For those of us who are publicly avid readers, burning through books can begin to feel a bit like a competitive sport. One book a week! One book a day! Books and books and stacks of books and wow, it’s crazy, we bleed literature, baby!
If you ever get to know me personally, you will soon find out that I love to analyze just about anything. My quest for the day is what makes a great historical romance book?
To answer that question, I turned toward one-star reviews left for books written by famous historical romance authors from the big publishers. You would think I’d be reading the five stars instead, but what is lacking in historical romance stories has my interest piqued. Here are the top-ten complaints I discovered.
Predictable Plot. Supposedly, these are books where you already know how it’s going to end after reading a few chapters. In other words, there isn’t a plot twist or anything else interesting in between boy meets girl and the happily ever after. The story is supposed to reach a climax point (not the other kind of climax, ladies) before reaching the satisfying end.
Contrived Plot. I’ve seen contrived plots on television but what’s the definition and why does it irk readers? Frankly, there is an excess of comments if you Google the term. They apparently stretch plausibility, such as setting up situations that are unbelievable and deliberate. Other thoughts are that contrived plots are forced and unnatural.
No Tension – No Sizzle. Well, this one is obvious. Hero and heroine are a dud. Is sexual tension always the spice of the story? Of course, how can you believe the love if there isn’t any sizzle?
Too Much Sex or Not Enough Sex. There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium when it comes to this complaint. There either isn’t enough sex or there is too much sex. I suppose a story should come in between the sheets somewhere.
Dialogue – Boy, this one rampant, of course. Historical romances with too many modern statements don’t go over very well. Authors must write Regency-speak or Victorian-speak, regardless if we actually lived in those eras. However, I question whether every historical romance needs to sound like Jane Austen’s writing or Charlotte Bronte’s prose.
It’s a Ghost -This is an interesting complaint aimed at well-known authors who have released multiple books. Statements like, “Makes me wonder who actually wrote it.” “What have you done with the author?” “Someone else must have written this book.” Do you think long careers make some authors fizzle out? Do they rehash plot lines and run out of inspiration? Food for thought.
Boring. It’s either a boring story or boring writing. The boring story is an obvious one — nothing to keep the reader interested in continuing the book. Another common complaint that arises are scenes that are too descriptive. How long does it take to describe a person, a room, landscape, or even a sex scene? Too much is often termed writer’s fluff.
Poor Editing. Surprisingly, these comments are not for independent authors. There are plenty aimed at large traditional publishing houses. It makes me wonder how much author support has been cut back due to financial reasons. An odd style that drives me absolutely bonkers is no quotation marks for dialogue. And don’t get me started on sentences that start with “and” and the lack of the Oxford comma.
Unlikable Characters. This brings me back to what is a likable hero or heroine? Check out my former posts. There are some personality types readers do not like in their books.
No Character Development. Characters are made of cardboard or are fully formed. Character development is a hot topic but also a difficult one to pinpoint. Of course, characters need flaws, positive traits, and growth.
In conclusion, everyone reacts differently to a book. It’s interesting to read polarized positions of the same novel, making you scratch your head if they read the same story.
As always, chime in! What are your complaints? I love to hear from our followers.
The perfect hero in historical romance. Is there one? What fantasy do readers want?
In reality, as much as we are filled with fanciful and romantic thoughts, there probably isn’t a perfect man. Of course, it depends on how you define perfection. Like the variety of readers and their various tastes over heroines, there is no absence of criticism over the perfect male. Once again, I’ve strolled through the reviews of some best selling authors to find out what women are thinking.
There are the usual complaints of women who dislike emotionally scared men (except for Fifty Shades, apparently), along with arrogant aristocrats and walking cardboard characters (boy that term gets used a lot). Frankly, I think women who look for the perfect hero want a type of man they can fall in love with during the story. Women are looking for romance and ways to live vicariously through storytelling, no doubt to soothe our lack of it in real life. If you love historical romance, then no doubt you want a swoon-worthy, good-looking chap in breaches, boots, with a ruffled shirt, and white cravat.
So what is the perfect hero? If we look at the typical male stereotypes in works of centuries past, we can categorize them in a variety of ways.
The Darcy Type – Prideful and arrogant but humbled in the presence of one woman. His good sense and social class tell him to walk away. Instead, he bemoans his tortured and bewitched existence as if he’s helpless to resist. “In vain have I struggled, it will not do. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
The Knightly Type – A soulful, kindhearted, and wise man who is your friend. He supports you, chides you when needed, admires you silently, and gradually falls in love. He cares deeply about your well-being and sacrifices his own happiness to ensure your own. When his outward motives reveal a deeper love, he declares the obvious. “Marry me, my wonderful darling friend.”
The Captain Wentworth Type – He suffers in silence over a love lost but clings to the hope that he may regain what he desires. As he quietly watches from the sidelines the love of his life, he waits for the opportune time to once again profess his love. “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever…I have loved none but you.” Who can deny such a plea?
The Mr. Rochester Type – The tortured soul, who is moody and cynical about life. He has a dark secret, that binds him to another, while in the meantime he lures the innocent and young Jane into marrying him. Even though the Rochester type of hero should contain a warning label, women are drawn to his brooding character. His words of love are filled with desperation. “My very soul demands you: it will be satisfied: or it will take deadly vengeance on its frame.” It’s not until the ultimate tragedy plays out that happy ever after arrives.
The Mr. Thornton Type – A successful man of determination in his business and family life. A bit too close to his mother, annoyed by his sister, but nonetheless respected by his peers. He is drawn to a woman of strong character, like himself, and they clash repeatedly like a stormy sea. “He shrank from hearing Margaret’s very name mentioned; he, while he blamed her–while he was jealous of her–while he renounced her–he loved her sorely, in spite of himself.”
The men above are just a small sampling, and I bet you can think of more.
The Edward Ferrars Type
The Willoughby Type
The Colonel Brandon Type
The Mr. Bingley Type
It’s an endless list of possible men who can make you swoon.
I don’t know that there is necessarily a perfect hero by any means because I believe women are drawn to types and situations when they think of falling in love between the pages of a book. Whether they be an arrogant male, steadfast friend, silent sufferer, tortured soul, or irritating sod, they possess alluring and attractive qualities. Every woman has their type. Of course, that makes it difficult for authors to consistently write the perfect hero!
Do you have a particular type of man that you like to read about in historical romance? Frankly, I like the silent suffering male who cannot live without me, like Captain Wentworth.