Lately, I’ve been having the ‘cliche, typical love story‘ mood. If you have no idea what that is, it’s contemporary romance. That is, romance that takes place in the real world, minus the paranormal elements. One requirement I wanted to touch on: for a novel to be considered a romance, it must have a “happy” ending. The couple must end up together. Otherwise, it may be a novel with romantic elements, but it’s not generally considered a Romance with a capital “R.” Just so you know.
Romances are primarily geared toward a female audience.
This is just a fact of the trade. Women read the most romances. Women also read the most YA (Young Adults, one of my favorite genres in books). This is not a secret. Therefore, most romances are told from a female perspective. If they are told from the male perspective, it is heavily influenced by the female readership. That is, the male protagonist’s voice is often pitched in a way that will appeal to women. He’s wired for wooing, not for realism. This is an understandable cliché — after all, the audience must be taken into account. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to write a “male” romance, or to try to create a realistic male romantic interest. Which brings us to…
The male lead is Mr. Perfect McPerfectson.
It’s like the guy was engineered in a lab for optimal female seduction and romance. He’s over-the-top and unrealistic. I do not mean to imply that teenage boys cannot be sensitive or romantic, because that is far from the truth. However, a common pitfall is to put too much effort into making sure the romantic interest is SUPER hot, SUPER sexy, SUPER sensitive, SUPER intelligent, SUPER romantic, and SUPER *insert ideal quality here*. It leaves the male lead feeling like a cardboard cutout. It’s more well-rounded to ensure that he has some flaws.
Alternatively, the male lead is the Baddest Boy Who Ever Bad’d.
We know this guy. He’s an asshole. An un-subjective, complete, utter asshole. He’s a jerk to our female lead, he’s full of himself, he’s insulting, he’s crude, he’s mean. But somehow, mysteriously, our female lead finds him incredibly attractive. Even when he tells her that her friends are stupid and that she should totally be into him because he’s, like, so amazing, she eats up every word. This isn’t your typical tortured soul with a heart of gold, which is actually one of my very favorite tropes, not gonna lie. He’s more jerkass than white knight in disguise. Beware of this guy.
The couples are cisgender and/or heteronormative.
Duh, right? The shelves are lined with male-female romances. Romances in which the girl acts feminine and the boy acts masculine. In which homosexual relationships aren’t highlighted. This is slowly changing, but the fact still remains — the bulk of romances come in pre-packaged “normal” gender roles. I’m not denouncing heterosexual romances, because that would be silly. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t branch out. Romances depicting alternative sexualities are valid and necessary. If not homosexual/bisexual/pansexual relationships, than differentiated gender roles. Maybe the female takes a more stereotypically masculine role, or vice-versa.
In-text comparisons to classic romances abound.
Your couple is on par with Romeo and Juliet. No, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. No, Catherine and Heathcliff. Helen of Troy and Paris. Their love is so epic, so star-crossed, so powerful, that it can be compared to these timeless classics. It’s always problematic to allude to a tried-and-true classic in your contemporary romance. First, it immediately sets you up for an unfair amount of scrutiny. Second, your story better be something incredible to live up to the comparison. It’s a recipe for extreme criticism. Reimaginings of classic tales aside, it’s better to let your characters’ romance speak for itself without the troublesome comparisons.
Love at first sight.
We all know this one. In the metaphorical three seconds since they met one another, they’re in love. They’ve had maybe one or two brief conversations, but they can’t stop thinking about each other. The pull is electric, immediate, and powerful. Unfortunately, it’s also usually unbelievable. There’s no doubt that attraction at first sight happens. Chemical and physical attraction is a powerful thing. Still, it may be prudent to allow your romantic leads to get to know one another before the confessions of love set in.
Kissing and making goo-goo eyes come before all else.
What’s this about friends, family, and prior obligations? Don’t people know that making out with the romantic interest is so much more important? No, it isn’t. Even in a romance, the characters still have lives beyond their significant other. Allow them some space to be themselves, not just half of a couple.
The Love Triangle.
Yeah, I went there. And yeah, everyone does this. It’s an easy way to create conflict. Unfortunately, it rarely works. Mainly because it’s almost always obvious from the start who the protagonist will end up with. It can be done successfully, but as with anything in fiction, must be executed well. Kinda reminds me of a Korean Drama, no?
The Bitchy Competition.
She’s mean, she’s vapid, and she has her eyes on the female lead’s boy or she’s the female lead’s ex-(very hot)girlfriend. Female degradation and competitiveness over male attention ensues. This is somewhat realistic, certainly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not demeaning. It’s okay for the “other woman” to be painted as another whole person, rather than a one-dimensional, jerkwad antagonist
The hate at first sight.
This is the exact opposite of the point, Love at first sight. It’s where the lead male and female hate each other’s guts throughout the first half of the story and by some miracle, they always end up being stuck to each other even more. Being neighbors, co-workers, project partners, etc. Then, lo behold, they fall in love and live happily ever after.
Below will be an example of a cliche love story.
Extremely Hot Guy notices Average Girl. She then…
Tripped on a flake of dead skin on the floor into him.
Blushed. Like a tomato, or something else equally red and improbable.
Wondered why he was looking at her. She looks, after all, as average as a blank piece of paper. She has no talents, like singing, dancing, or baking, yet is also secretly a Mary Sue.
Felt an unexplainable pull toward him. Something about magnets.
Bit her lip/cheek/tongue.
Rewired her waking life to him. She didn’t have a life in the first place, anyway.
Got her way in the relationship every single time.
Insanely Gorgeous Teenage Guy then….
Decided he was in love with Average Girl.
Behaved coldly toward Average Girl for as long as it takes for them to become an item, then became a total sap or protective idiot.
Had a major priority change with all of his thoughts, waking and asleep, revolving around her. Any part of his life–hobbies, goals, friends–were suddenly unexistant.
Laid his life on the line for Average Girl. More than once.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER!!!
No. Just no. I can only hope none of you think that relationships work this way. As much as she loves him and he loves her, being in anyone’s company for long periods of time will eventually drive someone up the wall, or make the other person feel smothered.
Signs of a clingy boyfriend or girlfriend: They ditch their friends to spend all their time with you. They constantly need reassurance of your love. They get mad if you do anything without them. They call and text all the time. You have no “me” time, or time with family or friends, because they want to occupy every single second of your time.
It’s okay to have happy relationships in your book, of course.
Just think to yourself: Would I be okay with this? Would I only want to be around that other person for the rest of my life? Would I be willing to give up my entire life outside of this person?
No. The answer should hopefully be no. And your character, female or male, should, realistically, feel the same.
Not that I’m rejecting a happily ever after in real life, but like most stories, stories will remain stories.
Love always, kim.
(Hahahahah yes, pun intended.)