There is a rule in screenwriting called “Double Mumbo Jumbo” which states that for some reason audiences will only accept one piece of magic per movie. In other words, if you were just bitten by a vampire, then you can’t also be abducted by aliens in the same movie. This rule is one of Blake Snyder’s Immutable Laws of Screenplay Physics. Romance novels need a law just like this. Perhaps it should be called Only One Piece of Perfection Allowed.
I just finished reading a novel that, by the end, I felt my intelligence had been so insulted I regretted the $2.99 I paid for it. I make it a general policy to not write bad reviews. I know how hard it is to write a novel and I’m not in the business of trashing them, so I won’t disclose which book it was. I will only say this, the sole reason I downloaded this book was because I’d read that a bidding war ensued for this manuscript between several major publishing houses. I wanted to know what exactly had engendered that reaction. I’m a mid-list writer hoping for a breakout hit. I’d very much love to give up my 9-5, hence, I considered this research.
The book started out okay. The writing was engaging. The author is no Hemingway, but she’s a good storyteller and I was definitely in it for the long haul. And then, slowly, despite my best effort, I began to be confronted with cliche and perfection to the point that I could no longer stay suspended in the story.
I enjoy fantasy as much as the next person, but here’s the thing, at some level I have to be able to believe the fantasy. I can believe a relatively attractive man with a huge dick. I can believe a wealthy man who is of average looks. I can believe a gorgeous man who is down on his luck. What I have a hard time believing is a hero who is gorgeous, super wealthy, brilliant, hung, compassionate, and possesses exemplary skills in bed.
You just lost me.
Nobody has it all. Every relationship adheres to the 80/20 rule. You get 80 percent of what you need and only 20 percent of what you want. Romance novels need to adhere to this construct as well in order to keep me interested. When romance novels step too far out of reality, they lose my interest.
I appreciate a good piece of fantasy. I’ve certainly read my share. Hell, one of my favorite series in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward. That is definitely fantasy. But, you know this going in. It’s about vampires for god’s sake. Hot, kinky, vampires. I accept the disreality by default because it’s supernatural by definition.
I expected a bit of fantasy in this particular book. The blurb makes it clear we’re going to get a millionaire CEO for our hero. Fine. I can accept that. I don’t like it, but I accept it as the rules of the story. Can’t we leave it there though? Why do we have to throw everything else in?
You see, at some level I am envisioning myself as that heroine in every book I read, so I need to be able to believe it. When you make it too perfect, I can’t believe it. I’m reminded of Agent Smith’s words in The Matrix, “Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program.”
I don’t want perfection in my romance. I want people I can relate to. I want experiences I can relate to. I personally feel that falling back on constructs of perfection such as I’ve describe here are actually just lazy, unimaginative writing. If your hero is rich, intelligent, owns his own company, is well endowed and great in bed, where’s the conflict? How do you overcome a challenge? How skillful a writer do you have to be to create romance when the hero can whisk the heroine away to Europe, or take her out on a yacht? Not skillful at all, that’s what.
What if that hero was less than endowed? How would that change the hero? How would he interact with the heroine to overcome that? Think how much more challenging would it be to make the romance and the sex compelling. Overcoming that challenge successfully, however, creates a reading experience much more fraught with emotion, conflict, and risk.
That would be interesting to me.
In this story, he lives in a mansion. He’s the most attractive thing ever. He drives a Porsche. He showers her with gifts. He’s super wealthy. He’s got a huge dick. He’s the best lover ever.
Oh, sorry. I just fell asleep. Give me one, no more than two of those in the same story and I can get behind it. Give me all of them and you’re guaranteed to lose me and not ever get me back.