It seems there are a lot of tried-and-true plots that surface in romance novels again and again. I admit to seeking some out like comfort food. I love a good governess story (probably deeply rooted in my early fascination with Jane Eyre. (See here for my other ramblings on this one.) Another favorite storyline for me is lovers who have been reunited after a falling out. There is a wiff of this in The Lady of Bolton Hill. Someday I hope to do a full-blown version of this storyline, although nothing is currently in the works.
Although I like coming back to these tried-and-true romantic conventions, there are some I find a little off-putting:
Guardian & Ward. This one is just too creepy for me. The heroine is usually a vulnerable young orphan who comes to live with the older, jaded guardian. Feeling uncomfortable by his attraction to the young girl, the hero will send her away to school or to his remote country estate, usually on a dark & stormy moor. After a suitable number of years, she grows up enough so that she can be considered “fair game.” The writer will really need to do backflips in order to avoid the problems inherent in this storyline, but it usually sells pretty well.
Ugly Duckling. Heroine is good-natured lass who has always been on the fringes because she is frumpy, socially awkward, doesn’t know how to wear her hair and maybe she is also overweight or has bad teeth. Readers often respond well to this one because who hasn’t felt on the fringes at some point in their life? My problem is that the heroine usually undergoes a transformation in order to get her to the happy ending. This smacks a little too much of appearances needing to be improved before she is “worthy.” An exception is the My Fair Lady type thing, which is slightly different. Rather than a physical transformation, Eliza Doolittle’s major transformation is one of comportment and education, which is similar, but not quite the same.
Secret Baby. Hero and heroine meet, have a passionate affair, then somehow get separated. Nine months later the heroine finds herself with a little memento of the relationship, but for some convoluted reason feels she can not let the hero know about the baby. The story resumes several years later when, whoops! the hero discovers he’s a Daddy and wants to play an active role in the little moppet’s life. This is another storyline that requires the author to come up with some pretty far-fetched scenarios to justify why a heroine keeps a baby a secret.
Amnesia. Ugh. I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed this one in the past (Mary Jo Putney’s Uncommon Vows remains a guilty pleasure for me), but it is overused, unrealistic, and frankly, a little silly.
Of course, now that I am on the record for my aversion to these plots, I fully expect to wake up some morning with a fantastic idea for a novel that features one or more of them. The good news is that I reserve the right to change my mind! And if you have any book recommendations to prove me wrong about the above list, I’d love to hear them!