This year I received NINE books to judge in RWA’s RITA contest. It appears, from online discussions, that people who are open to judging a broad range of categories can get swamped, as I have. Unless there are changes in how they do things, I may have to opt out of more categories next year, because this is going to be a challenge!
Anyway, judging the RITAs is always a mixed pleasure. Usually I find some new authors to follow, but almost always, I also run into books that use some tired old tropes I don’t see in my favorite authors’ books. Here are a few I’m braced to expect:
Tired Trope #1 – The Feisty Redhead
Red hair is gorgeous, and I understand why authors might use it in a symbolic sense, to connote passion (although I’d also argue that blondes and brunettes can be just as passionate). I do wonder about the idea that redheads are naturally short-tempered.
When I googled around, I found some historical background for this idea of the “fiery redhead” and also some articles suggesting that the gene that produces red hair may also cause an increased sensitivity to pain. So perhaps a redhead might react more strongly if one accidentally stepped on her toes? It still seems like a stretch to assume that redheads have a short fuse about everything. It’s not borne out by the ones I know. They aren’t wimps but also aren’t at all the sort to jump to erroneous conclusions or blow up at trifles.
The stories that really rub me the wrong way are the ones featuring a redheaded heroine who blows her top easily and a hero who somehow thinks this is cute. Taken to this extreme, it’s infantilizing women’s anger. I prefer to read about a heroine who can be angry with real reason and a hero who, even if he disagrees with her, will take her seriously.
Tired Trope #2 – The Rich, Handsome, Alpha Chauvinist
Sadly, in most of the batches of RITA books I’ve judged, there’s at least one book with a hero who crosses the line from alpha to abusive. He shows a consistent lack of respect for the heroine, disregards her ideas, needs and desires, and may judge her sexuality using a double standard.
In a historical romance, I can imagine a hero whose upbringing and experiences may not have prepared him for a heroine with untraditional abilities or strong passions. I still want him to be intelligent enough to recognize, accept and eventually be delighted by what he learns about her true nature.
However, I actually see as many or more chauvinistic heroes in contemporary romance. Seriously, have we not gotten past the modern hero who’s surprised when a heroine proves to be intelligent and competent? Or one who slut-shames her for having as strong a libido as his?
Even if there’s some good grovel at the end, I can’t believe in a happy ending for these couples. I see the heroine ending up in what amounts to a luxurious cage and the “hero” eventually replacing her with either a younger wife or a mistress, depending on the setting.
I want to read about a hero who loves the heroine in all her complexity. One who does not see her as a static, desirable object but a living woman, who will change and acquire new wisdom and power as she goes through various phases of her life. Because he loves her, he’ll be excited to be her companion for that journey.
What do you think? Are there other tropes you’d like to see retired?
Yes, the tropes you’ve mentioned get on my nerves as well. I’m reading my RITA books now and it is very difficult to get through a book that is basically a series of tried and true cliches. Sigh.
Sigh… Yes, it’s always a mixed experience for me. Luckily there are always some good reads in the pile, too.
But what’s with the editing? There really seem to be a lot more errors that slip through every year and this is not confined to self-published books.
I’m disappointed that books which have been selected as possible RITA winners have these tropes. I should have thought they they were so cliched (feisty redheads) or undesirable that those selecting the books would discount them straight away.
These books are not the potential winners, HJ. What most of us judge are the entries. Anyone can enter whatever book they like, although we’ll call you on it if you enter in the wrong category (like a contemporary romance entered in historical) or if your book is not a romance (like a cosy mystery with no romance at all)
What Diane said. These are the first tier of entries, not the finalists.
The trope I can no longer tolerate: spies. Oh my God, enough with the spies, already! Regency era spies are so overdone.
Also, in contemporary romances — please, enough with the Navy SEAL heroes.
Wanda, I feel what you’re saying. I think part of it is the publishing industry liking to stay with what they perceive as tried-and-true–until someone takes a risk and tries something new and wonderful–which then becomes the next fad. I wish it were more a steady mix, so readers could all find what they wanted and writers wouldn’t feel stuck writing in a popular vein, or that they can’t write the story they want to write because it’s been overdone.
However, this is not up to me, so I’m just going to keep writing the stories that compel me rather than try to either chase or avoid a trend.