Romance Novel Pet Peeve: Stereotypical Psychology

Sorry for not updating for so long. School has been overwhelming. But while I should have been working my way through Charles Dicken’s BLEAK HOUSE…which is like…the size of the bible, I read a romance novel instead, and it got me thinking…

I’ve always been interested in psychology, but I’m no expert in this field—Noelle is, as she teaches this subject. But, as a demanding romance reader, it sorta bugs me to see how some romance authors simplify the psyche of a hero or heroine so much. As if the mind wasn’t so complex. Heck, if that was the case, why are there psychiatrists? They exist to help us figure out why we are who we are. I doubt that we know for certain the root of all our emotional issues—though the hero and heroines in some romance novels do.

One of the most overused psychological techniques to add drama to a story:

Come Hither….actually… Go away (a.k.a, Commitment Phobia): This is a common “malady” but, if not dealt with carefully in a novel, I feel it turns “stereotypical”. Example:  John Doe, midway through the novel after growing intimate with the heroine, begins to shun her when she says the word “I love you” because he has commitment phobia. And here his psychology follows a formula: The cause of (A) is due to (B). (A) = commitment phobia. (B) = His mother left him when he was young so he knows that the heroine is going to leave him. Hence, he is reluctant to love her back, as he doesn’t want to be hurt again.

Now, I totally understand that this psyche is possible in real life. Men (and even women) do have commitment phobia because of their childhood or due to a bad, bad experience with another woman. While I would certainly appreciate a more complicated twist to this formula (like: The cause of (A) is due to (B) with a dash of (D) and a twist of (C) and (E)…), this formulaic psychology IS emotional read of IF a complex twist is added to give depth.

 I truly, truly do not believe that our minds work in such a simple way. Yes, the result of the hero’s commitment phobia is the consequence of his mother’s adultery, or his parents’ divorce, or what not, but it is also the result of the CHOICES he has made in life.  This kind of phobia is a gradual result. Yet this progressive phobia is not always addressed.

So I’ve come to my most major pet peeve about commitment phobic men in romance novels. We are given the reason for why the hero is as he is: because of an evil mother or girlfriend or wife, etc., and without ever solving the core issue that gave rise to his phobia, the story ends. The solution, according to the novel, was that he totally forgot, or got over his phobia when the heroine nearly got killed by the villain. (Well, this can be argued)

This solution does not flatter the hero (IMO). It’s unflattering for a hero to blame someone else for who he has become. This is what I call peevish. It’s unflattering for a hero to act as if he did not have a choice but to continue being influenced by his past, because: “There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them” (Denis Waitley).

This who entry boils down to: I appreciate complex characterization, and not a character I can figure out too easily.

One of the authors who deal very well with romance AND psychology is Susan Elizabeth Phillips (the romance actually revolves around how the hero is able to overcome the root of his commitment phobia—the root being his mother, or his father, or his wife) and Teresa Medeiros.

Have you picked up on any over-simplified-psychological-forumlas (oooh, long word)? Do you prefer the formulas or do you think it’s overdone?

Listening to:

Writing Update: So far I’ve revised four chapters of FALL OF THE SPARROWS (original title: Be Still, My Heart). I’m absolutely loving this story and where it’s going. I wasn’t too happy with it at first, but those who have been reading my work helped me straighten the story out with some great critiques. I want to get this revision done before I send it off for my CP to read.