Mar 14 2012 10:30am

Over It: Annoying Characters Who Should Leave the Book, Already!

As most, if not all, romance readers know, it isn’t the grand adventure that makes the story, it’s the interesting and well-written characters who make you feel and who earn your affections. But lately, it seems, I’ve been bombarded by characters who simply lack…character, and I would like to take this opportunity to let authors know that I have had more than enough of:

1. Widowed Heroines who have been mourning their lost soulmates for years, and the loss of his love has destroyed her. So much so that she spends most of the first chapters least until the moment they notice the Hero, and suddenly its “look at the ass on that guy!”

2. Those Heroes who are not interested in getting involved with the Heroine of the story. He’s sworn off women, or she’s too good for him, or he’s too damaged or too poor or too jaded. Buuuut he’s okay with jumping her at every opportunity, at least until he get’s her safely back home…or to her new husband...or any other guy but him.

3. Don’t get me started with those Heroines who run off to meet the villain of the story to exchange herself for her…sister…the babysitter, with no plan and she doesn’t contact anyone or even leave a note because the villain told her not to. (Buddy, if she’s that stupid, let her go!)

4. The Hero who is “painfully aroused” each and every time he catches a glance at the Heroine’s pert (insert body part). How old are you? 12? You can’t keep it under control for five minutes? Especially when it’s a paranormal romance and he’s centuries old.

5. The Heroine who hides her pregnancy from the Hero, not because he’s dangerous or abusive, but because he left her and took a job out of town or because his mom said she wasn’t good enough…or he simply didn’t ask her to the prom…so he must not want to know he has a kid.

6. The paranormal romance Hero who tries to hide the paranormal world from the unsuspecting human or unknowing human-hybrid Heroine, and then he gets pissed off when she almost gets killed because she didn’t know that she was on a mystical island inhabited by soul-sucking zombies. (Thanks for the heads up!)

7. The Heroine who is sooo incredibly beautiful that EVERY male has to have her, be it the Hero, the Villain, the paperboy, the guy at the Starbucks…come on, NOBODY is that awesome!

8. The Hero who is so sexy, dangerous and aloof until he sleeps with the Heroine and gets all clingy and pathetic. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Eric Northman!)

9. The Heroine who gets mad when the Hero holds back information, then she gets mad when he tells her everything, then she gets mad when he tells her what to do, and then she gets mad when he lets her make her own decisions because now he’s “ignoring” her…ugh!! (She’s a bitch! Dump her and find someone else so we can all enjoy the story!)

10. Last, but not least, when each Hero or Heroine written by the same author has the same quirky habits, say tapping an index finger on their chin or saying “Holy Guacamole”; or worse…a pinky wave by your petite heroine shows she’s spunky and playful, but when it comes from your 6’5” super muscular, hard-edged, jaded Hero… awkward.

I understand that there is a certain formula for story development and characters need to be able to “grow,” but I think it is about time to sideline these losers for some Heroes and Heroines with real character.

So—what character type are you tired of?

Talk to the hand image courtesy of NMR Photo via Flickr


Lucy Dosch writes book reviews for her blog Her e-reader has turned her love of reading into an obsession. When she is not reading, she likes to spend time with her husband and two daughters.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
Yeah, pretty sure I've rolled my eyes at all of these one time or another. #10 is one reason why I sometimes have to take long breaks between books in a series, and #7 is actually driving me nuts in TV too (like The Vampire Diaries).
2. wsl0612
@redline - I think #9 can apply to TVD also and it's making me sick of Elena for that reason. These characters occur mainly in Regency romances - I really hate the hero who decides to have sex with the heroine or "fool around" with her, knowing how this would destroy her reputation, but internally he thinks oh he'll marry her and so it's okay. NO! If you're supposed to love and care for this woman, you should let her know you want to marry her before making her a fallen woman. JERK!
Vanessa Ouadi
3. Lafka
LOL what a delightful article Lucy, thanks for the laugh! Many of those are so true! I've never read about #10, probably because I don't read much series per se, so I don't really have time to get annoyed by one of the characters' quirky habits (and I've never read about virile heroes pinky waving, thank God).

There is a kind of character I'm particularly tired of, it's the one who simply can't make a decision and hold to it. I'm so annoyed when a character changes his/her mind over something (or someone, preferably the other hero/heroine), over and over and over. I prefer my hero or my heroine more straightforward and knowing what they want. I of course don't mind a few changes of mind _ to err is human after all, and can be so cute at times! _ but when it's done all through the book it's just boring.
Same thing when the hero/heroine changes his/her mind out of the blue. For instance, I re-read a few days ago one of RL Mathewson's books (the one where the heroine is called Hailey, sorry I can't remember the title), and I couldn't help roll my eyes at the scene where, after days of pushing the hero off, telling him she's done with him, and proving it to him, the heroine suddenly harasses him into taking her back because he finally got the message and told her he won't insist anymore. Uh? Is it me or did Hailey did a huge U-turn within a few minutes ? It didn't prevent me from liking the book though _ given that the characters are charming, the writing style funny and agreable, and it's a one-scene-stand _ but it's the kind of things that can turn me off a book if done too often or too incoherently.
Probably because I'm quite a stubborn person myself, I don't know, but I don't want a weathervane as a hero or heroine.
4. Lucky4
I think you just described every book I have ever read.
5. redheadedjen
I was going to be a nun, all happy in the convent, until I met HIM...He kidnapped me, did all sorts of dasterdly deeds but yet, I decided not to become a nun, just for him...
Lynne Connolly
6. Lynne Connolly
oh, yes, this.
The character who suddenly does something he or she wouldn't do, without reason or buildup. The British heroine who used to work in Sainsbury's handling guns like a pro, the even tempered hero going off on one, because the writer needs a Black Moment.
The respectable miss who troops around Regency London on her own, and has sex with whoever she wants, because, pah, reputation, what's that?

Death to all Mary Sues.
Tori Benson
Wonderful article.
I am so over the hero who only tells the unsuspecting heroine bits and pieces of what they need to know and the heroine who refuses to demand answers. Then the heroine is mocked by all for making a stupid decision that she wouldn't have made HAD the hero just told her everything. *sigh*
8. whogirl597
What I really hate is when you have a lengthy series and all the characters are written the exact same way. There is no difference between books except you change a few things like hair color, jobs and a few situations and bam! there's your next book. Even the sex scenes are the same. I mean really, when I can tell the formula for their love life, it's a bit much. Boy meets girl, they kiss, then get interrupted, time comes to have another encounter, things heat up like teenagers (maybe they get to second or third base), then they get interrupted again and boy is super frustrated or god-forbid the girl is, then once they realize they are perfect together (usually around page 150-180) they sleep together and the world is right again. They will usually do the deed again at the end of the book with no holds barred to show how comfortable they are now with each other. I mean really, it's gotten to a point that I joke with my husband how a damn "womb spasms'". I'm just saying.
9. JanineD.
#9 reminds me of Marissa from Lover Revealed and its partly the reason I want to scratch her eyes out! Drives me to drink!

But I have a question- What (to you) shows that the protagonists has real character? What are some good examples??
It just seems that in romance, especially historical and paranormal, these characteristics seem formulaic and pretty much consistent among most authors.
So what are some good characters??
Heather Waters
10. HeatherWaters
@JanineD. -- That's an excellent question. I'd be curious to hear about characters who break the mold too. Chess Putnam is the first who comes to my mind at the moment since I just got into the Downside series, but that's more urban fantasy with romantic elements, I guess.
11. Miss D.
#7 is what I "affectionately" call the Lana Lang Syndrome. It's grating but it bothers me less when I read it than when I see it on TV like with Smallville, Vampire Diaries and True Blood.

It makes me root for tragedy - upto and including death - for that character. Ugh.
12. Lege Artis
@JanineD- Kate Daniels! She is made of awesomness... I love how Ilona Andrews duo write their characters. But, like Chess and Terrible, it's more UF than romance... I like Sara Fielding from Lisa Kleypas's Dreaming of You,though... She is great romance heroine.
#3 is so true, it's one of the lamest plot ever...
Great post, Lucy... You are the voice of all readers:)
13. Janet W
What Lege Artis said, "Great post, Lucy... You are the voice of all readers:)" I have to say that I've seen every one of these miserable over-wrought tropes win in the right hands but usually, arrrrgh and ugh and avoid!
Vanessa Ouadi
14. Lafka
@JanineD _ Indeed, it's hard to think of a book were not at least one out of these 10 elements is present ; which doesn't necessarily makes the book boring, but still.
Comes to my mind Colin and Penelope, from Julia Quinn's Bridgerton series. They've known each other for years, Penelope has been head over heels for Colin since the very beginning, but since she's a rather plain girl and his little annoying sister's best friend, he hasn't even considered it ; and yet once he's given it a thought he doesn't play the tortured/unreachable hero card, they develop a normal relationship, and so on. I don't think any of these 10 classic plots apply to them, or at least, I haven't noticed :)
15. JacquiC
I also get really tired of the hero or heroine who have sworn off love because of some traumatic incident with a prior relationship. There are some books that don't overplay this trope -- the hero/heroine previously believe that they can't have another relationship or don't want one, until they meet the hero/heroine and then there is some kind of genuine struggle to deal with lingering emotions or whatever. I'm usually Ok with that, especially if it is done well, with characters who are written as grown-ups who talk to each other. I can't stand the knee-jerk "I can never love again, even though I'm happy to jump your bones...". I especially am tired of the "I was in love once before with a woman who turned out to be a bitch and now I think all women are bitches..." and then the book is about the heroine trying to convince the hero that this isn't true, often with a lot of jerk-like behaviour from the hero. I think this is may be at least partly covered by #2 above...
Lisa Ellingsworth
16. LisaEllingsworth
Where do I begin, there are so many things in romance novels that have been driving me crazy lately.

Heroines that can't make up their minds and constantly argue with themselves over everything. I call them "Schizophrenic Heroines".

As someone mentioned earlier, the same story in a series over and over just change the names and a few situations. My name for those are "Cookiecutter Romances". I know that's not a character thing, but it's one of my pet peeves.

Also as someone else mentioned, when the characters start saying or doing things that don't fit with who the author told us they were.

800-year-0ld virgins. Someone really expects us to believe that in this day and age? Or they haven't had sex in 800 years for various reasons even though they're ridiculously attractive and have a normal sex drive once they find "the one".

#4 above with the constant state of "painful arousal". How have these men managed to get through such long lives in paranormal romances with constant erections. It's a miracle it hasn't been cut off in a fight.

Oh, oh, and the 10 foot erections....okay 10 inches but it might as well be 10 feet, it ain't coming near my woman parts especially if it's ridiculously wide too. They end up sounding like some ridiculous thermos-sized thing coming at the woman....yet she's a virgin and loves that thing (snorts). Yeah, right!

I bet if I had time I could add a lot more.
17. TinaF
#7 ruins it for me. The first character I first thought of was Camille in the Sisters of the Moon series by Yasmin Galenorn. She is so hot (roll my eyes) that she has three husbands who fall over themselves to be in her presence.
18. Lucy D
@JanineD - a good protaganist that I read lately was Archer in Firelight by Kristen Callihan. Archer had made his mistake years prior to our story which lead to his being disfigured. By the time we meet him in our story, he is a grown up. He admires our heroine and due to his disfigurement is just looking to spend time with this woman he admires, not expecting anything more from her. Although he too hides secrets but it is more out of shame than an alpha macho, I know best attitude. We watch mutual admiration and respect grow into real affection and love. It was a pleasure to read.
Rachel Hyland
19. RachelHyland
# 6 made me laugh out loud, and I am reading this on the tram, so people are looking at me funny. Great post, Lucy!
Aly O'Hare
20. wingZER0angel
The borderline Stockholm Syndrome is getting me a little. Yeah, he's really good inside, but he's just following orders/doing what he's told. If someone takes you captive, you do not immediately fall in love with them.
21. KateNagy
#5 is pretty much a dealbreaker for me. I mean, it's one thing if the heroine is, say, put into the Witness Protection Program and shipped off to Dayton or Grand Forks or wherever before she can tell her babydaddy he's a babydaddy, but when she just can't be bothered to tell him because it would be too much of a nuisance? Yeah, no.

Also, total agreement on the Agonizing Boner of Pain. It's not a good sign when I'm supposed to be getting aroused by the hero's arousal but instead I'm yelling at him to get his achy breaky part to a computer and google urologists who accept his insurance.
22. Lege Artis
@KateNagy- Agonizing Boner of Pain-priceless:)
23. JanineD.
I am defnitely going to have to check out Archer; he sounds right up my alley.

@KateNagy I literally laughed out loud at Agonizing Boner of Pain- I won't be able to keep the image out of my head the next time I read about one!
24. Carpelan
LMBO..agonizing boner of pain. you know I think I perfer those rare books where one of the main evil guys falls in love. so long as they remain evil. Lothaire(Kresley Cole) and Striker(Kenyon)
Elizabeth Halliday
25. Ibbitts
I agree with Carpelan...
I didn't really come to like Stryker, but I felt some empathy for him while his story was being told. Then as soon as the story was completed, I felt perfectly comfortable going back to disliking him intensely. I'm reading Lothaire now, and feeling the same trend coming on...
Carmen Pinzon
26. bungluna
There's one category of character that has been invading my contemporary romances and ruining them for me: the meddling senior citizen who knows best. It's come to the point where if I run accross this trope, I put the book down and move on to the next one on my tbr pile.
Robbie Thornton
27. Button
The most maddening book I've ever read was "Fearless" by Diana Palmer. The hero was in love with a friend's wife, the heroine loved him anyway. He was mean and verbally abusive toward her. She fell in bed with him every time he threw her a bone. It's the only romance I've ever read where I was actually cheering for the heroine to grow some self esteem and forget the jerk. That being said, I have to say that women (or men..but especially women because that's my gender and we should have more pride) who are in love with someone that doesn't want them, but pursue and/or pine over them anyway. This includes villian type characters who chase after their "love interest", determined to have them even though it is clear that said interest has no interest in them. Again, this particularly irks me when the villian is female.

I also don't like the tough heroine who doesn't want a man because she doesn't need a man to tell her what to do. Ok, hun, so really, are your options so limited that you can't find a man who doesn't want to tell you what to do?

My other pet peeve you mentioned: The heroine who does stupid or reckless things in the interest of "saving" someone she loves, or of finding out information she needs, or really for any reason. I think authors want to make these heroines look brave and noble, but to me they just look impetuous and featherbrained.
28. wsl0612
There's another character type that I recently ran into again - the heroine who is sooo stubborn and suspicious of everything the hero says or does, regardless of how all the others around her act towards him. So she ends up endangering herself and/or others because the hero CANNOT be trusted, ugh!!
Joanna Novins
29. JoannaNovins
Love this, but you forgo to include t tow-headed toddlers (particularly ones who lisp) who exist to show that the tough hero/heroine who has cut him/herself off from the world really has a heart made of marshmallows.
30. Lucy D
Sorry guys, I am throwing in one more...the Mystery/Thriller where the only characters you are introduced to is the hero, heroine, the angry troubled guy and the nice, friendly neighbor...Whoa, wait the killer is the nice guy. I thought it must have been the angry troubled dude. WOW! Good thing I never read a thriller before. You sure fooled me!!
31. Joyofbean
I get frustrated by authors who think all we want to read is the sex. I know they want to catch your attention right from the get go, but when someone is having hot and heavy sex on page 3 it makes me a little leary. And when the rest of the book is the lead characters having sex in as many ways as the author can wrack their brains to come up with I begin to lose interest. And I'll put it down if there is no plot inbetween the hot scenes. Now I like my erotica, but give me credit for having a brain as well as a libido. You're supposed to be a writer - so write!!!!
Claire Louise Thompson
32. Nefersitra
For #7 the worst offender I've ever come across for this is Anita Blake. It is completely implausible that every single male HAS to have Anita - even though she complains she's possibley pretty but definately not gorgeous! It was annoying in the Vampire Diaries books that Damon, Stefan and Matt all wanted Elena, but at least it was explained that Elena was very beautiful, looked like Damon and Stefan's lost love and had been dating Matt.
33. Aryn
32. Nerfersitra For #7 the worst offender I've ever come across for this is Anita Blake.

AB also uses the exact same sex scene, lifted from a previous books and inserted verbatim into a LOT of her sequels.
Amanda Quick does the same thing; down to the exact same words of endearment (my sweet) and nearly exact same initial love scene.
How many men are REALLY going to know there is a little something obstructing their 'thrust', or 'one long thrust' or whatever by their 'agonizing boner' (thanks for that, by the way)? How many women of 25, virgin thought they may be, actually have an intact hymen, anyway (I lost mine to an inexactly placed tampon when I first started menses)?
And what about heroines who 'just know' the hero is pick-your-fault and yet she cozies up to him anyway? (If some guy on the street/subway/bar gives ME the willies, I sure don't stand around and chat).
Thanks for this great post. Laughs are always appreciated.
34. Sdy Lion
I read alot of PNR and haven't seen so many erect men since visiting the statues down at the Museums and the National Mall at washington DC. Seriously?
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