“Too stupid to live.” It’s a phrase used by romance writers and reviewers to describe a heroine who’s apparently had her common sense gland removed. She just does something, or possibly a series of things, that no self-respecting woman with two brain cells to rub together would consider doing.
When I was in college/grad school, there were all sorts of warnings about how to date safely. Things like, never tell the guy where you live; instead, meet him somewhere neutral. Make sure you have the means (transportation, funds) to get yourself home. Have a prearranged call scheduled with a girlfriend; if she doesn’t hear from you, she knows there’s a problem. And so on.
In almost all romances (Gothics, some suspense, and MMF erotic romance being the exceptions), you know the moment the hero’s introduced that he’s the hero. The heroine may not know it, but the reader does. Thus the reader knows the heroine is safe—the hero would never willingly put her into danger, much less turn out to be a serial rapist.
The heroine, however, doesn’t know that.
But where do you draw the line? If she’s appropriately cautious, the relationship will take forever to develop, and the process will be pretty boring for the reader. In erotic romance in particular, we expect to see some hot-and-heavy foreplay, if not outright sex, within the first few chapters.
In some books, this just works. You believe in it, and you never give a thought to the fact that the heroine is taking some serious chances with her life and health.
In other cases, this kind of behavior makes me throw the book across the room.
For the life of me, I can’t tell why one works and one doesn’t. It’s worse when I can’t figure it out in my own writing. I’m struggling with a novel right now in which I keep thinking the heroine is being an idiot for going to the hero’s house right after she meets him. Why? They have some rip-roaring sex all through the book, and end up with at least a strong pathway towards commitment. He’s a great guy (a little stuffy, but the heroine breaks him of that); she’s an independent woman who knows what she wants both in and out of bed. Why do I have this nagging feeling that their first encounter—which is essential to both their emotional development and the plot—involves her being too stupid to live?
What do you think makes the difference? Characterization? Plot? Good writing vs. not?
On a related note, let’s talk about safe sex. Black Lace and Cheek Books carry that “In real life, always practise safe sex” disclaimer, which I’ve always found a little funny. I mean, doesn’t everyone understand that they’re reading fiction, not a how-to book? Do we need that disclaimer?
By the same token, do you notice when the heroine hooks up with a new partner and there’s nary a condom in sight (and not a wisp of conversation regarding them)? Or do condoms end up ruining the one-handed read moment? Do they sound obviously shoe-horned in to an otherwise steamy sex scene? And if condoms are necessary, what about dental dams? Latex gloves? When does she ask for a blood test?
And how soon should the heroine go gleefully into bondange with a new man? It’s not important to even know his name, because she’s just going to call him Master anyway… Right?
So where’s your balance? What’s fun and fantasy, what constitutes too stupid to live, and does anything else about a particular novel affect your answer?