Irritating Characters

By Poison Ivy,

Have you ever read a romance that made you want to throw the book across the room because the heroine kept taking offense—pouting, or having a tantrum—instead of talking out her problem with the hero? And she kept it up until almost the last page of the book? Or the hero held a grudge all the way through and kept saying nasty things to the heroine? It’s annoying when characters choose to fight rather than make peace, especially when they’re supposed to end up married happily for life. If they can’t talk out an issue when they’re in the first throes of being crazy in love, what chance do they have later on, during life’s inevitably tough moments?

Why is this scenario so familiar? Because some writers confuse trouble with conflict, as this nifty blog post about writing describes. But wait, there’s more to it than the writer not creating a substantial enough conflict to move the story along in an exciting manner. Some writers describe romance heroes and heroines who clearly do not belong together. They bicker. They take offense easily instead of shrugging off mild pinpricks. They don’t open up about what’s really bugging them. Worst of all, they don’t even appear to like each other.

Yes, romance is fantasy, not real life, but even fantasy ought to be plausible. If two characters clearly are temperamentally unsuited to each other, they don’t make a believable happy couple. Reading about them becomes even less like fun if they fight often through the course of the story. This applies whether the issues are big or small. Characters who willfully misunderstand each other to keep their conflict going—or, worse, to score off on each other—create a negative vibe that turns a reader off, and they put the lie to the credibility of their romantic “happy ever after” ending. Even before the ending, it’s hard to bond with characters who deliberately make themselves obnoxious to each other.

Unfortunately, the covers of these irritating books do little or nothing to warn readers what’s inside. Romance book covers show happy couples or people who are hot for each other, not scenes from The Honeymooners that might more accurately demonstrate how they DON’T get along.