This week I spent close to 3,000 words and a lot of rage detailing why I didn't want to finish a book. The book made me raging, HULKSMASH mad, and I think I detailed enough of my reasons why. But it also made me think about my reaction and what aspects of a book will give me the HULKSMASH rage of bad reading.

Did you read the last Smart Bitches, Trashy Books?

First, there's some obvious ones—unlikable characters. Likable characters, and I'm not specifically referring to only heroes or heroines here, are important. Reading a book is a big investment of time, energy and emotion—especially that last one in a romance novel. Romances engage emotions and inspire empathy in the reader. Good ones do, anyway. Part of the reason romances are so popular is that those emotions are often positive, or have a positive and inspiring resolution if they are not. We read about happy endings, but more importantly we read about terrible circumstances resolving to a happy ending. Every bad circumstance in real life doesn't always end happily, but in a romance, it does. It's terribly, wonderfully reassuring.

So what makes a romance reader go apeshit angrypants? Aside from not receiving the happy ending: characters who stand in the way of that happy ending.

Continue reading >


 

Personally, I dislike characters who are repellant and obnoxious, who have a long, long way to go before they grow up and can earn their happy ending. They can be tiresome to read about, especially when they are so awful, you don't want them to get a happy ending. You want them to get squished by a piano.

Oddly, I find myself drawn to books that potentially feature difficult characters because I'm always curious how far down the road of Bad Behavior a character can go and yet still be redeemed and heroic by the end. Sometimes, the biggest questions about whether a book worked for the reader is whether the reader fully accepted the heroism of that character.

For example, in Anna Campbell's first book, Claiming the Courtesan (Avon, 2007) many readers thought the hero was not redeemed for his actions, and that his groveling and apologies were nowhere near sufficient for the reader to forgive him for his actions toward the heroine. Others thought that the hero's background mitigated his actions somewhat, and made him redeemable by the end. The reviews for that book can be very divided because the reader has to accept that the hero is heroic for the happy ever after to make sense, and for it to be satisfying.

Another aspect of a book that can ignite my ire and outrage forever is inconsistent character behavior and reactions. If the characters act or react in ways that are in opposition of their personalities, and do so merely to keep the story going (Big Misunderstanding, anyone?) I am ready to stop and find something else to read. Blithe ignorance and willful stupidity are not admirable or heroic traits, so seeing them in a romance hero or heroine is incredibly lame.

I asked folks on Twitter what their biggest no-no's in a novel are, and I received some very insightful—and similar—responses.

@KaitNolan hates weak heroines, while @schomj dislikes "logical inconsistency and irredeemably douchey behavior." I'm with you there, yo. All the way.

@kalenski is my twin in hating lame dialogue, and @younglibrarian dislikes characters who do "things they have not been set up to do—i.e. smart and capable women suddenly turning too stupid to live."

And for other readers, historical inaccuracy drives them out of their minds with rage. Romance readers, for the most part, expect a degree of accuracy in the setting, regardless of whether that setting is military or Regency.

I am, alas, not of that mindset. I've often joked that the duke can drive a Porsche to Almack's and I won't care in the least, but if he talks like a robot when he get's there, I'm done.

But I think @julie_cohen summed up this list of dislikes best: "Characters that make no sense. I can forgive just about anything else, if I like the characters." Agreed: plot research points that might drive one reader insane won't bother me if the characters are engaging, fascinating, and interesting.

What aspects of a book are your biggest no-nos? What makes you stop reading a novel in the middle in favor of something else? I don't mean just losing interest, but a complete and total turn-off. I've got several. What are yours?

Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.