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?