Monday, February 27, 2012

Analyzing 8 Common Romance Themes

As with my other analysis posts, I am not a psychologist, I just like to find the reasoning behind everything. My mom's trademark scold to me was: "Brook, stop being so f*cking analytical!" Damn, I miss her.

Anyway, one cannot help but notice many regular themes in romance novels, and many of those stand out because they are often unrealistic. I'm not writing this post to defend or attack these themes, I'm just pointing out my theories in their appeal to readers.

1.) Virgin Heroine (unless it's a historical): Many women regret their first time...especially if their first time was with a total jackass. I believe the virgin heroine fulfills the readers fantasy of having the first time be with THE ONE.

2.) Extremely Beautiful Heroine: Okay, I have a cynical theory and a optimistic one. Cynical: Society is so fixated on physical appearance that it could be hard to believe the hero would fall for an ugly heroine. Optimistic: Maybe the heroine isn't that beautiful in society's standards...but the hero sees her that way.

3.) Naive Heroine: I must stress, Naive, not TSTL (Too stupid to live). I believe the appeal of such a character is to give a breather from the jaded people we know, including ourselves. It's fun to learn new things and see the world from a fresh perspective. I also enjoy watching a character grow.

4.) Gorgeous Hero:
A.) The reader may be turned off by an ugly hero. Of course it's all in the imagination of the beholder. I thought those hairy, "porn-stached" heroes from 80's romances were repulsive.

B.) Remember back in high school when all the girls swooned over a certain guy? (In my case I never did because I'm not into the tan-blond-pretty-boy look) Anyway, I believe the "gorgeous hero" fulfills the fantasy of the reader landing such a paragon.

5.) Rich Hero: One cannot argue that one of the biggest fights in a marriage is about money. With the rich hero, this issue is nullified. Also, it's so much easier to focus on adventures and sexual chemistry if the characters aren't slogging through a 40+ hr work week and panicking about bills. The reader deals with that enough in real life.

6.) Alpha Hero: I've touched on this subject before in my post, "Alpha or A-hole?" But I didn't speculate much on the appeal of such a hero. I think a lot about my paternal grandparents' marriage. She totally wears the pants and I remember once asking her what would happen if she wasn't able to cook every meal. "Well, I think he could figure out how to make a sandwich," she replied tentatively. ::sigh:: It makes me even more appreciative that my man can cook and does it well. Still, I run the show most of the time. (Shhhh...don't tell him!) From a reader perspective, it's a nice vacation to see the man take charge and do things for a long as he isn't being a bullying prick about it.

 7.) Characters with extraordinary jobs: Who wants to read about Harold the accountant, or Susan the Wal Mart greeter? Rock stars, Navy Seals, Spies, Vampire Lords, and Alpha werewolves are just so much more fun and fiction is a great place to find 'em.

8.) "Magic Hoo-hah" and "Mighty Wang": Thanks so much to the ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for educating us on those lovely terms. Okay, they called the first "Hoo-hoo" but I prefer Hoo-ha for inexplicable reasons...maybe it just sounds more cheerful. Again, I have to be cynical on the basis for their popularity. In today's jaded society, it seems rare for couples to remain faithful to each other. But with a "magic hoo-hah" or "mighty wang," your partner would never dream of straying to another after experiencing such greatness.


  1. Here's my $.25.

    1) I'll add that the extension of this is the "near virgin" heroine, where her prior sexual experience(s) was disappointing and unpleasant. Even in books where the heroine supposedly had a happy first marriage, the sex is NEVER as good as it is with the hero. I think that's also a form of wish-fulfillment. Most women do NOT have truly fulfilling sex lives, and so that is their dream. They have an inkling that there has to be something better out there, and this lets them live that way vicariously. Additionally, we live in a society that STILL views a sexual woman as a "slut" and sees a woman who understands her sexuality and asks for what she needs in a negative way. Virgin heroines, or near virgin heroines don't have that same judgment placed on them. Since the readers are primarily women, and women are exceptionally judgmental of other women, it's a way for the heroines to be "likable" to the reader.

    2) This is probably the type of heroine that I find most amusing in historicals! The women are BEAUTIFUL, with perfect complexions and soft skin and "nests" of pubic hair. When, in reality... well, let's just remember that this was before bikini waxes or leg shaving (or under arm shaving!). Before eyebrow plucking and acne creams, and some take place in a time period where people shaved their eyebrows and glued mouse pelts on instead.

    3) Most people don't want to read books where most of the characters are smarter than the reader. It's like watching a horror movie -- we all know that they shouldn't go into the room, but they all do anyway. We want to know what the characters SHOULD do so that we know when they're doing something they SHOULDN'T do.

    4) Along the lines of wish fulfillment, if we're supposed to put ourselves in the role of heroine, we want to imagine that we'll catch the eye of the gorgeous hunk who, in real life, would probably not give us a second glance. We want to imagine that we can not just catch their eye, but win them. And we don't want to "win" the short man with glasses and a receding hairline, even if, in real life, that's the person we love. We want to think "sexy" when we're thinking fantasy.

  2. 5) Not just the job, but the day-to-day of life. We don't want to read about the H/h doing dishes. We don't want to read about them having to do their laundry. We certainly don't want to read things about them having to clip their own toe nails. Having wealthy main characters (again, *especially* in historicals where without servants life could be pure drudgery) means we don't have to deal with the mundane.

    6) In real life most of us have to make decisions every day. We have to decide for ourselves and our families. We need to make judgments about work, about school, about kids, about spouses, heck even about where to take our car for an oil change. The idea that there's some guy, who LOVES us, who wants to completely take over those decisions for us, is very liberating. An "alpha" hero will take all of our worries away and deal with them himself! (Personally, I prefer a "Beta" hero, though he can make all the decisions he wants -- I just don't want the stereotypical Alpha who'se more of an @ss than someone who's trying to take care of us.)

    7) You nailed it. Mundane is boring. Most of us have jobs that are not just dull, but difficult to explain. Heck, I don't even actually KNOW what my husband does. lol Also, and this I find particularly amusing, all of these spies are so free with their data! They will tell where they work, what they do, and what the bad guys want to know. I've only read a couple of books that even acknowledged things like PTSD. Also, we want them to be the kind of people we're not. The heroes, the rescuers, the people who are respected and admired. So that, with the heroine as our proxy, WE will be respected and admired.

    8) This stems from our ultimate in wish fulfillment. We want a man who can pleasure us and satisfy us, without us having to tell him how. We want a man who is so pleasured and satisfied by us that he never wants to stray, yes. Additionally, we want the sex to be everything that it may not be for readers in real life. The reader wants every kiss to be just the right kind, with no spit and sloppy faces. Magic genitalia will fulfill all of our physical desires AND ensure faithfulness. It's a win/win!

  3. Excellent feedback. I don't mind inaccuracies in historicals when it comes to shaving/ hygienic practices, 'cuz I don't really want to read or write about B.O. and lice.

    1. Oh, there was one book I read where they discussed lice! I think it was a Jude Deveraux book. Or Teresa Medeiros? Anyway, hero came back from some sort of campaigning in Scotland or some far off battle-field. He was about to be greeted by the loving wife, when he stopped her because he needed to be de-loused before he touched her. I wouldn't mind if the author acknowledged the hair. I mean, legs that have never been shaven, the hair tends to be very soft and fine. But okay, even if they don't want to address it, at least DON'T talk about how smooth her legs are! THAT bugs me. lol

    2. LOL, TOTALLY! I just have the hero think of how shapely they are, with no mention of hair or texture. Ironically, centuries ago, the shape of a man's legs garnered more attention. My man has nice legs. But one of the English queens did have a thing where her and her ladies plucked each other of body hair. Can't remember which one, though. that I remember, I read a time travel romance a long time ago where the hero criticized the heroine for shaving the "lovely down" on her legs.

      And lice are the reason most of the nobility wore wigs...but in romancelandia, they don't exist and I'm fine with it. If I want a realistic view of how things were, I'll read non-fiction or well researched historical novels.

  4. I think you made some great points. I never thought about a lot of these commonalities. I have thought about why heroines are often beautiful, and it's because readers see themselves as the heroine. Who doesn't like to imagine themselves as beautiful?

    1. I agree. Also, I LOVE unique hair and eye colors in romance characters. I don't care what anyone says, it's fun and easier to picture.

    2. I don't mind unique looks, but I really AM sick of the overused. Violet eyes! Really! You know how many people I've encountered IRL who have violet eyes? None. I've HEARD of them, but never encountered one. My SIL has very dark blue eyes that can certainly look sort of dark violet in the right light, but they're still just dark blue eyes. Red hair? Fine, but why not a "ginger"? Eh. I don't know. But if I have to read one more time about a woman with "raven" hair, "violet" eyes, and "skin like moonlight", I'm going to throw the book across the room.

    3. Redundancy is indeed tedious. I have met one person with purple-ish eyes, though. But that's like one in a million. And they only looked purple in certain lighting when they were in a certain mood, etc.

      "Skin like the moonlight?" Lol, that makes me think they looked kinda gray. Unless it's a paranormal character, I think such a description should only go with eyes and hair.

  5. Lol, I'll never be able to read romances the same now. Thanks! hahaha

    1. Awww, Bonnie, I know you read em for the might wangs. LOL, just teasing. ;p