I’ve never liked it when a love story uses a significant other as an obstacle between the main characters. Usually, the plot tries to prove the extra guy (or girl) is a conniving jerk who doesn’t deserve happiness so no one feels bad when he eventually gets dumped for the hero. My problem with this is that it usually ends up making the person who was dating the conniving jerk look foolish (or flighty or clueless or some other negative adjective) for being with him in the first place. Disliking a main character for being foolish doesn’t lead to a satisfying conclusion.
It’s why I once said I would never start a story with a main character involved with someone else. That was before a recent book in which I let the heroine change guys. I like to think I pulled off the switch without making anyone look heartless or gullible, but I’m not allowed to have an opinion on my own work. Regardless, I had to take back the never.
I have other nevers though, other things I keep seeing in books or movies and thinking “that will never show up in any of my books.” I’m going to be brave and post a list. I’ve learned not to say never so this is a list of things I will probably never, most likely never, seriously doubt ever use in a future story.
1) Anyone is compared to a celebrity. – Few things date a book like comparing the hero to some hot actor who turns out to be a flash in the pan or saying the heroine’s dark curls look just like some actress who has since chopped her hair and dyed it blond. But mostly these comparisons bother me because half the time they aren’t helpful.
- “Buddy had the same jaw and cheekbones as random famous guy and could have been mistaken for his younger brother.”
If I don’t know what random famous guy looks like, I can’t picture Buddy.
2) The heroine is cold. – There is something sweet about a man offering his coat to his female companion. It has an element of self-sacrifice, denying his own comfort for hers, that can strike a romantic chord. It’s overused though and rarely done well. It too often paints the woman as being too dumb to dress for the weather. That bothers me.
3) The hero has a “trim waist.” – I have no problem with a hero who’s described as being in good shape. It’s only this particular phrase that grates on my last nerve. I think it shows up in something like three quarters of the books I read when there are many, many more natural ways of saying that a guy isn’t carrying a spare tire. I have never heard this phrase in real life.
- “Hey, did you see that guy?”
- “Oh, yeah. Check out his trim waist.”
4) Failure to use a napkin. – I think movies are more often guilty of trotting out this trope. It’s an excuse for physical contact between the love interests but usually ends up looking far more silly than romantic. A woman takes a sip of hot chocolate and is somehow unaware of the glob of whipped cream on her nose. A man bits into a huge burger and ends up with mustard carefully dabbed on his cheek. They’re called napkins people. Who doesn’t have one handy on a date?
5) What were you going to tell me? – This is the most annoying sentence ever used to further a misunderstanding. It always plays out to make things worse in a truly ridiculous manner.
A man and a woman meet at a party. They hit it off and agree to see each other again. Sometime between the party and the first date, the man learns that the woman was mistakenly told he is a veterinarian. When he tries to clear the air, this happens:
- “I think I should tell you something.”
- “Wait! First, I need to make sure you know how much it means to me that you are a veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals and have dreamed of dating a vet my whole life. Now, what were you going to tell me?”
- “Never mind. It would be really awkward to tell you I’m not a vet right after you said that so I’ll just wait several more dates – while pretending to be a vet – until some pet emergency forces me to admit I’ve been lying to you.”
6) Anyone with mood ring eyes. – I think we’ve all seen eyes that appear different colors in different lighting or next to certain colors. But no one’s eyes change color. I cringe whenever I read about someone looking into someone else’s eyes and watching them change color, usually based on a mood shift. While the other quotes here are things I made up, the ones that follow are copied from real books by other people.
- “Her eyes were back to that lovely nut brown [as she calmed].”
- “As she raised one eyebrow, [her] eyes took on an amber hue.”
- “Would her eyes turn more green when angry?”
- “Her eyes darkened until they were no longer the tawny color of strong tea, but deep and rich, like the chocolate he’d seen imported from Europe.”
- “The blue of [his] eyes had darkened to the color of a stormy night sky.”
- “[It was] followed by a smile that brought out the caramel color in her hazel eyes.”
Eyes are amazing. They can say a lot just by narrowing or looking away. They can be belligerent or bold or elated. Eyes are powerfully versatile. Why are some authors trying to make them do this one thing they cannot do?