Top Ten Turnoffs in Romance Novels

When I first started this blog, the plan was for it to be a way to grow my platform as an author, a way for me to reach out to readers and let them know about me - and my books. I wanted to make connections, to find and interact with the people who would love my characters and stories.

Over time, it has grown into something much more, something I'm almost desperately proud of. It has become so much more than books - I've made what I hope will be lifelong friends, accomplished goals I never expected to accomplish, and nurtured a dream I never would have believed could come true.

But in the midst of writing 8 books, keeping this blog for five solid years, and transforming my life so much that it's barely even recognizable anymore, one thing has held strong - despite so much change.

I still love almost everything about romance novels ... except these things ...

1. Romanticizing Abusive Behavior
Maybe I'm just extra sensitive to this because of my story and my experiences, but this kind of thing makes me absolutely crazy, and is the number one thing that will make me slam a book shut and never pick it up again - other than to get rid of it. It seems to be a trend these days, romanticizing abusive and controlling behavior in relationships as if these behaviors are suddenly okay if they're driven by "love."

And when these stories end up with wide, often somewhat rabidly devoted followings, it's even worse - it shatters my heart to know that the "romance" my daughter will one day read and hope for could be based on the Christian Greys of today's fiction, men who sneak around, lie, use manipulation tactics to control, and use their money to gain and maintain power and control over others.

And it's not about the BDSM, either, because while that's not my personal preference, I really don't care if it is for other people. If getting tied up and having your ass slapped works for you, go for it - if you like even more than that, that's cool because it's none of my business anyway. But the idea that Christian Grey, a character who literally BOUGHT the company his conquest worked for in order to control her work hours, income, and environment, is what my daughter's generation thinks is "romantic" ... the idea that a man who flies across the country to stalk a woman while she's visiting her mother, who shows up uninvited to commandeer her time, especially when she went away to get away from him in the first place ... the idea of a man who uses his money and power to control and influence the people his partner is or is not allowed to see and interact with ...

Well, it pretty much makes me want to vomit my insides onto the outside.

And the fact that there is such an abundance of this sort of character ... well, that just makes me sad. Because readers are misguided. So, so misguided, and it's changing the very culture of what love and romance means. It's changing the way we think of the very nature of kindness, respectful partnership, and individual autonomy.

In a world where we're outraged over the treatment of women in the workplace, in the world, in politics, in show business ... why are we okay with - and even turned on by - this kind of abusive portrayal?

It's just gross. Just totally gross. And that's why it's the first thing that'll make me totally shut down what might otherwise have been a decent read.

2. Errors In Grammar
If a book makes it through the first item on this list without my throwing it in the garbage, this is another sure way to shut me down as a reader. Not because I expect everyone to be perfect (Lord knows, I'm not!), but because when I pay money for something, I expect it to be worth the effort.

I'd be pissed if I bought a shirt only to realize that it wasn't all the way sewed together. I'd be pissed if I went to the dentist and they only cleaned my smile teeth. I'd be pissed if I ordered a margarita and there wasn't any tequila in it.

So I'm also understandably pissed when I buy a book only to find it riddled with errors, typos, plot holes, and lousy sentence structure. Seriously.

3. Gratuitous Swearing
Sometimes when something goes wrong, shouting, "Oh, dad-blasted fart-nugget!" just isn't really sufficient to cover the situation. If I stub my toe in the middle of the night, I might mutter a cranky but mostly not-loud, "Crap!" as I hop the rest of the way to wherever I'm going. But if someone were to hit my car while my children are in it, or if I were to get a good strong oven-burn while cooking (or something like that), you can bet that I'm definitely going to say something much stronger than, "Swizzlesticks!"

That being said, it's really annoying to read a book where the author has filled everything - including the narrative prose - with curse words. First of all, I can see it in dialogue, especially if it's a personality trait inherent to a certain character or number or characters. But when a book is full of cursing just to be full of cursing, it starts feeling like I'm reading a book written by a seventh-grader trying to sound more grown up than they actually are. Secondly, if you're an author, professing yourself to be a storyteller, a master of words, an artist of language ... well, don't you think you should be able to come up with something better?

I mean, I'm just saying.

4. Gratuitous Sex (or Super Kinky/Explicit Sex)
Weird fact about me: I write romance novels, complete with extremely hot sex scenes ... but I'm a complete and utter prude. I don't use certain words to describe certain body parts, I don't write kinky sex or super explicit sex, and reading every horny physical detail of sex in books is just awkward and weird for me. I don't like it. Too much of this, and I'll actually start skipping or skimming entire sections of the book - too much of having to do that, and I'll just quit reading it all together.

When I'm reading a romance novel, I want it to be romantic. Sex is part of a healthy relationship though, so I expect a certain amount of heat between the sheets - but it needs to be in context, it needs to fit the story and the characters, and it needs to be well-written so that it shows off the emotion behind the sex instead of just giving me six pages of different ways to put the P and the V together.

And for the love of God, authors, stop classifying your erotica as romance, because I'm sick of picking up new books just to find out I've got sixty-four sex scenes barely held together with the weeniest possible shred of a plot line just so these two characters can bone each other all over town. Mislabeling your product is bad bait-and-switch marketing, anyway. If you're gonna write gratuitous sex, just call it erotica and be proud of what you've written. There's a market for that, too.

I'm just not part of that market. Sorry.

5. Lack of Character Development
So let's assume we've got a non-abusive, well-edited, moderate-swearing, sexy-but-not-pornographic romance novel. We're off to a great start at this point, right? We've at least got hope for a good story here.

But if the characters are cardboard cutouts with shallow backstories and no real emotional expression ... that's it. It all goes out the window. Because here's the thing; if you can't create characters that feel real to me, characters I can root for and fall in love with, then it really doesn't matter how well-produced your book is, how much solid effort you've put into the writing, or how carefully you've moderated the balance of swearing, sex, plot, dialogue, cast diversity, etc. I'm still going to end up hating the book because I hate the people in it.

This is also why I tend to hate so many popular tropes. Rich guy, poor girl. Hot dude, plain Jane. Good girl, bad boy. Sorority queen, tattooed rock star. So predictable. What about just a girl who meets just a guy? They have flaws and problems and quirks, and I can love them because they're me, they're my mother and my brother and my friend? When did we lose sight of the necessity to develop our characters into people?

More importantly, when did it stop being important to develop characters that make the reader feel?

6. Love Triangles and Cheating
I guess in some ways, this connects to the gratuitous sex thing, but it gets its own category in this list simply because there are so many varieties of it. For me, romance is one person falling in love with another person, flaws and all. Just one on one. The right match. The perfect pair. Salt and pepper. Peanut butter and jelly.

Cheating isn't romantic. It isn't sexy. And it always turns me off of a character I might otherwise have loved, leaving me incredibly disappointed in the entire story when, inevitably, the cheater and the cheatee make up and supposedly live happily ever after.


7. Insta-Love
This. Drives. Me. Crazy. I mean, I can see two people having instant chemistry based on physical attraction to each other. But love?

Love is when you sit next to your partner while they puke because they're sick and you don't want them to be alone. Love is not caring about morning breath and noticing when your partner buys the certain brand of cheese you like even though they couldn't care less which brand it is. It's when they know how you like your coffee, when they enjoy the quirks that make you who you are, when they appreciate the intricacies of how your past molds your present.

You just can't have that with the hot guy you just met in a bar. It doesn't happen when you lock eyes with some stranger at a party or restaurant.

Insta-love is a quick turnoff for me, simply because if that's the premise of the romance ... well, now I'm guaranteed not to like, believe in, or respect either of the characters I'm supposed to be rooting for. In my opinion, it's a lazy way of creating romance, usually used when the characters haven't been developed enough to feel real. It often ends in lots of gratuitous sex because the author needs to fill the pages and doesn't know what else to do with the paper-thin characters they've created, especially when there isn't any realism to the development of the chemistry between them.

8. Too Much Pointless Drama
I have a super-dramatic life. Like, in real life. I'm a single mom of two kids who both have chronic physical and mental health issues, I'm also dealing with my own chronic physical and mental health issues, I struggle financially because I'm a single mom of two kids, managing without help from their dad. I was abused as a child in just about every possible way, bullied as a teen because of health problems, poverty, my weight, etc. I grew up and ended up entangled in one abusive relationship after another, which have included multiple kinds of domestic abuse, and even death threats.

So when I'm reading a book that's too dramatic even for me, that's when I know I'm reading a book by an author who didn't want to take the time to form a solid plot line, so they just threw some characters together, stirred the pot, emptied a can of "gee, what can I put them through next?", and then published it.

9. Ridiculous Nicknames for Everyone
I love pet names. I love to be called pet names by my significant other, and it is when I develop a pet name for a significant other that they should know they are, in fact, significant. But ...

Every character doesn't need to call every character by a pet name. And no character needs a dozen pet names given to them by every other character. Unless it's a personality trait written for a specific character, like a character who almost always calls everyone by something other than their name just because that's what they do - I could tolerate that. And I'm okay with nicknames too, like if there's a Bartholomew in the story and now and then people call him Bart, or if there's an Angelina but people call her Angie. That's cool, I can go with that.

But when there are so many pet names flying around that I start losing track of which character is which, that's when I quit the book.

10. Obnoxious Characters (the heroine's bestie, the super "Alpha" male, etc.)
I'll agree that this can be well-done with proper effort - and even when it isn't so properly done, I can generally tolerate it if most other aspects of the book are well-done and in good taste. But the best friend that's a total moron, out of control, proud to be a disaster? I hate that character. The total slut, the idiot, the ... extreme anything. I hate the characters that are so obnoxiously one thing because they aren't developed enough to ever hope to be anything else. They don't have good stories, they don't grow, change, or learn. They're just cardboard. No substance.

And don't even get me started on the "alpha" fascination, which just seems to be a code word these days for "asshole who gets away with it." Ugh. I can't even.

So, those are the ten things that drive me most totally crazy about romance novels (and books in general, really). Did you relate to any of these? Or are any of the things listed here among the things you tend to love reading? Would you like to see me post a list of my top ten turnONs too? Leave a comment below and let's chat!

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  1. I enjoyed this post and agree wholeheartedly with ALMOST everything. I'd love your opinion on somethings in the cheating category. What if two people find each other and both have a spouse who has swarn off sex? ( they are older folks) and a long term, loving sexual relationship begins? Would that turn you off?
    I'm sorry to read of your difficult past. May the future hold much better things for you.

    1. I guess maybe I could read that without being a TOTAL hater, but it would still bother me. Cheating is cheating, and a committed relationship takes two people being committed to making it work. That being said, if the spouses who had sworn off sex did it for reasons other than because they didn't want their partner anymore (so, aside from relationship problems) and the asexual partner knows and is okay with the sexual partner "cheating" ... then maybe I could be okay with it. But the rest of the story would have to be extremely compelling in order for me to love the characters despite this flaw.

      Thanks for you comment and your question! I like that it made me think about this in a different light. Have a fabulous day!


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