This genre is full of traps. Adjective abusing, bear-sized traps. If used correctly with a light touch and believable characters these stereotypes can lead to a romance that gives the reader that squirmy, this-is-so-sweet, starry-eyed feeling. Speaking as a reader, it is THE BEST when a book gives you that feeling.
If used incorrectly (I’m looking at you, “musky” scented manliness) it leads to some straight up ridiculous. Awkward, kinda gross, never-read-this-author-again ridiculous. It’s a thin line to tread, especially when your main characters are involved with the Big One (which is spelled S E X). Not enough pulsing, and your characters might as well be playing bunco in a senior center on a Monday night.
Too much throbbing and your characters are just grossing people out. Speaking as an author it’s a hard balance to get right. Here are some of the tropes I have learned to adore and detest, usually at the same time.
1. The “We Had a Relationship Before (It Didn’t End Well)” meet-cute
Either some stupid misunderstanding or a real, serious issue separated our lovers in the past. Neither is a formula for happily ever after.
If the misunderstanding could have been cleared up with one heartfelt conversation, why wasn’t it? If it was a real issue, why is it all of a sudden not going to be an issue?
There are a lot of ways to do this theme and it can end well, with believable obstacles and resolution. It takes a lot of care.
2. The “Damaged-With a Heart of Gold” main character
Most people who have gone through enough to be damaged have emerged with unhealthy coping mechanisms and a fear of commitment. This is not sexy, or romantic.
But I love my brooding, dangerous hero/heroine who can only be saved by the power of the Right One. Even though I know that in reality, this makes for a co-dependent, toxic relationship.
Beauty and the Beast has been around for hundreds of years, and this is why. Everyone wants to read these types and imagine themselves as that special Right One. Just go with it. Write those bad boys. Read them without shame.
3. The descriptions that were pulled out of a Dictionary of Synonyms for Engorged (or a middle-school boy’s imagination) and need to STAY THERE
I kid you not, I read a Regency novella where the heroine and hero had separated after a drama-filled marriage proposal and refusal due to a stupid misunderstanding (See #1 above) and meet up at a ball years later.
Pushing through all of the merrily waving red flags I kept reading, only to hit the part where they’re dancing together and he’s fighting back a huge erection. Like, this time the poor man’s member may actually explode as they seem to threaten to do any second in badly written erection scenes.
Not once, but multiple times, he thinks about how he has to keep it together and immediately loses the battle because of her gorgeous hair, or her scent. OK, and I’m done. This is comic relief, edging into Creepy McStalker.
There is a difference between being attracted to your dancing partner and being at risk for premature ejaculation in front of hundreds of the haute ton.
4. Reaching Completion at the Same Breathless Instant
This is in every romance that includes sexy time. Why? Because it is. Affectionately referred to as the double rainbow, it sounds amazing, reads amazing, and sells those books. If the author is good I’m so in love with the characters that I believe it.
In the cold reality in which we live, does this actually ever happen?
Sometimes, if you’re super lucky and you and your partner are on the same page and feeling it, yes, but unless you are a goddess of some sort it happens enough times in your whole life to count on the fingers of one hand and have lots of fingers left over.
Most real-life sex ends, hopefully, with two happy people but not at the Same Time.
5. Amazing Outdoor Sex
In the average temperate climate, there are not many times of year you would even want to attempt this. This is without the added considerations of bug bites, snakes, furry woodland creatures getting an eyeful, sharp poky things in your soft bits, dirt in places that are going to give you a UTI later and sudden policemen.
Just…at least have your characters bring a blanket. And be super sure that they’re alone unless that’s the kink you’re writing.
6. Don’t Be Silly, Protect Your Willie
Is it too much to ask for a quick line about unwrapping a condom? Without overdoing it (see; Shades of Grey.) Or the main character reflecting on how glad she is she has her trusty nuva-ring?
Yes, it kills the mood to stop the love and put on the glove. It kills the mood to have a grouchy pregnant lady with a guy who didn’t actually want any kids yet much, much more. Reality happens. Just make your characters use protection.
In historical romance, you’re on your own with Google (fun fact, women used to use actual sponges soaked in lemon juice) but at least try for some practicality among the raging hormones.