I Would Read Anything For Love, But I Won’t Read That: Dealbreakers in Romance

Dealbreakers. We all have them. With the HEA remaining as a given, can an author go too far with what lies between “once upon a time” and “they lived happily ever after?” Depending on the reader, yes, they can, and it’s a very individual thing. For certain readers, there are particular settings, plot elements or character types that can turn an otherwise interesting read into a “no, thank you,” and quite possibly into a “never read that author again” if the dealbreaker comes on too strong.

For me, any incident of animal cruelty is going to impact my enjoyment of the story, so if the hero’s faithful steed breaks a leg and the neccessary thing must be done, it’s going to take me a while to get past that. I can brace myself and get past it, because I love historicals and the past is a brutal place, but a real dealbreaker goes beyond that. It gets to “oh no, they didn’t,” and may end with the book making a high velocity trip to the other side of the room, or at the very least the UBS pile.

A real dealbreaker goes beyond distaste, into “nope, can’t read, you can’t make me read,” the reader equivalent of a toddler clamping mouth shut and shaking their head at a spoonful of mushed turnips. Delicious to somebody else, to be sure, but that’s the interesting thing about the wide umbrella about romance. One reader’s meat really is another reader’s poison. Virgin heroine in a contemporary? For some readers, that’s a buzzkill, where other readers might object to a nonvirginal  heroine in a historical. Maybe those two readers are the same person. It could happen. Sometimes it does.

Maybe books in Historical Period X are off your list because, no matter how talented the author or compelling the story, the clothes are downright silly in your sight, and it hurts the brain to try and imagine birdcages worn on the head as at all attractive. Maybe it’s because a certain reader knows too much about Period X and the commonly accepted details are wrong, wrong, wrong. Maybe non-noble protagonists aren’t your thing because how can one have a true HEA when “can we make rent” is a viable concern.  Some issues in romance may strike too close to home for readers with personal experience of divorce, loss of a child, certain psychological issues or a myriad of other things.

We all have our absolute dealbreakers, and, sometimes, a great story can turn “oh no, I’d never read that” into “hm, maybe I’ll reconsider.” I used to avoid time travels for the longest time (pun intended) until I tried a few with settings I loved but didn’t often see, and what do you know – they can be pretty good after all. Granted, I still strongly prefer the HEA to take place in the past, but if the author really really really sells it, I can make an exception.

What about you, dear readers? Do you have any dealbreakers in romance? Ever reversed your stance on one after reading an especially outstanding book?


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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Mm…dealbreakers. Excellent question. I guess for me it’s more subtle than one plot element. Usually, a dealbreaker for me is when the hero/heroine have no emotional connection whatsoever and seem to hate each other and therefore want sex.

    I know this works for some readers but I cannot buy a couple who is consistently mean to each other falling in love.

    The one single plot element that will make me go “oh, hell, no” is the stalker hero. That can be in the eye of the beholder but I know it when I read it. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Corrina, I completely agree. Stalkers aren’t heroes and heroes don’t stalk. Period.

    Going beyond plot elements -and I hadn’t even considered that angle, so thanks much; great suggestion- if the emotional connection between the hero and heroine isn’t there, I’m not going to buy the building love story. If it’s only a physical connection, that seems more suited to erotica to me; in a romance, it has to be heart to heart, or it’s never going to work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    The first thing to come to my mind, as far as my dislikes go, is the traditional Regency setting. When all the modes and mores and minute details of the era are crammed in my face, that’s not for me. Just, no. I can read a Regency, and have many times, as long as the romance is the important thing, and not the era.

    I’m also with you on the cruelty thing, to animals or to humans. If the so-called hero is cruel, uh uh. I’m not sure how a character can be the baddie in one book and be the hero(ine) in another, though I guess if handled well, I may be able to get past it.

    I love the article title, by the way. :-) Shades of Meatloaf, darling?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Ha! First thing popped up in my head was Christina Dodd’s A Well Pleasured Lady. Rape-bodice ripper and the lady still love-hate the man!!! I know these are common among readers these days but that was an older book and I still can’t re-read it to see if it’ll change my mind after so many other books. Another one is just, well, cheating. Where the hero is married and the heroine is the other women. His wife isn’t even dead yet or evil! Plus him being an ash and abusive to the heroine can really turn me off. Been seeing lots of this in BDSM Erotic captor-captive stories.

    But one ultimate deal breaker, when the heroine can be such a pain in the ash and a TSTL character!!! Can totally ruined the book for me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Cheating does break the romance contract, and it’s extremely difficult to pull off while still keeping characters sympathetic. Abusive heroes is an oxymoron, and TSTL heroines can kill a book for sure.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Ah, my dear, you know me well. Yes, I borrowed from Meat Loaf, who is a really lovely man, very gracious.

    Not every subgenre is for everybody, which is why there are so many of them. We all have our own preferred levels of historical detail, and that can vary depending on the era.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    I’m with you on the animal cruelty. I volunteer at a local no-kill animal shelter and have to see that kind of abuse in real life too often to want to read it as entertainment.

    For me, the ultimate dealbreaker is probably a chickmance. Aka a romance with highly idealized girlfriend posses. When amazing, wonderful and completely unrealistic friendships between three or more women in the story get more attention (and page space) than the actual romance, I’m done with the author and it’s going in the library donation box.

    Runner-up: shoemances. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Great post, and one that certainly rings true – I have a number of dealbreakers when it comes to novels. The biggest one in romance would be any kind of cheating. In one story, directly after an unsatisfying wedding night the hero wished he was in London to visit his mistress – into the trash bin that story went. Along similar lines, I feel there is an unwritten rule in (historical?) romance that the hero or heroine does not sleep with anyone else after meeting each other. Some traditional regency authors even played this for laughs, with the hero trying to get laid but obstacles continually being thrown in his way. When a debut author included a descriptive sex scene with another woman partway into the story, I was so turned off I decided not to read any more of her works.

    A personal dealbreaker of mine is the reunion theme, where the characters knew each other and then are seperated for a number of years before reuniting. I’ve read enough of these to know I don’t want to pick up any more. I feel like it has the worst of both worlds – the characters already have a romantic history, so you miss them falling in love, and the characters also have a turbulent history so the tension/conflict is there from the beginning of the story and dragged out. It’s also just too much regret for my liking.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    What an excellent topic. I have a lot of dealbreakers when it comes to reading. I don’t mean to sound fickle but many of the dealbreakers are rooted in my real-life experiences, some of them very painful and I don’t want to rehash those memories.

    So my Number 1 dealbreaker is cheating. I cannot tolerate it at all. I’m fine with the hero/heroine having a past where this has happened to them but if it’s the primary or secondary characters doing the deed, the book, and most likely the author, will be banished.

    I totally agree with you on the animal cruelty as well as human cruelty. I read one book where the heroine’s internal dialogue was often superficial and deliberately cruel and it ruined the rest of the book. Can’t do it. Love triangles are also a DNF and I particularly despise it when the hero/heroine meet yet they are sleeping with others while wanting to be with each other. That’s a no/go as well.

    Also, when there is too much internal dialog. For example, if there are literally PAGES of internal dialogue from a character who was asked a question and then answers it FIVE pages later, I can’t stand that! I forget what the question was and have to flip forward to find out what the question was. Nothing will sink a book or an author faster than this or the cheating aspect.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    When my kids were small, I couldn’t read stories with dead or dying babies. Could. Not.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Kate, that sounds perfectly understandable to me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Elizabeth, I don’t think it’s fickle at all; it’s good to know what we do and don’t want to read, and real life experiences absolutely have a bearing on our reading preferences.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Chris, cheating is a big issue with many readers, and you’re right – it’s very rare to see historical romance hero or heroine sleep with someone else after meeting their true love. It happens sometimes, but it’s rare, and needs to be written extremely well to work.

    I actually do like reunion stories when written well, but otherwise, the worst of both worlds theory certainly can aply.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07293360555557437900 Mary Chen

    Lynn, thank you for volunteering at the shelter. Rescue is my favorite breed. There’s nothing entertaining about animal abuse.

    I hear you on the chickmances. I do enjoy a good women’s fiction novel, like those by Barbara O’Neal, but friendships, especially those too good to be true ones, that overshadow the romance, in a romance novel, may take away from the impact of the love story.

  • Evelyn Brix

    Building on Carina’ s post, I also don’t like sex just for the sake of sex. I like the characters to build up to it as the story progresses, and I want it to be romantic. .I also don’t like sex used to get something from the other person, like info or a title, even if the couple does eventually fall in love. I like my heroines and heroes to be just that, heroines and heroes, but they can’t be that if they use sex for manipulation. I also agree that any kind of cruelty to humans or animals is totally unnecessary.