Friday, July 9, 2010

Bang That Wall

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.


Megan Burke said...

Really interesting post - thanks for writing it.

I love reading behind-the-scenes almosts of readers experiences in genres. I think it gives authors invauble insights to what people want to read.

Jamie Michele said...

Footing? That's a thing?


Ann Jacobs said...

Very interesting... but I'd never have thought in a million years of writing about most of the taboos (excepting, just maybe, past murder, prostitution (I did that, didn't I--Eternal Victory, LOL) or abortion if well motivated and the character's remorseful about it.As far as fisting and footing goes, it's taboo for me--and I write a good bit of BDSM play!

Anonymous said...

I'm curious if Kathleen Woodiwiss books would have passed your panel. "The Flame and the Flower" has non-consensual sex (it's the only sex until the very end), while consent for almost all of the sex in "The Wolf and the Dove" is highly dubious. And lest you think that readers today are more sophisticated or liberated, these books still get a lot of five star reviews (and I'm not sold on the idea that a generation of Cosmo reading women who buy the patriarchy's pitch of "hey, being viewed by men as sex objects is empowering" are all that sophisticated or liberated). Perhaps I would find them more so if heroines didn't have have to have deep regrets about a health care decision resulting in abortion in order to be acceptable. I have to agree with the panel on the rest of the kink limits, though.

Madelle Morgan said...

HEA only after they've died, when no physical relationship is possible? That's a new one for me and it sure would not satisfy me as a reader.


I sort of agree with Anonymous. I know time were/are/have been -a changin',
But you can't change history (and some people are trying).

Woman had NO rights back in the day, and a lot times non-consensual sex, while it wasn't pretty, happened to them all the time. So when I write a historical (which is the genre I love) I go for as much realism as I can without disturbing the bonds of the current editorial rules.

The movie THE TRAP with Oliver Reed and Rita Tushingham about A fur trapper takes a mute girl as his unwilling wife to live with him in his remote cabin in the woods. He Rapes her. Regret over what he's done, he shows tenderness, she runs away but comes back when she realizes she has affection for him.

Zandy's Bride another one similar to that.

However, they don't want it so I don't write it like that.

I love happy endings too, but sometimes there is the bittersweet.. i.e. (my ALL time favorite movie) LEGENDS OF THE FALL,
In 2004 I hosted a workshop called WHAT READERS WANT, and boy did they tell me...
Most were sick of seeing everybody who was RICH, GORGOEUS and SLIM.. they wanted to see the FEMALE CEO fall for a sanitation worker.. Or Two people struggling and actually making it TOGETHER!!.. stuff like that. .

Debra Glass said...

Wall bangers? I was thinking something else when I started reading the article. :-) When I first starting reading romance there were always forced seduction scenes. I miss the fantasy of those old bodice rippers.

J said...

Great list! We definitely don't want to hear about readers tossing books at the wall these days...just think of all those Kindle/Nook owners! Yikes.

I've been shocked to hear how some "taboo" books sell like crazy these days, but the bulk of romance readers still want their H/h to adhere to certain principles, even at their darkest/naughtiest. I will confess I do like a good "man with a past" story, and two of my bestselling titles involve that. However, there is a line between a flawed/redeemable hero and a villain, so there better be good reasons for his actions, and some definite remorse and progress or attempts at redemption.