Thursday, July 24, 2008

How To Anger Readers

I recently experienced the luxury of not having any freelance work to finish, no impending deadlines, no urgent marketing tasks, nothing to do but something I wanted to do. Doesn’t happen very often. So what did I do with my time? After some aimless Googling, I ended up at Amazon in the romance books forum.

You can say what you will about Amazon, but the forums are a great place to get inside the minds of your readers. The thread which caught my eye was entitled “Your darned hated certain phrases!” (Okay, so the grammar wasn’t perfect but the subject matter was). The thread was about phrases or descriptions romance authors use which drive readers nuts.

Here’s a sampling posted by actual readers - our audience - and boy it was hard to pare this down as there were so many good ones:

* "He could span the entire width of her waist with his hands" GRRR...what is she..Anorexic?

* "He slanted his mouth over hers," or "She was different" than other girls.

* Descriptions where they take a modern ideal and make it sound like a detriment, such as, "her lips were too wide and her eyes too wide." Duh!

* Then there's the nervous glance at the man's genitals with him saying, "It'll fit, I promise." Good grief! They weren't that stupid. If a baby has to come out of there, then a man's penis can certainly fit!

* Also, "her breasts were almost too large for her delicate frame." She'd better be careful, she's in danger of tipping over!

* "Rythm as old as time.." or something to that effect, makes me groan every time. Why don't they just throw in "It was a dark and stormy night..." too?

* "Mouth slanted over hers..." hate that one too. "Mouth" and "slanted" in the same sentence makes me think of a stroke victim.

* References to swords and sheaths or any sort of love member

* How are there so many girls with slim bodies, small hips and extra large breasts? Not to mention blonde haired and violet-eyed.

* "Her head barely came up to his shoulder". I'm a tiny woman, but my hubby cannot span my waist with his hands, nor am I short enough to be his kid sister.

* "She was so small and delicate" (I picture like my 98 year old aunt who is literally small and delicate)

* 'The burning sword of his manhood'. I tried to laugh as I read it, but it just came out as a groan. And…ouch sounds like someone needs to get on some antibiotics!

* "Yearn" is my definite pet peeve. It's like saying: spoiler alert! Next five pages will contain explicit sex. Once per book is fine, I suppose, but not EVERY time the h/h are in the vicinity of each other! Thesaurus anyone? [desire, long, crave, ache, hanker, want, covet, hunger, thirst]

* I once read about a hero's lips "swooping down upon her." I picture the guy's lips literally taking flight.

* Heroes:

- Shoulders that fill the doorway

- Shoulders that block out the light (I can't help but visualize the green giant or the incredible Hulk. How big can the hero's shoulders be if the doorway isn't big enough ? He'd have to walk sideways to enter otherwise.)

- Couldn't see his expression because his face was in the shadows (because his shoulders are blocking the light)

- Strong hands (what, are they muscular?)

- Long, elegant fingers

- Long eyelashes than any woman would envy

- Strong jaw

- Muscles twitching in his jaw

- Speaking through clenched teeth

- Loose-limbed stride or gait (I always picture that as kinda spastic looking)

* Heroines

- heart-shaped face or backside

- Stubborn chin

- Caught her bottom lip between her teeth (somebody needs chapstick real bad)

- little *pink* tongue peeked out to moistened her bottom lip (I dare anyone to try this in public and not get weird looks)

-porcelain skin and black hair (Marilyn Manson -nuff said)
* Hero - Shooting, jutting, propelling, exploding, jerking, bathing of seed (jeez! watch that it doesn't get you in the eye!)

-using the word *MINE* more than three times in a 350 page book is ridiculous unless your 3yrs old

* Villains

- lick their fat lips (*shudders*)

- bald, oily, ham-fisted, ugly, yellow teeth, smelly rapists with pedophile/homosexual tendencies (*rolling eyes*) -oh yeah and they used to abuse animals when they were kids

* My pet peeve is "strappy sandals". Is there absolutely no other adjective to describe a woman's sandals?

* "I hate you!" or "Don't touch me !" Every time it pops up, I just go 'What a drama queen' especially if the hero silences heroine's tantrum outburst by taking her to bed, heroine thrashes about for a while, then turns putty in his embrace.

* During sex, the guy has a look-see at the heroine's genitals and says, "you're so beautiful/it's so beautiful." That just leaves me cold. I don't spend a lot of time examining my vagina, but from what I've seen, it's not that damned attractive.

* My biggest pet peeves - men who growl and women who mewl.

* What about when a couple is fooling around on a beach? I don't think the author has ever actually tried it, because it isn't sexy. Can be painful. And sex in the ocean? Hello! Saltwater in the whoohooo areas!

* How about "throbbing member" as the most disgusting description of male genitalia? I keep thinking, what, did somebody hit it with a hammer? What else would make it throb?

* She repeatedly "gurgled" with laughter, which I imagined being followed by drool trails.

* And the 'tiny' and 'barely as high as his shoulder" stuff really, really gets on my last nerve.

* Could someone please explain to me what that "keening" thing is? I imagine it to sound like the wailing of a sick cat. The hero is growling, the heroine is keening...and here I'm telling people I don't like bestiality in historical romances.

* Are there no women with brown or average or larger sized nipples? I suppose they're unromantic.

Okay, enough.

As a reader, I laughed out loud while reading these posts. As an author, I cringed – have I used any of these trite phrases and descriptions? Dear Lord, I hope not…

Candace Morehouse

P.S. Do you like the photo of Fabio with the burning sword of his manhood straining at the front of his breeches, shoulders blocking out the light, strong hands and jaw, muscles twitching in his jaw…


Rose Lerma said...

sweetheart1Candace, I laughed out loud at some of these. As a reader, I've read most all of them. As a writer, I've used a few. The one that gets on my last nerve wasn't mentioned. Unless the heroine is a midget, don't see how she can sit on the hero's lap & hear his heartbeat as her cheek rests against his chest.

Kimber Chin said...

I just wrote a manuscript with a blonde hair, violet eyed heroine (though she dyes her hair purple in chapter 3).
That was an intentional homage to Barbara Cartland (the first romance author I ever read).
Most of her heroines had that coloring combo.

I personally like men who growl.
I find it sexy.

I'm working on a secret baby book too (the baby is in her 30's).

But then I'm also writing a romance with a garbage man hero
so I wouldn't use me as an example.

Candace Morehouse said...

Kim - I'm guilty, too. My second book features a heroine with violet eyes (altho her hair is black). I'm sure I'm guilty of a few other of these gripes, too. Some of them just seem "standard" to the romance novel and it's hard to keep them from getting out onto the paper!

MGP said...

OMG! This was hysterical! I'm major cracking up --

my personal favorite that I am sooooooo tired of are pooling skirts -- the first time I read a heroine's skirt pooled around her feet when she dropped her dress it was senusually pleasing. The next author that copied, errrrrr, used the phrase, turned me off. Then I went through a whole lotta books where every heroine had a pooling skirt!

Patrica said...

Oh My gosh Candace, I laughed and cringed as I read this. There were a few in there I know I've used once or twice but can't remember if I changed. Great find, thanks for sharing.

As for the Fabio question - um ick! I like the covers with a scenic pic on them - who wants to stare at some guy in pants that are two sizes to small anyway?

Candace Morehouse said...

Pat - I can't believe you don't like the sight of Fabio's manhood straining against his breeches! For shame - I'm going to revoke your Romantic Reader Card.

Chumplet said...

That was great! We can't be so lazy as to fall back on those cliches. Here's to new ways to describe our heroes and heroines.

Big Mike said...

Thank God I never used any of these. Candi would have tanned my butt. Funny that as a man, I don't find any of those descriptions sppealing or realistic. Some women must or why would they write them in. And see Cowgirl, I thought I was confused about the female mojo. Maybe its just me, but if memory serves (it has been a long time) I never talk , just act. Do guys really run off like that. I'm too into the event, the rise, the emotions, the scent, ooooo. I might make a few lusty grunts, but no descriptions. Interesting . . Must be a generation thing.

Big Mike

Maryann Miller said...

What a hoot. I think we all write what first comes to mind and the creative challenge is to come up with something fresh and different from the typical overused words and phrases. That is why what we do is sometimes called "the craft of writing." :-)