Thu
Jan 19 2012 2:45pm

The ABCs of Romance: The Duke of Slut, Mary Sue, TSTL, and More!

Red telephoneEvery community has its own particular language, parlance, or lingo, developed through shared experiences and ideas. But sometimes that lingo can be a little hard to decipher for those newer to the group. Such is the case with romance readers who have just started to read the wealth of reviewer blogs, or those who have been here for a while, but have been afraid to ask about a particular term. Well, here is a neat little dictionary of reviewer and romance terms to help you get familiar. Feel free to contribute your own terms and definitions in the comments!

Alpha Male: A dominant, aggressive, hyper-masculine hero. Often used in novels where “taming the beast” is a prominent relationship theme, where the 200-pound Navy SEAL can bring terrorists to justice and open difficult jam jars, but his fiery slip of a librarian love interest can bring him to his knees with a single quip.

AlphHole:A critical term for an Alpha Male hero whose aggressive, forceful behaviour crosses the line from romantic to abusive. This can be a contentious issue in the romance community as one reader’s “protective” can be another reader’s “controlling.” Often the line comes down to personal taste. See: Why Judith McNaught still sells books.

Beta Male: The term for the submissive, quieter, easygoing hero type—a.k.a. “The Nice Guy.” These heroes tend to be more intellectual and cunning then their Alpha Male counterparts, relying on wit and humour rather than physical heroism. They typically follow on the heels of an Evil Ex storyline to demonstrate that Nice Guys really don’t always finish last.

Duke of Slut: The hero in historical romances with an extensive, unorthodox, and publically known sexual history who explores a vast swath of the female population while miraculously remaining impervious to sexually transmitted diseases. 

DNF: A reviewer’s grading acronym, meaning Did Not Finish. Reserved for novels that were too terrible, offensive, or simply boring to continue on to the last page or give an actual letter grade to.

Gamma Males: A newer hero term, reserved for heroes who are a mix of Beta and Alpha male types. The more common examples are the shy Beta who morphs into an aggressive, take-change Alpha when the heroine is threatened, or a highly-stressed Alpha who hides a softer, Beta side. 

HEA: An acronym for Happily Ever After—the goal to which all romance novel protagonists aspire.

Mary Sue/Gary Stu: A critical term reserved for badly-written protagonists who are too perfect—they are simply good at everything, everyone except the Bad Guys loves them, and they have no discernable character flaws. Mary Sues are generally disliked because, since they have no problems of their own, the conflicts they confront tend to be contrived. As well, with no flaws or quirks, many of them are simply not interesting.

Sequel Baiting: The superfluous presence or participation of secondary characters in series romances that is meant to advertise or generate interest in their upcoming novels rather than serve the story at hand.

TSTL: Acronym for Too Stupid To Live, which refers to the unfortunate sort of hero or heroine who repeatedly makes irrational, inexplicable and just plain dangerous decisions that invariably land them in trouble—a technique often used by substandard writers to create conflict or a romantic rescue situation.

TBR: Acronym for To Be Read, referring to one’s enormous, ever-growing shelf-space-devouring pile of books that one is planning to read. Saying, “this book’s on my TBR” means you have and will read it. Eventually. At some point.

Woobies: A term that refers to Romantically Tortured characters, who, in romance fiction at least, are nearly always male. Woobies tend to have one or more of these attributes: a dead wife or child, a murdered partner, a pronounced but (usually) not disfiguring scar, or an unexplained death in their past. Written well, a Woobie overcoming tragedy to be with the heroine can be lovely. A poorly-written Woobie can come off as a sadsack, however, or an author’s attempt to pardon a character’s extensive bad behaviour with a tragic past. See: Woobification.

Woobification: A common case in the latter books of romantic series that tend to be reserved for the darkest, most troubled, or most dangerous characters, wherein a villain from previous books is retroactively neutered and rendered more romantic and sensitive by giving them a Secret Tragic Past. He wasn’t really going to tie you to the railroad tracks! He just saw his mother murdered in front of him when he was three! It’s all good! Perhaps one of the most notorious examples of Woobification is Sebastian from Lisa Kleypas’s The Devil in Winter.

Wallbanger: Slang for a terrible book—as in, so bad you want to throw it against a wall. Not recommended for hardcovers.

Wallpaper Historical: A romance set in an historical time period that is either poorly, incorrectly, or only vaguely established. For instance, while skirts, corsets, balls, and King George may be mentioned, the protagonists of wallpaper historicals otherwise act the same as their contemporary counterparts, barring the occasional sword duel. These sorts of novels are deridingly called “wallpaper historicals” because the romantic historical setting is basically used to lend a “prettiness” to the story’s scenery without actually contributing to the story itself.


Elizabeth Vail hails from Alberta, Canada. A book reviewer and aspiring YA writer, she currently runs the review blog Gossamer Obsessions under the screenname AnimeJune.

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11 comments
mochabean
1. mochabean
Sourced from SmartBitchesTrashyBooks: "Plot Moppet" for ridiculously charming adorable well-behaved yet precocious child/niece/nephew/ward of hero or heroine who functions to make hero or heroine more sympathetic, understandable, etc.
Heather Waters (redline_)
2. redline_
I usually have to explain I love betas with an alpha side, so I'm glad there's a term for it. Gammas ftw! Great list, Elizabeth.
mochabean
3. Rose In RoseBear
I love-love-love The Devil In Winter, but not because of Sebastian. I just adore Evangeline, and I fell for her the moment she went to Sebastian with her bargain. Great heroine, who twines that bad boy right around her little finger with stubborn bravery and a stunning body.

Go, Evangeline!
mochabean
4. CdnMrs
Fantastic post! Thanks for the list.
Wendy Lewis
5. wsl0612
How did "woobie" come about? it's such a strange word!
Jamie Farnik
6. JamieMF
Yay for Gamma and Beta males-there definitely aren't enough of 'em! And Rose In RoseBear, I loved Devil in Winter too-Evie and Sebastian were so great together. I love the lingo around romances and romance review sites, it makes me feel like part of an elite secret society. :)
Carmen Pinzon
7. bungluna
I had never heard "woobie" before. All the others are part of my romance vocabulary and they do make me feel included in a select group.
mochabean
8. BevQB
Count me in with the WOOBIE curiosity crowd. I understand the definition, I just can't figure out where the word WOOBIE comes from. I don't think I've ever seen it before.
mochabean
9. Pelyken
I'm not sure how Woobie came to be used this way, but we adopted the word after seeing "Mr. Mom", with Michael Keaton and Teri Garr. The Woobie in the movie is the son's security blanket. At one point, Michael Keaton's character is asked to repair a tear in it and uses a stapler! We've been using the word for nearly 30 years to describe our personal "blankie"!
Megan Frampton
10. MFrampton
Woobie does, apparently, come from Mr. Mom, and our blogger Victoria Janssen helped out with a link, too:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheWoobie

So there it is! I'd never heard it before, either.
mochabean
11. Grizelda
The link to the writer's blog is 404. Someone needs to check the code.

A good post. I live in fear of a character becoming a Mary Sue. Sometimes I think most of my fiction turns out to be horror because it keeps all the characters from being too perfect.

This is a pretty fussy comment form. First I have to click to get a preview then you hit me with a damned captcha and I can't even use my own name. What do you want me to call myself? I'll just randomly pick Grizelda. If someone already has that I just won't be leaving a comment.
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