The romance genre is full of bad stories. Let’s not lie to ourselves! Since it’s such a popular genre to write about, it makes sense that there’s a lot of awful stuff out there. But since we know that, doesn’t it make sense to try to change it? Or at the very least, shouldn’t you use your knowledge to stand out from the crowd? If you recognise the worst of the mistakes in romance stories, you can arm yourself against them and make something that stands out from the crowd.
There’s no reason why you can’t write a great romance story if you put a little thought into it. The first step is to be aware of the issues so that you can avoid, alter or turn them on their head. If you can do that, you have the chance to make something great! It’s up to you. So here are the top romance story mistakes to avoid.
Making Bad Boys Abusive
Personally, I’m not that big of a fan of bad boys. In fact, I rarely ever enjoy bad boy romances! I’m sick of the arrogance and bickering. Most bad boys these days seem to just lack emotional intelligence, which isn’t sexy to me. However, you can do bad boys well. The problem is that it’s just too easy to write bad boy stories. Often, they don’t even need to be good to find their audience. Teen girls, in particular, seem to just eat them up! And the problem with that is that it makes writers lazy and complacent — especially on Episode! And if that other author made a bad boy story with 7 million reads, why can’t you do the same? Why wouldn’t you just copy their formula?
Well, there is nothing really wrong with bad boy stories in theory. It’s just the way that they’re written. Writers seem to think that they need to make the bad boy treat the main character (MC) badly for the trope to work, which is just not true! So instead of giving him real reasons to be the bad boy, some writers resort to making the relationship seem unhealthy. At best, there’s a lot of teasing that makes you wonder why the MC is into him in the first place. At worst, he is actually horrible to her. He’s emotionally abusive and just a bad person. But that doesn’t need to happen! Here are the real problems with how bad boys are written at the moment.
By this, I don’t mean bickering. There’s nothing wrong with a couple arguing or bickering. We all argue! It would be weird if a couple didn’t. In fact, it can seem cute and silly if it doesn’t go too far. It works for the romance genre. But when writers make the mistake of taking this too far in their stories, it can go from romance to abuse.
There is nothing cute or nice about someone putting their lover down — even if they have a “reason” or a “twisted past”. Sure, this can happen from time to time in stories, but it shouldn’t be a regular thing. More than that, you’re giving out a really bad message if the MC just takes it and doesn’t stand up for herself.
What Isn’t Romantic
- Calling the MC awful names to “test” her or drive her away.
- Using other girls to make her jealous or upset.
- Slut-shaming her — especially when he’s sleeping around!
- Ignoring her for no reason to make her paranoid or sad.
- Blaming her for how he treats her.
None of these things
How to Fix it
When the bad boy goes too far, point it out! Make sure that he doesn’t just get away with it. You need to make sure that the MC has boundaries that she’s not going to let him cross. And when he does cross these, it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship! But it should be a turning point. He needs to risk losing her and realise what he’s done wrong. Show that the MC is worth the bad boy’s respect and that she’s not just some push-over.
Explaining Away Abuse
A lot of stories try to explain away abuse. They tell the readers that, while his behaviour might be wrong, it’s not his fault because his dad isn’t around or his mum is an alcoholic. They say that he can’t help treating women like objects because he was raised rich and entitled, that his dad never really cared and so he’s just hard-hearted. Sure, those are reasons for why he might start the story as a pretty bad dude. There’s no doubt that we’re really affected by the way we’re brought up, after all! And it makes sense that the bad boy has a reason for being bad. I mean, he’d be even more awful if he didn’t.
But that doesn’t need to mean that it’s okay. The MC doesn’t have to deal with this abuse just because he has a reason to be that way. She’s a person, too! And the chances are that you’ve made a character who deserves to be treated right. Don’t make her compassion the thing that keeps her around even though she’s being abused. A reason for bad behaviour is not the same as an excuse to keep being bad. The bad boy is human and he is able to learn from his past.
As soon as the bad boy explains why he’s such an arse, he needs to start trying to change. Of course, he’s not going to be an angel straight away. In fact, it would be boring if he suddenly turned into a perfect boyfriend. But we need to see that he’s taking steps to change the way he treats her. They can be small at first. But if you want to make it healthy, she should stick around because he’s trying, not because his life is hard.
Bad Boys Will Change?
There are so many romance stories where the MC waits for the bad boy to change. They give out such a bad message! If someone is abusing you, you can’t just wait around until they become a better person. It’s not going to work like that. If you don’t give the bad boy a reason to think about his actions, why would he ever try? Also, you can’t just expect to get into a relationship and shape your love interest until they fit what you like.
This is bad writing. The bad boy should change because of the MC, but not for her. And she shouldn’t expect it, either! I’ve seen way too many stories where the MC hopes and prays that the bad boy is going to change for her. He’s never changed for any other girl, but she thinks he’s going to love her enough for this time to be different. She wants to fix him. At best, that’s very naive. At worse,
But what’s the difference between changing for someone and because of them? Well, if he’s changing for her, he’s doing it to make her happy, keep her around or shut her up. He’s not changing because he wants to change. He’s changing because she wants him to. If he’s changing because of her, he’s made the choice on his own to be a better person because she showed him a better way. She didn’t force him down the path, but she made him want to go there on his own.
Making the Romance Happen Too Fast
I hate this one. When I read a romance story, I’m here for the journey. I want to read about how they get together and what makes them choose each other. That’s the cute part! That’s the part that keeps people hooked and makes them want to keep reading! Sure, if you keep it going for too long, a lot of readers are going to get frustrated. But if you just let them get together straight away, why would we bother to keep reading?
A lot of writers back themselves into a corner when they choose to have the romance happen in the first few chapters. They
There’s nothing wrong with conflict from outside, but it’s been done too much! Plus, most of this conflict comes from the fact that the writer needs something to go wrong now that the couple is together. It screams “well, I can’t just have them be happy for the next 20 chapters). If it takes them a longer time to get together, you won’t need 400 story lines about how everyone in the world is trying to break them up. You might have one or two, but it won’t seem silly and made up.
Remember that the genre is romance. We want to see romance, so do us a favour and give it to us before they get together.
Badly Written Mean Girls
Ugh. This is a symptom of the whole getting together too fast mistake. Our couple is together and they need an outside force to break them up. Why? Well, they haven’t spent enough time getting to know each other. So, if they argue over something between the two of them, it might be hard for the writer to get them back together. I mean, their relationship is too fragile for that!
So instead, they need someone working to tear them apart from outside. Voila! The mean girl is born! The couple didn’t really get to know each other before they got together, so she probably didn’t get much of an intro. She doesn’t really have much of a sane reason to be mean, either. She just likes the guy or hates the girl or feels threatened for some reason. Then she starts doing some crazy stuff no normal person would do to break the two of them up. Maybe she just wants to get the guy to get with her. Because apparently, she thinks he’s going to look at her and say “well, she must care about me if she was willing to make me miserable to be with me”.
To make it real, you need to make her a person. Most stories treat their mean girls like objects made to tear the couple apart. Instead, give her a proper reason that the readers can empathise with. Make them think “I get why she’s upset, but she’s taking this too far”. That’s going to make your mean girl seem like she’s not thrown into the story, half alive, just to be bad. This might be a romance about the lovers, but that doesn’t mean that the mean girl shouldn’t get a story of her own!
Just Throwing in a Rape
This is so nasty that I’m struggling to write about it. But it’s in too many stories, so I need to cover it.
Do not use rape as a cheap plot device.
Rape is a really serious issue. If you’re going to put it in your stories, you need to make sure you’re doing your research and adding it in for the right reasons. Use trigger warnings. Don’t make it a shorthand for a lack of trust. If you’re going to talk about rape in your story, you need to give it the respect, time and sensitivity it needs.
A lot of writers don’t do that. They have MCs who seem 100% fine until chapter 12 suddenly a really harrowing back story. It hasn’t affected them until now, but then the writer needs a reason for the MC to not trust boys, so why not throw in a rape? Or they use it to give the guy something to protect his girl against — to make him protect her and show that he cares. Then, she’s fine again by the next chapter. Why? Because a lot of writers don’t think hard enough about why they’re using rape.
It’s a hard topic to get right because you need to let the MC get over it slowly. She needs a chance to process how she’s feeling and move on from it one day at a time. As well as that, you shouldn’t show her as weak. You might need to bring the law into it. If you do it wrong, you run the risk of looking like you’re dismissing rape. So only add it into your story if you’re willing to spend the time and thought that it needs.
Defined by Their Romance
I know that you’re writing a romance story, but your characters shouldn’t be defined by that. They need a personality. They need an identity. You need to set them apart from every other MC in every other story. Why would readers want the exact same story they’ve read 500 times before? But more than that, it’s so toxic to make your characters define themselves by their relationship alone. Although your story might be a romance, that doesn’t mean that your MC’s story needs to only be about romance.
In real life, we can lose who we are if we let our whole lives revolve around our love interest. It might get dangerous or obsessive. And then what happens if you break up? Well, you lose everything! You just aren’t you anymore. People who have been in this situation end up alone. They pushed their friends away when they were with their love. Can you see why that would be such a bad idea? Well, we shouldn’t do the same thing to our characters, then!
Give them something that makes them special. We want to see their hobbies. We want to see them talk to their friends — and not just about the person they like. Let us see the girl take an interest in her boyfriend’s hobbies, and vice versa. But at the same time, give them a chance to be apart. It’s not fun to be around your boy/girlfriend 24/7. You start to argue. You might even resent each other after a while. So give them some personality outside of their love life. Make them interesting characters and not just objects of affection.
As I’ve said in my post about what sells on Episode, there is nothing wrong with tropes. If you’re for readers, you’re not going to find judgement here! But the issue is when tropes start to get toxic. So take a moment to think about what you’re writing and the message you’re sending your readers. It will make a big difference!