Characters are People Too

A rose by any other name


Ladies, suppose you went out today, and met a man. The moment he saw you, he wanted you (as in, wanted you). He’s a good looking sort of chap, and you can’t help noticing his muscles and his great smile, and you feel that old pull of attraction.

How long would that attraction last if every time he opened his (handsome, sardonic, crooked, cruelly twisted, delete as applicable) mouth he made suggestive comments, or mentioned that he would really like to take this into the bedroom? If, no matter what you try to tell him about the serious problems he’s been causing you, or that his business manager won’t answer your increasingly desperate letters, and your family are going to go bust, all he will talk about is sex?

In real life you’d call it harassment. You’d want to throw a bucket of water over him or walk out. Or both.

So why accept it from a hero in a novel?

What is romantic about a man who can’t get his mind out of his trousers? Yet all too often, this is what romance has come to mean. Now, if that’s what you want, fine; there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. But what if the blurb on the cover suggests that actually this book has a plot? What if you want to know how the protagonists overcome insurmountable odds, cross the Rubicon, fight off the baddies, and fall in love – in other words, what if you actually expect a story, as advertised, to support, or even naturally lead into, the love scenes?

I’ve been mentally throwing books at the wall this month. They’re the ones where the author insists the characters will develop beyond the one dimension, learning as they go, growing in stature and in the reader’s estimation, when actually the plot is a thin bit of hokum tacked onto a tale of a bedroom door that opens and shuts, opens and shuts (repeat ad nauseam) until finally and with no surprise at all we follow the unfortunate couple through and watch them consummate their love.

This is the point where everything the author ever learned about showing, not telling, goes out of the bedroom window. We are now in the equivalent of a flat-pack furniture manual, where, with a bit of tweaking here and finessing there, A will slot into B, satisfaction guaranteed.

Frankly, I’d rather build a bookcase.

Why should I care about these people getting it on or off? They aren’t remotely real. They are there simply so that the reader can watch them end up in bed. They can be written into a historical setting (add a ‘Fie, my lord!’) and sold as a Regency Romance. Change the wardrobe, and you have Ancient Roman Romance, or any other era of Romance, but the story is exactly the same. “ ‘I desire you.’ ‘Fie, my Lord’ “– no, I’ve done that bit already, but you get the gist. It’s the same over and over again.

I want characters who engage me, who are more than cut-out figures in that flat-pack manual. I want a story. I want them to suffer and survive, or part and reunite; I want them to be romantic.

I want to believe that their relationship will endure for many years after the end of the novel – and as any agony aunt will tell you, a relationship based solely upon sex has all the staying power of a flat battery.

If you’re going to write this kind of book, be honest with the reader and yourself; don’t tell me it’s a story of enduring love conquering all, when it’s nothing of the sort. Don’t offer me a plot that could really work, that intrigues and leads me to want to know more, when all you’re giving is the same old, same old bedroom door tango.

I want to read the book you could have written, the one where you actually care about your characters as though you knew them personally. After all, if you don’t, why on earth should I?

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About Lorraine Swoboda

Author of Mrs Calcott's Army. I write about the creation of a novel. It's a complete mystery, but I've done it. I also write about the basic building blocks of writing - grammar, punctuation, and those niggling things that you know don't sound quite right but you can't work out why. Writing is 20% inspiration, 40% perspiration, and 40% staring at the screen wondering what I pressed to make it do that.

4 responses to “Characters are People Too”

  1. helenlaycock says :

    Well said, Lorraine! I’m fed up, too, of reading long episodes of drawn out sessions where… A slots into B, as you so aptly put it while the story hangs around it on a fraying bit of thread. We readers do have imaginations (and, dare I say it, experience ) and don’t need a visual instruction manual where every nitty gritty detail is described. Well, may be some of us do…


  2. Patsy says :

    Sex isn’t romance, is it?


  3. Richard Blackah says :

    I’ve been “mentally throwing books at the wall” for years now. The last decent book I read was, “Let the right one in.” but that was a while back now. So much more fun to write your own!


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