hero and heroine discover their feelings are returned and anticipate a long life together.

On the other hand, some of my favorite books break some of the rules—and I love them just as much! Does this make me schizophrenic? Indecisive? Hypocritical? Maybe. Maybe not.

So what’s the difference? Why will I rant over one book with a ditzy heroine, and rave over another with a similar problem? My intuition tells me it’s the skill of the author that makes the difference.

If the ditzy heroine stays ditzy and gets the hero anyway, I’m disappointed with both—the heroine because she hasn’t grown or matured during the story, and the hero because he is stupid enough to fall for a ditzy heroine who will probably be ditzy her whole life. Yeah, I know—it happens. But not in the romance stories I enjoy. I want my hero and heroine to be worthy of each other. Not perfect, but moving in that direction, at least.

Most heroines aren’t ditzy, but they still have much potential for growth. I read a story recently where the heroine started out being very superficial and unsympathetic. To be frank, I almost couldn’t believe she was the heroine and kept looking for someone more worthy to come along. It seemed to get worse before it got better. But with the right man, she gradually began to evolve into a mature, caring woman, and I found myself applauding for her. Doesn’t everyone like to see an underdog win in the end?

Character is the key.

Diana Gabaldon is a case in point. There are many things in her books that I don’t particularly care for, such as violence, long separations, rape, infidelity (although I still can’t decide if it’s infidelity if your husband hasn’t been born yet—or died 200 years ago), and lots of information about 18th century medicine that I never really thought I wanted to know. But instead of wanting to throw the book against the wall—and if I did it would probably damage the wall—I lap it all up. Why? It’s the characters. I love Jamie and Claire. They seem like real people to me. I want to read everything about them, even the not-so-pretty aspects of life. Diana can put them through the wringer—and she does—and they still emerge victorious, together, and stronger than ever. After the first book in the series, they are middle-aged, soon-to-become grandparents. And we readers love them more than ever!

Characterization is important in any novel, but in romance novels it is particularly important. Who wants to read a romance between unlikable and/or cardboard characters? If the reader doesn’t care about them, she won’t be motivated to finish the story. The author has to make me care whether or not the prince proposes to Cinderella. If I think Cinderella is going to turn out to be nag or the prince is going to be a tyrant, well, the whole “sailing into the sunset” thing doesn’t seem quite believable.

Authors: whether you decide to follow or ignore my twelve “deal breakers,” make sure your characters are compelling and readers will buy your book in droves.

That’s my opinion…and I’m sticking to it.

What do you think about rule-breaking? Do you have some favorite authors who can get away with it? Or do you have some rules of your own not mentioned here?

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #11: Long Separations

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

  1. Reluctant Heroes
  2. Adultery
  3. Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
  4. Cliffhanger Endings
  5. Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
  6. Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
  7. Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
  8. Promiscuous Heroines
  9. Contrived Endings
  10. Waifs and Silly Heroines
  11. Long Separations
  12. Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
  13. Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It

Historical Romance Deal Breaker #11: Long Separations

When the hero and heroine are apart for years at a time—I’ve seen couples separated for as long as ten years—a reconciliation just does not seem likely.

For one thing, can you really expect them to be celibate for so long a time? Even if the heroine does manage it, it’s not likely that the hero will, and I find it difficult to believe that a man can be sexually active with other women for a long period of time and still be “in love” with the woman he can’t have. After awhile, the memory of the previous love fades in comparison with the real woman in front of him. And the woman left behind has to worry about the ticking of that biological clock. Can she afford to wait an indefinite number of years for a man who may never return?

Secondly, it detracts from the romance if the couple spend too much time apart. One feels regret at the wasted years, the unhappiness and tragedies suffered during their long separation. And if their separation was caused by arguments or incompatibility, well, you have to wonder if those same problems will return to plague them again. (Like Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. The second time definitely was not a charm.)

On the other hand, if the characters have matured during their time apart, it is possible for this scenario to work. Too many times, however, little has changed except their circumstances, and one is left feeling as though something is lacking in the HEA.

Scenarios I’ve seen that I didn’t care for:

  • The hero goes off to war and the heroine’s father forces her to marry another.
  • The hero and heroine marry and separate/divorce and then get back together years later.
  • The hero has no way of supporting a wife, so he goes off to seek his fortune while the heroine has no idea whether he will ever return.

I have to admit, however, that some of my favorite books do incorporate long separations, such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In the case of Jamie and Claire, there was no alternative but to separate, and although some of the events that occurred during their separation caused them both much pain, the joy of their reconciliation more than made up for it. Frankly, I’ll read everything Gabaldon writes about Jamie and Claire. Some of the more tender scenes between them make me want to swoon! (How in the heck does she do that? The writer in me wants to know.)

What do you think about long separations? 

*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.