(Written partly because I finally had the opportunity to read a good romantic story last week and was pleasantly surprised when none of these common things cropped up)
- Describing a male love interest as an “Adonis” or “Greek God”
I mean, first of all, this is a lazy way to avoid describing how someone looks. I get that description isn’t easy for every writer to do, but this one thing is incredibly overused and relatively easy to cut out of the writing during the editing process. Unless the person is literally a Greek God, and even if they are, maybe try to find a photo or drawn reference for the character’s features and use that when describing them.
- Lest the previous point give the wrong impression, this does NOT mean waxing poetic about a character’s hair, eyes, and the outfit they’re wearing (down to their shoelaces) for several paragraphs.
I mean many of us are probably guilty of staring at a crush for too long, but infodumping details on a reader is going to bore them to tears and they’re much more likely to skim the material than remember it.
When introducing a character, try to space out the descriptive details a bit and work them into other parts of the story rather than when the reader first meets them. Look up one of the many writing guides on describing characters to see more detailed ideas on how to do this.
Also, please, please, please don’t keep repeating someone’s eye/hair/skin color several times unless it’s 100% relevant to the plot. I promise, the reader got it the first or second time.
- Snooping on the love interest while they’re bathing/swimming/etc. and ogling their body in full detail
For a while, I hoped this creepy trope had died out by the mid-2000s, but then I saw it in works published in 2015 onwards (happening to both male and female characters) so, no, it has yet to be killed with fire. Blech.
First of all, I don’t care if a character is super attracted to their love interest: Creeping on them during a private moment kills the romantic vibe because it violates consent between the characters. How is the reader supposed to trust that consent won’t be violated in other ways?
In other words, if the love interest doesn’t consent to voyeuristic observation, don’t include it in the story to show attraction because it quite frankly isn’t.
- Once they do get close to becoming or have become a couple, protectiveness =/= possessiveness.
I kinda feel like there must be some confusion on the part of some writers between the two characteristics, but they are NOT the same. Also, the latter one is a big red flag of toxic relationships, not healthy ones.
Some protective characteristics: supports partner through crises, helps them if they are at risk of harm, knows when to express concern and offer help but (most importantly) knows when to back off and let their partner do things without their involvement.
Some possessive characteristics: knowing (and following) their partner’s every move, threatening to harm their partner or another person if the other person even makes prolonged flirtatious eye contact with their partner, and refusing to back off when their partner wants to handle a problem on their own.
- Treating romance as a magical band-aid for other personal problems
Okay, here’s a typical romantic plot I’ve seen: Girl meets Boy. Boy has mental health problems. Girl and Boy fall in love. Boy’s mental health problems magically disappear from the story.
Admittedly, I picked the more sexist version of this trope a la “my love can fix him” but it’s unfortunately common. I think mostly why it crops up so much is because a) some writers might wish it really was that easy to fix mental illnesses and b) a failure to consider characters’ lives outside of their relationships.
Point being: Love is not a magic fix. If someone is dealing with serious problems at the beginning of a story, then they need to continue to deal with it after they have a partner, just like in real life, healthy relationships. Otherwise, the problem in the story just feels like a gimmick thrown in there to add angst, which does a disservice to readers who want to read about characters who struggle with similar problems.
(Crosspost from my other writing blog)
Image credit: Alejandro Avila