The 5 Absolute Laziest Plot Devices
By Grace on Jan 22nd, 2015
Look, we get that romance books are not necessarily famous for their twisty and turny story lines. 'By golly, I wouldn't have foreknown this ending. Blimey!', is not the reader's reaction that is expected. On the contrary, at Romance & Smut we do so love our guaranteed HEA. That doesn't mean however that there are not some plot devices that just belong retired now, put down and laid to rest. Thank you!
#1Stockholm SyndromeYou know exactly what I mean.
'When Phillipus kidnaps Druscilla from her magical elvish high school in a complicated political revenge plot, she knows her life is over as she knows it. But sparks quickly fly when she discovers that, beneath his totally unassuming godlike good looks, he has a heart that is close enough to not being a complete waste of time. Could this be love!?'
This was exciting at some point - in the days when well-bred young women were warned about brigands on rural highways, maybe - but we’ve been reading this story since Zeus and Europa. We’re tired. It’s tired! It’s been done so many times that I doubt anyone could breathe any fresh life into the genre. I assume that’s why authors still use it: all one needs to do is change a couple of names, and look at that, you’re done! God, if only writing was always this easy!
I’d also like to think that we’re slowly outgrowing 'I’ll violate you until you love me' as an acceptable trait in a male protagonist. I’m ready for something new and different! If that’s really, honestly how you get your giggles, though, don’t panic: I’m fairly certain that there are enough novels of this ilk out there to keep you occupied for the next several years.
#2Taming the Rogue'Phillipus is a happy, carefree, wealthy, womanizing cad. He not only loves having lots and lots of casual sex, he’s especially turned on by robbing little old ladies on the street, promising young women his undying love to get in their petticoats, and fathering unacknowledged children. Druscilla magical elf cooter has changed all that, though, and he’s suddenly, and without any preamble, ready to swear his undying love and fealty! Will Druscilla accept him? (Yes. The answer is always yes.)'
If the thing keeping our protagonists apart is your leading guy’s absolute inability to conduct himself like an adult/the fact that he’s a hardened criminal/the fact that he’s actually a terrible, terrible person, I refuse to believe that you can just “deus ex machina” that nonsense. Stop asking me to think a single impassioned speech and some sex is going to change a person’s entire identity. If you’ve spent entire your novel working towards this point, slowly building up to a man who has a genuine crisis of character before deciding to make a change, that’s totally fine. People do change, after all. What they do not do is change dramatically, overnight, without any preamble.
More to the point, why should we root for this brand of third-act conversion? Isn’t 'trying to change a horrible guy into a good husband by loving him really, really hard' exactly the kind of thing our mothers warn us about? Bad-boy protagonists are sexy. I’m not arguing that. If that’s the plan, though, you’d better show up with a better plan than 'he’s going to magically turn into a really nice guy right at the end,' because that isn’t a conclusion; that’s the prequel to a Lifetime TV movie about abusive husbands.
#3Secret Babies (and Pregnant High Schoolers)(Also: abortions, miscarriages, pretty much any tragic pregnancy-oriented secret.)
First of all: you know what adults do when they get knocked up? They talk to the person who did the knocking and they have a discussion about what to do. Second: I don’t know if you guys are aware of this, but babies are not sexy. They’re just.. not. They’re sticky and loud and they make life really, really complicated. This, you may notice, is pretty much the opposite of what you want from a romance novel. And wherever you may stand on the big A-word, I think we can universally agree that having your entire novel hinge on a woman’s hangups about her uterine contents or lack thereof is Just. Not. Arousing. Same goes for miscarriages. Pretty much, if it’s a romance novel, let’s steer clear of all womb-related tragic secrets, mkay?
Then there’s high schoolers. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but not every high schooler that has sex gets pregnant. I know this for a fact! And yet every time I see anyone under 18 bumping their baby-makers, I can almost guarantee that a baby will, in fact, be made. It’s exhausting. If the only way you can manufacture drama is to insert an otherwise irrelevant pregnancy, you don’t need to be writing romances: you need to be writing after-school specials.
#4Third-Party MeddlingSo, our star-crossed lovers have avoided kidnapping one another or having secret babies to mope over. We’re free and clear! Except that a convenient third party character has arrived on the scene with a TERRIBLE SECRET: their relationship will ruin one of them for life. Except that we all know it won’t. It will be overcome in a couple of hundred pages, when they somehow remember to talk to one another like actual human beings.
My issue with this is that it’s used all too commonly. Look, if the barrier is large enough that it will genuinely ruin someone’s life, you can better bet the other person would be aware of it. Who gets this involved in someone else’s love life, anyway? It’s just a lazy way to keep two characters separated. I think modern-day romances are the worst with this; it’s more credible in an era when social mores could actually screw your life up pretty badly. In the modern era, though, it winds up feeling really strange and contrived. Even if you’re young and emotionally immature, I refuse to believe that you couldn’t shoot the love of your life a text: 'Hey, uh, ur mom just told me that being with me would ruin your life, like, forever? Can we talk? K luv you XOXO :p'
#5I was secretly _____ THE WHOLE TIME!'Phillipus has overcome the TERRIBLE SECRET by having an actual conversation with his lady love. Druscilla is ecstatic: surely, after the kidnappings, and somehow avoiding having a tragedy baby, and Phillipus’ sudden and inexplicable conversion to monogamy, they’re going to be happy forever. There’s only one problem: Druscilla is betrothed to a man she’s never met. Told that there’s no way to evade her wedding of convenience, she goes to bid her true love a final farewell. Just kidding! He was her fiance the WHOLE TIME. Oh SNAP.'
I have officially had enough of the following: secret identities, secretly being insanely wealthy, secretly having a twin, secretly being written by an author who has suddenly realized she's secretly written herself into a corner, etc. I get it. Twist endings are exciting, and so much more memorable than just having characters whose problems are resolved in a reasonable fashion. She’s in love with two guys and can’t make a decision? Don’t worry, they’re the same guy! You already burned through several hundred pages and forgot to address the fact that she was initially concerned with your protagonist’s inability to support himself? No worries! He’s secretly rich! Forgot to make your male character likeable in any way shape or form? No big deal. He’s a prince now! Everyone likes a prince, right!? The problem is, these endings are never well-planned secrets with gentle foreshadowing and genuine surprise; they’re panicky attempts to resolve a plot that an author isn’t sure how to end, or even worse, an attempt at getting a novel’s worth of run time out of played-out material.
Moral of the story: If you’re going to be this lazy, maybe give the book a pass. Books are complicated and time consuming, after all. Maybe make yourself a nice cup of tea and write some erotica instead - I hear they’re pretty easygoing on plot holes, so long as you remember to have plenty of other holes to go around.
Once again, though, we want to hear from you, dear readers. What are your least favorite plot devices--and what are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!