Literally decades of reading historical romances have led me to develop strong opinions of what defines a truly satisfying story, so the other day I set about making a list of characteristics that turn a potential five-star read into a one- or two-star. Admittedly, there are some skillful authors who manage to successfully incorporate one or more of these scenarios in their books; however, I have run across quite a few more who in my opinion haven’t quite managed it.
These are what I call “deal breakers”—characteristics that make a book a wall-banger instead of a pleasurable diversion. Not surprisingly, many involve character, particularly, the character of the hero and heroine. They have to be likable. They have to be three-dimensional, i.e., well-drawn-out characters with flaws, not fairy princesses. And they have to be able to fall in love, convincingly, the head-over-heels kind of love.
Overview of Susana’s Historical Romance Deal Breakers
- Reluctant Heroes
- Anachronistic Behavior and Historical Inaccuracies
- Cliffhanger Endings
- Unattractive or Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroines
- Heroes With Mistresses or Who Sleep With Servants
- Drop-Dead Gorgeous Heroes
- Promiscuous Heroines
- Contrived Endings
- Waifs and Silly Heroines
- Long Separations
- Excessively Cruel Heroes and Heroines
- Breaking the Rules: Why Some Authors Get Away With It
Historical Romance Deal Breaker #11: Long Separations
When the hero and heroine are apart for years at a time—I’ve seen couples separated for as long as ten years—a reconciliation just does not seem likely.
For one thing, can you really expect them to be celibate for so long a time? Even if the heroine does manage it, it’s not likely that the hero will, and I find it difficult to believe that a man can be sexually active with other women for a long period of time and still be “in love” with the woman he can’t have. After awhile, the memory of the previous love fades in comparison with the real woman in front of him. And the woman left behind has to worry about the ticking of that biological clock. Can she afford to wait an indefinite number of years for a man who may never return?
Secondly, it detracts from the romance if the couple spend too much time apart. One feels regret at the wasted years, the unhappiness and tragedies suffered during their long separation. And if their separation was caused by arguments or incompatibility, well, you have to wonder if those same problems will return to plague them again. (Like Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. The second time definitely was not a charm.)
On the other hand, if the characters have matured during their time apart, it is possible for this scenario to work. Too many times, however, little has changed except their circumstances, and one is left feeling as though something is lacking in the HEA.
Scenarios I’ve seen that I didn’t care for:
- The hero goes off to war and the heroine’s father forces her to marry another.
- The hero and heroine marry and separate/divorce and then get back together years later.
- The hero has no way of supporting a wife, so he goes off to seek his fortune while the heroine has no idea whether he will ever return.
I have to admit, however, that some of my favorite books do incorporate long separations, such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In the case of Jamie and Claire, there was no alternative but to separate, and although some of the events that occurred during their separation caused them both much pain, the joy of their reconciliation more than made up for it. Frankly, I’ll read everything Gabaldon writes about Jamie and Claire. Some of the more tender scenes between them make me want to swoon! (How in the heck does she do that? The writer in me wants to know.)
What do you think about long separations?
*Disclaimer: This series of “deal breakers” is meant to refer to books labeled historical romances, and not to erotica, which is a completely separate sub-genre and has an entirely different purpose.