by Raelene Gorlinsky
The second half of our RomantiCon workshop on Taboos in Romances was about what readers consider unacceptable elements in erotic romance novels. Thirty-five erotic romance fans gave us their opinions.
Kill That Character
There were very strong and vocal opinions on what was always and ever irredeemable in a hero or heroine, whether in current actions or in past: rape, pedophilia, child or spouse abuse, or animal cruelty/torture. These were viewed as permanent "he needs killin'" characteristics, not something that a person can correct or be "cured" of or ever redeem themselves from.
Having committed murder in the past was iffy - was there some justification, a reason the reader could empathize with? And importantly, did the character feel remorse, work toward redemption, and show emotional growth? This "wounded hero" (or heroine) has to be believably developed and well-written, but can make a compelling story.
Some story elements that were verboten in past are more acceptable now and are showing up in stories. Two mentioned were abortion, and prostitution in the heroine's past. Again, it depended on the character's motivation and attitude and circumstances.
Incestuous relationships: I was rather surprised at the universal agreement that any blood relationship up through and including first cousins was incest (considering that first-cousin marriage is legal in some states). Step siblings who had met when young was clearly incest in all eyes, even if the romantic/sexual relationship did not start until they were adults. It was fine for most readers in stories where the hero/heroine did not meet until they were both independent adults.
Wallbangers: "I stopped reading immediately and threw the book in the trash." And, in some cases, "I'll never buy another book by that author."
Ick, Ick: Toilet play (scat, urine).
Fisting or footing, except in clearly labeled BDSM or kink stories.
"Oh, daddy" - Incest, implied incest, incest play, characters who get turned on by imagining sex with a parent or parent substitute. Heroines who display any interest in their father's sexuality or compare other men sexually or physically to their father.
Heavenly HEA - The h/h die (either at the same time, or one now and one many years later) and their happily-ever-after occurs when they meet in the afterlife. Everyone wanted the relationship to be resolved in "real life".
Doormats - The heroine who's a total weeping wimp. Also the heroine who gets her only value from the hero, rather than developing her own self-esteem and competence.
One of the milder no-nos, but pointed out as a flawed or weak plot: Inserting a big age difference between hero/heroine when there is no reason for it.
Terrible research - Very noticeable errors in facts: history, science and natural science, national or cultural attributes (especially perpetuating offensive stereotypes and inaccurate generalities).
Too much use of coincidences or forced circumstances to make the action go where the author wants it to go - Would the character really act like or say that, how often would that really happen?
Too much descriptive "tell" instead of "showing" the reader.