Cheryl St.John: 20 Pet Peeves Found in Romance Novels

I love romances. Really. I write them and read them. But there are some things in romance novels that just make me crazy, and I know I’m not the only one.

In no particular order these things irritate me:


1 . The heroine has tiny feet. How many people actually think of their own feet as tiny?


2 . The heroine falls asleep thinking about what’s going to happen. Yawn.


3. The heroine has “small perfect” teeth. Or pearl-like or even. Why does the writer feel the need to tell us that?


4. Jumping in and out of heads/point of view. Do readers notice or care when we know what the cab driver is thinking?


5. A couple jumping into bed before I care about them – or before they care about each other. :::yawn:::


6. The ending feels rushed, as though the author only had a few remaining pages in which to resolve everything.


7. A story that starts out with so much backstory that I feel as though I’ve missed the previous book.


8. Heroines who giggle.


9. Heroines who only need a shower and a little lip gloss to look like JLo. Yeah, right.


10. Heroes with bad attitudes and nobody ever calls them on it. He’s full of himself, bossy and arrogant. I just don’t like jerks.


11. Heroes who growl. Really? If a man growled at you would you fall all over him?


12. Heroines who purr or mewl. :::meow:::


13. Impossible dialogue tags: “He husked” How does one husk?


14. Ridiculous dialogue tags: “He barked” Excuse me? Are you barking at me? Down boy.


15. Euphemisms. You know the ones I mean. Call a body part by its name or simply elude to it,  but don’t bring pomegranates or roots into a love scene.


16. A heroine who cries. A good cry once—maybe twice—is acceptable as long as it’s well motivated. For me, the black moment or an overdue confession is a good reason to cry. But please not weeping and tearing up all through the story. A lot more emotion can be conveyed if the character holds back tears. Strength can be great characterization.


17. Characters who say the other person’s name repeatedly. I understand all about keeping story people separate for the reader, but people don’t speak to each other that way—unless they’re angry, usually.


18. Couples who argue without good reason. This is not conflict, people, this is bickering!


19. Heroines who are too young. Ewww.


20. Purple eyes. Do you know ANYONE with purple eyes?


I doubt I’ve covered it all. Is there anything I missed that sets your teeth on edge?


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28 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: 20 Pet Peeves Found in Romance Novels”

  1. These are all good, Cheryl. I’d have to add to the list the heroine who I’m told, often repeatedly, is strong and independent, but the only thing that makes her that way is she’s a real hag. I end up wishing the hero would dump her and ride off into the sunset alone.

  2. Feisty red-heads. I did it once and realized how many feisty red-heads populated romance fiction. A shy red-head? A different story, maybe.

    I’ve never run across “husk” as a dialogue tag. I’m seeing corn, the real kind, not characters. But I also empathize with effort to say something in a creative way.

  3. Oh, I giggled at heroines who giggle. 🙂 No, not really, but I did chuckle and stare at my normal sized feet.

    My first heroine had violet, Elizabeth Taylor eyes–part of the villain’s obsession. I have a hero with purple hair–does that count?

    I cringe at ly words in dialog tags, especially when they end up making no sense whatsoever.

    It’s fun to see what jerks folks from the story, and hope I don’t do them.

  4. LOL Kirsten! I’m picturing her sitting in a heap of petticoats while he rides away whistling.

    You’re right, Cate. I suppose it’s unusual enough to be interesting. It’s just one of those things that bug me.

    Didn’t think of those feisty redheads, Vicki.

  5. Violet eyes in a paranormal somehow sounds more believable to me. Does that make sense?

    Yes! on the ly tags. You see a lot of stuff like that from new writers, I’m thinking.

  6. Eh, I’m not so concerned about the crying thing; heck, I cry all the time – my tear ducts seem to be hardwired to my emotions, so ANY strong emotion will get me choked up. Anger, particularly, which is annoying, since as you’ve stated, no one takes a crying woman seriously. But I do like it when a heroine cries. It makes me feel a little less like a complete freak

  7. I remember when I learned what TSTL meant as a description for a heroine. “Too stupid to live.” What reader would be so cruel as to call a heroine (and it never is a hero) by that acronym?

    Then I met her in a few books. She is the book equivalent of the the woman in a horror movie who answers the door and steps out on the porch or she goes down to the dark basement by herself or most of all, she picks up a hitchhiker on a dark country road. All the time I am screaming, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it!”

    The TSTL heroine does things that are unrealistic or she repeats the same mistake over and over.

    I would love to see the TSTL heroine paired with the hero who is a jerk. They deserve each other. Come to think of it, I have read those books too. Sigh.

    Thanks for sharing and allowing us to get these things off our chests.

    Peace, Julie

  8. I avoided feisty red heads for a long time because it’s really cliche. Then about….fifteen books into my career I finally went with the feisty red head………and people told me it was cliche……….HEY, there are SOME red heads in the world.

    The ones I know….honestly……..not so feisty though. They’re mostly just normal.

  9. Before I was published I wrote a gothic romance and it was so fun. I’d sit there and laugh at the computer screen as I wrote. I needed my heroine to go up in the attic….when she knew there was a murderer in the house…..and the electricity was out…….lightning from the raging stormy night her only illuminations….and the hero was gone.

    I just sat there and LAUGHED as I tried to figure out a way to make her go up in that attic, and I couldn’t BEAR to have her be an idiot, she was tough and smart, not your usually fainting miss from a gothic romance.

    I figured it out finally and she DID go up there–for a noble reason (to save someone else) and SURE ENOUGH the murderer attacks. (Duh)

    I Loved It. I still hope to see it in print someday. In fact if I do give up on getting it published, I think I’ll just publish it myself. But not quite yet.

  10. Thank you for this list. As an author, I’m always on the lookout for things that annoy readers. If I do include a pet peeve in my book, I make sure I have a good excuse for it.

  11. I think you covered them all pretty good Cheryl…
    Not purple eyes, but Elizabeth Taylor was quoted as having “violet” eyes…
    And you mentioned “growling”… that is mentioned in the book I am reading right now seveal times.. But it is a Scotish historical romance, and those Brawny Higlanders most likely sounded like that when they scoweled and talked at the same

  12. All good ones!! To go with the rushed endings, when it’s a suspense and they pull a character out of a hat that you never heard of or once I was tricked because they said it was a man’s voice but it ended up this strange woman because they used some voice changing thingy – oh please lol.

  13. Great list…I agree with most of them and would like to add one thing that drives me bonkers. I hate when a descriptive tag comes before the dialogue. If you’re being realistic…how can you describe someone’s tone before they’ve even spoken? As for bickering…sometimes, it portrays the argumentative nature of the couple. I know a pair who are the perfect example of “constant arguments” and they’ve been married longer than some of my underwear has been around…and that’s a long time. 🙂 I’ve printed off your list, if only to make sure I’m not an offender. 🙂

  14. Great list Cheryl. I am going down it saying, yup, I’ve done that one. Yup, I’ve done that one, too. Except for the tiny feet and tiny teeth I’ve done almost all of them. All I can say is I must be a very annoying writer.

    Thanks for a fun and informative blog.

  15. I can’t say as I read them, but I can tell you what my wife hates about them. It is any time that the continuity fails. They walk into their lovely one story cabin, and later in the book she comes walking down stairs from the bedroom. Or the only child hero gets a telegram from his brother. Or we wait so long to figure out who shot JR and find out later it was just a dream….. oh wait, I digress.

  16. The one that bugs me the most has to be the rushed ending. I hate putting in my time reading and enjoying the pace of the book onlky to have it rushed at the end.

  17. I have a good friend who is the absolute stereotypical fiesty redhead. She revels in it. think Lucille Ball. She sings in my chorus. She’s fanatic about the oddest stuff. Great gal, but she drove me crazy in Korea (she was my roommate) Always late, always lost, you name it. You’d think she was a ditzy blond,but no she’s a natural redhead. Her eyes are scary green. They almost glow in the dark. So I don’t worry about what I put in my books, it’s never up to reality.

  18. Oops, I think I did three of these in my first book. In defense of my poor heroine, she had spent 3 nights in hotels with thin walls & noisy drunks. She’s no Mary Connealy – she has to sleep some time!
    Will save the rest of these for book #2.

  19. Great list, Cheryl.
    #5 is really irritating. They meet each other on page 5 and by page 30 they are ripping each other’s clothes off. How about a little character and relationship development first? If they will jump someone so easily, do I really want them as hero and heroine?
    Another annoyance is the focus on butts. “She had a nice round bottom.” “He had a tight butt.” “His jeans hugged his butt and thighs.” “Her jeans hugged her firm bottom and mile long legs.” I’ll take pearly teeth over butts any day.
    #15 brought a smile. I remember when I started reading historical romances and first came across such a term. That brought out a snort (or maybe it was a bark or a giggle) which made my husband ask a question he probably regretted. Manroot was my first romantic euphemism but certainly not the last. We have had lots of goods laughs about some of them.

    Connie, I agree about the rushed endings. Lately, that is becoming more of a problem. Either the problem is solved and the author seems to loose interest in tying things up nicely, or it seems the author is surprised that the book is almost done and throws together a not very satisfying climax to the plot. (I tried to say that differently, but didn’t come up with anything.) I have read too many books that were actually pretty good until the rushed ending. Very frustrating.

    Thanks for an enjoyable post which has generated some good replies.

  20. Great ideas and great complaints. The one that makes me shudder is ‘fear’ or whatever ran along her spine. There has to be a better way to describe it, but I can’t think of any. It gets the job done, but quite often.

  21. Mary, if you get that gothic published, I will read it. I may still say “don’t do it” but if it is a noble reason, she definitely will not be TSTL. A saint, maybe, but not a TSTL heroine.

  22. I’m laughing my “you know what” off …. I love your post today, Cheryl. Absolutely love it because there isn’t a single, solitary thing you mentioned that I haven’t had a character do. Although, I watch carefully for the meowing, I mean purring. Sends chills up my spine. I have to really watch ly and ing words, especially at the beginning of a paragraph. Your post today was way too much fun, and the comments even more funny.

  23. I can’t stnad the expression “he huffed a brath”sounds like a train chugging along. I hate too much swearing, or the heroine who eats like a pig and never gains weight. Or the suspense novel where the heroine does idiot things and this is considered cute. The hero who is such a cruel type and the heroine forgives him even when he is really awful. Yuk.

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