Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Random Top 10 List of Romance Novel Clichés

Clichés are easy. They pop into our heads, and consequently onto the page, so naturally that we hardly even realize it happened. A few years ago I did a whole post listing 101 clichéd words and phrases most of us have heard or read at some time or another.

Today, though, I want to address the kinds of clichés that crop up repeatedly in romance novels. By the way, there’s a fine line between a clichéd plot and a trope. In Tina’s recent post on Classic Romance Tropes, she did an excellent job of explaining a trope as a recurring literary plot device. She also went on to say that without a fresh spin, “a classic romance trope becomes overused and simply a cliché.”

And, to repeat what I wrote in my post mentioned above: “There’s nothing inherently wrong with clichés. They’re just . . . tired. Stale. Overused.”

But romance deserves better, don’t you think? Staleness and lack of creativity lead to boredom—just ask anyone who’s been married for more than 10 or 20 years. Keeping the romantic spark alive requires thought, imagination, and intentionality.

As writers, we need to be just as intentional about bringing freshness and creativity to our story scenes and characters. As we look at this random list of romance novel clichés, be thinking about ways you could give them a new twist.

Romance Cliché #1 
Variations on the “Mary Sue” character 

(With a nod to Tina for pointing me to this info). Wikipedia defines a “Mary Sue” as “an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities.” In other words, a character who seems too good to be true. They don’t make mistakes, they are instantly likable, and never have to deal with unpleasant consequences to their actions. 

For another take on the Mary Sue concept, check out this website. And, if you really want to find out whether you’re writing a Mary Sue–type character, there’s even a lengthy test you can take: The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test.

Have you encountered any too-good-to-be-true romance heroes or heroines? One that comes to mind for me is Cassie Nightingale on Hallmark’s The Good Witch movies and TV series. I enjoy the shows, but sometimes Cassie comes across as a teensy too goody-goody know-it-all. Everybody loves her, she’s the town’s go-to girl for advice on just about anything, and honestly, how often has she been wrong or had to deal with unpleasant consequences for things she’s said or done?

Romance Cliché #2 
Contrivances to get your hero and heroine alone together 

(Thanks to Mary for this one). As Mary (no relation to Mary Sue) points out, it can be morally problematic, especially in Christian fiction, to depict an unchaperoned unmarried couple. Mary says she’s always in search of fresh ways to believably strand her hero and heroine together besides runaway horses and hiding from outlaws. Then there are all the variations on deserted islands, freak snowstorms, and cars breaking down in a teensy little town near an inn with only one room available.


Romance Cliché #3
Naive Christian girl and worldly nonChristian boy

You know the scenario. The sweet, innocent heroine can’t help but be attracted to the amazingly handsome but really, really bad boy who promises all the wild fun and excitement her sheltered life lacks. He steals her innocence, which possibly leads to the “secret baby” cliché or else turns her into a bad girl who must eventually find her way back to redemption. 

Or maybe she (another Mary Sue?) resists temptation. Instead, she thinks she can change the bad boy and turn him to the Lord, after which they will marry and live happily ever after.

Romance Cliché #4
Man-haters and/or woman-haters

Another nod to Tina for mentioning those novels where either the hero or the heroine, for whatever reason, just can’t stand the opposite sex and so have sworn off romance forever Without believable motivation for such out-and-out hatred, there isn’t much basis for story conflict here. And even if the character does have a good reason, it’s probably because of such an awful experience that the character should be in long-term therapy, not bouncing across the pages of a romance novel while complaining endlessly about the opposite sex.

Romance Cliché #5

Then you have the character who has suffered mightily in life and is angry at God. Okay, anyone here never, ever been mad at God about something, however inconsequential? The Psalms are full of laments about pain, suffering, and God’s seeming abandonment. But again, if the situation is that serious, this is a character who needs professional counseling, preferably not from . . .

Romance Cliché #6
The bad pastor

Sadly, there have been plenty of real-life examples of fallen clergy. But in fiction, the “bad pastor” character who falls from grace, intentionally harms another character, or just gives crummy advice ranks right up there with the clichéd cops who bungle investigations in those amateur-sleuth mystery novels. Christian characters, especially clergy, already have a hard enough time being depicted fairly in secular movies and novels. Do we really need contribute to those stereotypes and biased mindsets in our Christian fiction?

Romance Cliché #7
Character achieves riches & fame, then returns to humble roots

Maybe the character started out as a preacher’s kid or was raised in a loving Christian family. But “life beyond” beckoned, and the character left home to follow dreams of fame and fortune. The character hits the big time and in the process loses his/her moral compass. Then a devastating change of circumstances turns the character’s heart toward home . . . and the sweetheart left behind who’s been patiently waiting all this time (yet another Mary Sue?).

Romance Cliché #8
The ex-girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse who shows up causing trouble

So your hero and heroine are starting to grow closer, and in comes the ex-whatever, green with jealousy, plotting to break them up, and generally wreaking havoc on the romance. Whole books and movies have been developed around this premise (think Fatal Attraction), but if you’re using it as just one more way to ramp up sagging story conflict, make sure the ex’s entry onto the scene doesn’t come across as contrived.

Romance Cliché #9
Enemies fall in love

When the hero and heroine are at each other’s throats from the very first page, half the fun of reading the book is to find out how they’ll get past their differences and fall in love. However, sometimes the dispute that’s keeping them at odds is so trivial as to be ridiculous. I mean, can’t they just talk it out and get over themselves? Or else they’re separated by such divisive issues that any kind of resolution just isn’t believable. Another problem with this cliché is that one or both characters can come across as so stubborn or narrow-minded that they’re impossible to like. 

Romance Cliché #10
Overused phrases for showing emotion and/or describing a romantic moment

Mary also mentioned how hard it is to come up with a fresh way to show a simple thing like determination. How many times can a character square his shoulders or lift her chin? Then there are those clenched jaws and knotted throats (from Janet), not to mention all the sighing going on in a romance novel. A reference I’ve found helpful, mentioned here in Seekerville before, is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression

Okay, I will surely step on a few toes here (cliché alert!), but I’m going out on a limb to reveal one particular romance cliché that just gets my goat. It’s gotten to where every time I read a romance novel, my internal radar is just waiting for the moment the author uses the line, “He deepened the kiss.” Other romantic descriptions that risk becoming clichéd if we use them too often: warming her (or his) heart (Cara’s suggestion), running fingers through hair, reaching for her (or his) hand, and a bizarre fascination with accurately describing unique eye color.

What other romance clichés would you add to the list? Let’s be kind and avoid naming specific authors or novels, but feel free to share a general description of any clichéd characters, settings, plot devices, or descriptions you’ve encountered in your reading (or your own writing, if you’re really brave!). 

And remember, as I said before, clichés are not inherently bad. We all use them, all the time! As Missy so aptly put it, "We can't de-cliché the voice out of our writing." But each time you catch yourself taking the easy route with a  descriptive phrase, character type, or plot device, let this be a reminder to think beyond clichés and keep your writing delightfully fresh and engaging.


To celebrate Myra’s soon-to-be-released Castles in the Clouds, book 2 in her Flowers of Eden series (coming in August), Myra is giving away a copy of book 1, The Sweetest Rain—or, if you’ve already read it, any other of Myra’s published novels. Be sure to mention in your comment if you’d like to be entered in the drawing.

About The Sweetest Rain. As the drought of 1930 burns crops to a crisp, Bryony Linwood dreams of cooling winter snows and the life she would have had if Daddy hadn’t been killed in the Great War and Mama hadn’t moved Bryony and her sisters to their grandfather’s struggling tenant farm in tiny Eden, Arkansas. Now Mama’s gone, too, and as times grow tougher, Bryony will do whatever it takes to ensure her family’s survival.

Michael Heath barely survived the war, and twelve years later all he wants to do is forget. A virtual recluse, his one passion is botanical illustration. Lost in the diversity of nature’s beauty, he finds escape from a troubled past and from his wealthy father’s continual pressure to take an interest in the family plantation.

When Bryony accepts employment at the Heath mansion, it’s just a job at first, a means to ward off destitution until the drought ends and Grandpa’s farm is prosperous again. But Bryony’s forced optimism and dogged determination disguise a heart as dry and despairing as the scorched earth . . . until she discovers Michael Heath and his beautiful botanical illustrations. As their relationship deepens, friendship soon blossoms into healing for wounded souls and a love that can’t be denied.

About Castles in the CloudsYoung and impressionable Larkspur Linwood, aspiring to become a teacher, mistakes a college professor’s interest for romantic love. When he offers her the chance to join his efforts serving at a mission a school in Kenya, she pictures herself bringing the light of knowledge to hundreds of African children eager to learn. But the menial tasks she’s assigned at the school aren’t so different from life on the farm where she grew up. Worse, her fragile heart is broken when she realizes her feelings for the charismatic professor are not returned. Miserable and deflated, she gives up and returns home.

Enter Professor Anson Schafer, whom she met briefly in Kenya. Partially blinded from an eye infection he contracted there, Professor Schafer cannot return to Africa. He has come to Lark’s college to recruit teachers for a more modest venture—the founding of schools here in the U.S. for those struggling through the Depression.

Still stinging from her experience in Kenya, Lark is reluctant to risk more disappointment, but she knows how great the need has become, and—although this isn’t yet the teaching career she’d envisioned—she finally agrees. As they work side by side, Lark begins to realize that the deepest satisfaction comes not so much from what you do, or where you do it, but from the attitude of your heart. She also slowly realizes that the gentle, determined Anson is the true love of her life.

Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards, and her Heartsong Presents romance Autumn Rains (November 2009) won RWA’s 2005 Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript.  Myra and her husband are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters who, along with their godly husbands, have huge hearts for ministry. Seven grandchildren take up another big chunk of Myra’s heart. Originally from Texas, the Johnsons moved to the Carolinas in 2011. They love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.”

Find Myra online here:


  1. This is soooooo good. Okay, ever since Vince mentioned it, I have tried to avoid the hero pushing the hair back from the heroine's face.

    I find that I am guilty of lazy writing when I write too many sighs, too many narrowed eyes and way too many frowns.

    I actually keep a notebook of words that I hear in conversation or on TV, movies or yes, in books. Words. Not plagiarizing. It can be a jumping off point to fresh phrases.

  2. Fun Blog, Myra. I personally have probably used every single one of these. LOL

    Ah well, let's hope the cliche was hidden beneath the rawhide.

    1. Oh, dear. I think I've used at least three plot clichés in my current work in progress. *Sigh* It's somewhat discouraging, but it's not too late to shake things up. I haven't submitted the proposal yet. Perhaps I'll use Mary's technique and throw some rawhide at it.

      Thanks for your post, Myra.

  3. As a reader I hope I NEVER see "he quirked a brow" or "he quirked a smile" again! Other overused descriptions would be any variation of the little boy smile or crooked grin/smile. Also,I have a hard time when I see the same descriptive word or phrase being used and overused in the same book, we readers do notice those things. All of that being said, no story, no matter what the genre, is complete without at least a little romance in it...

  4. I am guilty, Jasmine. Duly noted.

    No more quirks.

    past tense: quirked; past participle: quirked

    (with reference to a person's mouth or eyebrow) move or twist suddenly, especially to express surprise or amusement.

  5. As a reader I always feel that if I stumble over the cliche and cringe then it should not be there.

    Count me in thank you.

  6. I guess I never thought of different story ideas as being cliche but this post has made e realize there are a lot of overused ideas out there. However, if the author can shed new light on the idea and present it more creatively, I as a reader do not mind at all.

    I would love to be entered for Myra's book.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  7. As a reader, I do wonder ... especially in the romance genre, I think a lot of things can be easily cliche but I think sometimes we don't care. Like having a HEA or the hero brushing back strands of hair from the heroine's face and other little romantic gestures that make the reader sigh ... is it more convention or is it really cliche? (Or am I using the wrong terminology?)

    I had to LOL at #2, but especially for historicals where social propriety required chaparones, I think it could be challenging for writers to figure out how to get characters alone for the romantic moments that modern readers want/hope for ...

    Myra's books are great --thanks for the chance to win! =)

  8. Oh, and I'm kind of curious because of the mention in the post ... what are cliches you especially see in Christian fiction?

  9. This is great stuff, Myra! "But each time you catch yourself taking the easy route with a descriptive phrase, character type, or plot device, let this be a reminder to think beyond clichés and keep your writing delightfully fresh and engaging." I'll need to keep this in mind as I'm guilty with the descriptive phrases. I tried to avoid the "Mary Sue" character, but I was asked to tone down my heroine in the first chapter to make her more likeable.

  10. Great information. Thanks, Myra. And thanks for the giveaway! I love the covers. (o:

  11. Good morning, Myra! I blushed at "deepening the kiss." lol I must admit I've used that one. It's kind of a code for what's really happening.

    After several authors and I had already written our Christmas novellas for Gilead, we received direction from them that there was to be no "full mouth kissing" before a couple is married. THAT was a challenge. We all went back and rewrote those scenes, turning mouth kisses into forehead or cheek kisses or found other ways to show affection. Everyone came up with such unique ways of handling this. Sweet romance is alive and well!

    Please put me in the drawing for THE SWEETEST RAIN, Myra.

  12. Good morning Myra,

    What a great post. I kept thinking how many times I've read or watched these cliches on Hallmark. Thanks for sharing.

  13. MYRA, thanks for reminding us to write fresh. Not only with our plots but with the words we use. I don't think using a description like a crooked smile is bad UNLESS it keeps happening all through the book. The smiles and sighs, clenched jaws and stomachs get old fast when they're seen again and again.

    TINA, I love your idea to make a list of words that will trigger a new way to describe a reaction or action!

    Writing isn't for sissies. :-)


  14. Excellent list. Gracious. So many pet (ahem) peeves here that I need to work on myself. For my K9 Spy, I have too many shivers and shake it off.

    In the last May story, many enjoyed the line - "like fleas hopping down my spine" so I'm working to create at least ONE more like that this round. HA!

    Thanks for some great ideas here, Myra. And yes, please put me in the drawing.

    Tina, agreed. Wonderful idea. Seems like I never just watch TV shows any more. Just last evening, my DH and I were enjoying a Murdoch Mystery episode on Netflix. However, we didn't. Both of us kept saying, "They'd never do that." or "There's a hole in the plot." Quite uncharacteristic for this series. My DH even quipped, "What. Is the regular writer on holiday?"

    Hopefully people don't read our books and say this! Your post will help!

    Y'all have a happy Flag Day! I'm HOPING to wrap up this round of edits/polishing. It's been a major one, and a struggle.

  15. With a deep breath, I'm finally back at work. Thank you, Myra, for such a thoughtful post. Cliches seem to dog romance more than any other genre, but I've found the best approach is to be well read in romance. If you are, you'll already be sick of the plot and character cliches and will automatically want some twist to make yours different. The cliche that really annoys me is the blame God for bad things that happen. I don't know any real Christians who do this. They know God sends his rain to the just and unjust, and we're the ones going through this life to be tested, not God.

  16. Good morning, Seekerville! As usual, I'm still prying my eyes open, especially after all the fun at the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat Facebook Party #2 last night! Let me finish my last cup of Earl Grey and get my act together, and I'll be back to chat!

  17. Wow, MYRA, I have used all of these, Especially the eyes. And the book I'm shopping around now is bad boy seduces good girl and leaves her with Secret Baby. It all happened before they were Christian, but still...And I do use eye color, but am trying to cut back on that. Waaayyy back.
    With kisses, I try to make each kiss specific and unique to the plot. For example, when Caroline and Michael kiss for the first time after being separated, I have a "muscle memory" thing going where her body responds as though they've never been apart. But in my post-World-War-I story, Karl kisses Violet for the first time and she's never been kissed before, so it's a whole other dynamic.
    I've used some of these other clichés, not a lot, but enough to make me resolve to watch them in the future.
    One thing I try to avoid is the famous and successful person coming back to their roots because let's face it, EVERYBODY DOES IT. Another thing I try to avoid is the smart-mouthed small-town waitress, but sometimes you just gotta.
    Kathy Bailey
    More aware of clichés now in New Hampshire

  18. Well, I know what plots I am NOT going to use in my next work. All of the above.

  19. Love this post! I went through my current story I'm working on to see what I'd find. Here it is: sighed softly-10 times; exhaled-13 times-softly, sharply, loudly, deeply, heavily, and my favorite-exhaled and prayed softly. Can you even do that? No deepened kiss-but gonna have to work on that one. No quirking eyebrow or mouth! No clenching but they do a lot of smiling! And talk about eyes-89 times. That probably means something...I'm just not sure what. Thanks for this great post!

  20. This post has a lot to keep in mind as I write and edit. Please enter me in a drawing for one of Myra's books.

    Have a great writing day everyone!

  21. Okay, I'm back!

    TINA, my characters have done their fair share of tucking hair behind ears, frowning, sighing, and narrowing their eyes. Good grief! But it truly is hard to come up with fresh ways to describe body language. Love your idea of taking notes from TV, movies, and books!

  22. LOL, MARY! Rawhide covers a multitude of clichés! ;-D

  23. i have seen these cliche's over used, just never realized it until your post! interesting..
    I'd like to be entered in the drawing.

  24. RENEE, we all do it, all the time. The "obvious" action or phrase is always the easiest. And probably most readers don't even notice. We just want to make sure we're keeping things fresh and not ALWAYS relying on the plot device or description that's closest at hand.

  25. JASMINE, you're so right--the more often a descriptive phrase is used in a single book, the more likely it is to (pardon me!) stick out like a sore thumb!

    And--duly noted--I'll be paying more attention to how many times my characters quirk their brows! :)

  26. Yes, MARY P, anytime we cringe while reading, especially in our own manuscripts, it is NOT a good thing.

  27. CINDY, that's it exactly! I'm no good at remembering sources, but there are supposedly a limited number of unique plots. As writers, we need to put our own twist on them and turn them into stories our readers can relate to in fresh ways.

  28. ARTIST LIBRARIAN, that's the thing. It's often hard to delineate between a genuinely overused cliché and a phrase, action, or plot device that is so commonly accepted as to become "invisible." It all comes down to how the individual author handles it. Does it produce the desired effect? Does it make the reader go, "Aaaaah"? Or is it just the same old boring take on an already overused idea.

  29. Oh, and to answer your question, ARTIST LIBRARIAN, #5 and #6 are among some of the plot clichés that tend to show up in Christian fiction as well as in some secular fiction.

    Also, writers of Christian fiction are somewhat limited in the types of description we can use for romantic scenes. So we can end up falling back on the familiar.

  30. JILL, it does require delicate balance to show our characters with relatable flaws but also keep them likable. And I don't think I've EVER had the problem of writing a "Mary Sue"! In fact, I had the hardest time making Natalie likable in One Imperfect Christmas, as many of my Amazon reviews will attest!

  31. Of course if I don't sell something soon I will BE a mouthy small-town waitress.

  32. KATE, thank you! I've been really blessed with great cover designers!

  33. Hi, BARBARA! Yes, we've heard about Gilead and those full-mouth kisses! Can't wait to see how some of our more "passionate" authors (you know who you are!!!) have handled the restriction!

    So "deepening the kiss" is code, huh? Hmm . . . . ;-D

  34. Oh my, JACKIE!!! I love all those romantic Hallmark moves, but clichés? Some are really, really over the top! Project Guy and I are usually watching together, and it's fun to see which of us will name the "throwaway" boyfriend first. Can you spell P-R-E-D-I-C-T-A-B-L-E?

  35. Right, JANET! It's when we find ourselves falling back on the same bits of description over and over. In one of my early books, my editor pointed out how much "breathing" my characters were doing. Sighs, catching a breath, etc. It's made me hyper-aware of those kinds of descriptions in my writing ever since.

  36. "like fleas hopping down my spine" -- love it, KC! That's exactly the kind of creative description we need to be working toward. Not anything too fancy but something that naturally fits the character and circumstances.

    Hope you can make good headway on your edits!

    And yes, our American flag is flying today!

  37. Okay, my problem since I've never been kissed, is I tend to rely on what I read in books or see on TV so that means it is easier for me to use a cliche. but I will try to avoid using what everyone else is using.

  38. ELAINE, good example--characters blaming God for the bad things in their lives. You might get away with this if the character is still very much a "baby" Christian or had a really traumatic experience that he/she hasn't been able to deal with. But it's a plot device that comes up often enough to be bothersome.

  39. Throw away boyfriend? I have never noticed that. Okay, now I'll be on the alert for it.

    Lately, I've really been thinking about how to switch things up.

    There is a Canadian TV show that's on USA Network, called Motive. Police procedural, suspense type.

    Right away they tell you the killer and the victim. You have to guess the motive. This is a wonderful switch it up example.

  40. KATHY, what it all comes down to is YOUR unique approach to those tropes and descriptions that risk becoming clichés.

    And I love that you're creating romantic descriptions that are special to each of your characters and their circumstances.

    As for smart-mouthed small-town waitresses (and other stereotypical throwaway characters), yes, sometimes they're just the perfect fit and it doesn't work easily to try something different. But this is yet another opportunity to add a unique quirk that sets this character apart from all the others just like him or her.

  41. LOL, SALLY!!! Thanks for your honesty! If my post has helped make you aware, my work is done here.

    However, it appears yours may be just beginning! ;-D

  42. Hi, WILANI! You reminded me of another point to keep in mind. In the first draft, maybe we don't need to worry as much about tossing in those clichés (unless it's a plot device we really need to freshen up).

    But in the revising and editing phases, that's when we need to keep an eye out for ways to freshen up stale or overused descriptions.

  43. Thanks, DEANNA! Are there any clichés that just really turn you off to a story?

  44. LOL, KAYBEE!!! I'm sure you would be a perfectly charming mouthy small-town waitress!

    (But let's hope it doesn't come to that.)

  45. Hi Myra What fun to read about all the cliches. I was extremely entertained. LOL I mean you were right on and the scenarios were fun. I know the romance market has so many cliches because really there are only so many ways to write a romance. I kind of like them actually. They are comfortable.

    One cliche I don't really know how to get around is in Christian fiction so often the hero or heroine is a widow or widower. I mean you almost have to make them one to be available after the teen years. I like older heroes and heroines and would love to find other ways to make them acceptable without having to make them a widow or widower. LOL

    Any ideas?

  46. WILANI, it isn't so much a matter of avoiding what everyone else is using to describe romantic scenes. Just add your own special touch to make it yours.

  47. Tina I really like the TV show Motive. It is a challenge and you're right. It is a switch.

  48. Oh, TINA! Is Motive back on, or are these the original shows in syndication? We used to watch it all the time. Loved the twist where you know the victim and killer up front and watch how the cops figure out all the clues.

  49. MYRA, thank you for this post. Avoiding clichés causes an author to dig deep in their creative storehouse for something new and fresh. I appreciate authors who are always striving to improve their writing.

    Please put me in the draw for one of Myra's published books.

  50. Myra Love the premise for your latest book, Castles in the Clouds. Sounds like a winner.

  51. Oh oh Jasmine hates "quirked a brow" I think I have that in my current wip. Better go check. LOL

  52. Oh, that's a good one, SANDRA--widows and widowers, because we have to be careful how we handle divorced characters in Christian fiction.

    And you're right--we like the familiar romance tropes because they're comfortable. That's why they work with so many readers, too. We just need to work on keeping them from becoming TOO predictable.

  53. Thanks, CARYL! Yes, sometimes we have to dig REALLY deep to keep our writing fresh and interesting! That's why they pay us the big bucks--NOT!!!!!!

  54. Sally I'm laughing at your list. I am going to have to go over my current wip for sure. I think I have all of those. sigh

  55. i guess I read enough books that clichés are not too big a stumble for me. I just skip over them. I do notice them, but it doesn't really bother unless they are used over and over in the same book. And the authors that read your posts NEVER do that, do they?

  56. LOL, MARIANNE, of course not!!!

    But this should be a warning to all of us--if readers are skipping over scenes because they're getting too clichéd, we need to try harder!

  57. Fun post, Myra!

    And I have to totally agree with Cliché #4: "where either the hero or the heroine, for whatever reason, just can’t stand the opposite sex and so have sworn off romance forever. Without believable motivation for such out-and-out hatred, there isn’t much basis for story conflict here. And even if the character does have a good reason, it’s probably because of such an awful experience that the character should be in long-term therapy, not bouncing across the pages of a romance novel while complaining endlessly about the opposite sex."

    One of my biggest pet peeves -- both in books and in Hallmark movies -- is a separation that exists based on a simple misunderstanding or unwillingness to explain in a given situation, resulting in the hero or heroine chucking a relationship without ever talking about it. Simple assumption with no concrete proof or strong indicators gets on my nerves because it's such a weak way to bring conflict. I can't tell you how many times I've screamed at a book or movie something like, "Come on -- one stupid question would clear all this up!!"

    BUT ... I'm afraid I'm on the other side of the page from you on Cliché #5, God-haters. You said: "Then you have the character who has suffered mightily in life and is angry at God. Okay, anyone here never, ever been mad at God about something, however inconsequential? The Psalms are full of laments about pain, suffering, and God’s seeming abandonment. But again, if the situation is that serious, this is a character who needs professional counseling, preferably not from . . ."

    LOL, personally, most of our heroes and heroines need counseling, in my opinion, at least mine do, which is pretty telling, I suppose. :) I agree that characters with a grudge against God are common, but this is Christian fiction -- how else are you going to get a decent story if you can't redeem or convert someone???

    And, WHOA, BABY ... speaking of stepping on toes, mine are aching from Cliché #6,
    The bad pastor! OUCH!! Because that is at the heart and soul of my plot in Isle of Hope.

    You said, "Do we really need contribute to those stereotypes and biased mindsets in our Christian fiction?"

    Uh, yes, when it shows redemption or in my case with IOH, forgiveness to the nth degree! Trust me, I hate seeing pastor bashing or pastor-wimps on TV shows and in books as much as the next Christian, but they're people, too. So if we can reveal that human depth, we often have a very powerful redemption scene on our hands, one that will show the world that yes, as I say in A Passion Denied, "we are nothing more than Christians -- human beings with clay feet and a strong God."


  58. Myra, I am SO with you on Clichés #7 & #8!! For instance, #7, Character achieves riches & fame, then returns to humble roots, I'll bet I've seen on Hallmark at least ten times, if not more. :) And #8? I think this must be a Hallmark staple, because I'm pretty sure it's in 9 out of 10 Hallmark plots. :)

    MYRA SAID: "Okay, I will surely step on a few toes here (cliché alert!), but I’m going out on a limb to reveal one particular romance cliché that just gets my goat. It’s gotten to where every time I read a romance novel, my internal radar is just waiting for the moment the author uses the line, “He deepened the kiss.”

    UH-OH ... this one strikes the match for me, my friend, because yes, it is overused, but I will give a free ebook to anybody who can show me other ways to show a passionate kiss! I use deepen, taste, explore till I'm blue in the face and would KILL for other ways to show accelerated passion without tongue being mentioned. It's just not that easy for us Christian authors, so when that's the case, I go with "deepen," albeit sparingly.

    Agreed on these other romantic descriptions that risk becoming clichéd if we use them too often: "warming her (or his) heart (Cara’s suggestion), running fingers through hair, reaching for her (or his) hand, and a bizarre fascination with accurately describing unique eye color."

    I would also add chocolate eyes to that list, although I will admit that in my current WIP, I have a bunch of nurses describing the player-doctor-hero's eyes as "deadlier than melted chocolate laced with liqueur," so I am guilty as charged. :)

    YOU ASKED: What other romance clichés would you add to the list?

    I can tell you right now that I see some variance of the phrase "his smile didn't quite reach his eyes" in one of every three books I read, including my very first book, A Passion Most Pure, when I actually thought it was an original phrase I'd come up with. Uh, no.

    One other cliche that literally has me shaking my head every time I read it (which is a lot in Christian fiction because let's face it, we have to find attraction where we can in the moral realm, so I totally understand!) is the tingle that goes down the heroine's arm at the accidental or innocent touch of the hero's hand. I usually say, "give me a break" when I see this, but in all fairness, that's not because I think it's so cliche as much as I am an author who likes a LOT more passion/touch than that. So sue me! ;)


  59. JULIE, I'm so with you on many of your points, and I hope EVERYONE understands that my post isn't intended to bash anyone for using any of these devices or descriptions in their stories. I just wanted to shine a light on areas of risk--where it's all too easy to fall into the trap of the familiar or the stereotype.

    Oh my, you are SO RIGHT about how most of our story characters could probably stand some professional counseling. If they weren't troubled or flawed in some way, there'd be no room for growth and therefore no story. This is just as true of clergy as it is of everyone else.

  60. Also wanted to add that your "bad pastor" in Isle of Hope does't fit at all the stereotype I was referring to. Your character just showed his three-dimensional humanity, and we all have weaknesses that risk leading us into sin.

  61. Oh dear! I've used "deepened the kiss" a couple of times at least! It's the less descriptive way of saying he ... deepened the kiss. Ha! But I'll have to make sure not to use it too often. It can be hard to describe a kiss without being too descriptive, and also to make them all unique, so that you're not repeating yourself. I've written about 12 books now.
    I once said "narrowed his/her eyes" several times in one book, I guess to show anger or suspicion. I had to take most of them out during edits.
    I hate it when the hero and heroine are arguing about stupid things. It makes the conflict feel very flimsy and contrived. I'm not a person who argues a lot--almost never--with anyone. So to read about characters who constantly argue just seems weird to me. And I usually end up not liking either one.
    Good list!

  62. I'm also not a fan of books where the hero or heroine comes back to their hometown after being away a long time and picks back up with an old boyfriend or girlfriend. To me, that would be the worst thing that could ever happen, to have to go back to my hometown! Ha! But that's just me. :-)

  63. Haha! Julie said almost the same I did about "deepening the kiss." Ha!

  64. Hi, MELANIE! Okay, I get that there are only so many ways to show . . . deepening the kiss! I have no idea why that phrase gets to me like it does. And no offense to any writer who uses the phrase, but it's simply one of those lines that's become like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. SORRY!!!!!

    I am also extremely guilty of narrowed eyes, arched brows, and hiked chins. I try--oh, how I try! But I'll be the first to admit how hard it is to come up with something original that doesn't sound ridiculous.

    And I won't be the one returning to my hometown, either--LOL!

  65. Good morning, Myra. Thanks for this great post. Almost finished with my WIP. I'll have to go back and check for all the cliches I'm sure I used! It is difficult to find new ways to express certain emotions. With some of those phrases, I think we all would admit, like Barbara Scott said, "it's code." We all KNOW what it means, we just need to find new ways of saying it.

    Would love to be entered in the drawing for The Sweetest Rain!

    Thanks so much...going now for my second cup of tea and back to writing!

  66. Hi Myra:

    Stereotype, threadbare, shopworn, hackneyed...these are some of the terms I'd apply to stock characters.

    What does the Grammar Queen say about applying the term 'cliché' to non-expressions? It does not 'feel' right to me but then I'd like an expert's opinion. I'm only going by 'ear'.

    I'll say one thing: many of the 'clichés' you mentioned are non-existent or very rare with Seeker authors as well as LI authors. I can't say I've ever read a bad minister story or bad non-Christian boy hero. Would LI even allow it?

    As far as TSTL...too sweet to live...I can't point to one such heroine in the last ten years. So much emphasis is put on giving major characters a flaw I think this is unlikely to happen. I think the hero in "The Price of Victory" was near perfect but then he is my favorite romance hero. I probably could not see his flaw as I liked him so much. Maybe Sandra will have a different opinion of him.

    True, a big objection is the plot contrivance. I think TV shows are much worse at this because they have so little time. I'll see a contrived scene on TV and tell my wife what is going to happen next. She'll say, "How could you possibly know that?" And I'll say, "Because that last scene makes no sense expect to act as a foundation for the next advance in the story."
    I think obvious plot contrivances insult the reader and give away what's coming up next.

    My pet peeve, however, even bigger than the hero moving her hair back over the heroine's ear, is the heroine who falls or stumbles so that the hero can grab hold of her.

    As far as I can tell, all the romances I've read this year have had this scene! All of them. It's not a cliché! It's mandatory! (If you do have to do this, do it with flair! Mary has the heroine falling off a roof with the hero holding on to save her life. Pretty spectacular. : ) )

    Also in the mandatory category is the situtation where the hero and heroine embrace -- for the first time -- in which case they always feel like they make 'a perfect fit'! Even if she is 5 foot tall and he is 6'6" -- it is always a perfect fit. Wow!

    As for cliché expressions per se: it is one thing if the character is saying them. That can be fine. It is quite another thing if it is the author's voice. An author's whose writing sparkles with originality is a great reading pleasure. Finding author voice clichés provides the writer with an opportunity to invent a creative new way to express the same idea but with words that delight the reader.


    Find ten new ways the hero can hold the heroine without there being falling or stumbling.

    Find ten new ways that are physical proxies for the hero and heroine being a perfect physical fit for each other. Emotional fit maybe? A feeling of wholeness? A feeling of finding your soulmate?

    I hope Tina is okay with this. : )

    Please enter me into the book drawing.


  67. Okay, I totally should be writing, but I was curious and went and did a search. It looks like out of my 12 or so books, 5 of them contained "He deepened the kiss."

  68. Maybe next time I'll have the heroine deepen the kiss! Ha!

  69. Hi, KATHRYN! Yes, it's all a matter of thinking a teensy bit more creatively (not TOO creatively, though, or we verge into the area of purple prose).

  70. For a writer, I don't read a lot of books.

    That being said, except for a couple, these clichés don't bother me because many of these actions is exactly what we do in real life.
    We sigh. A lot. And even occasionally growl, although I don't use that much in my stories.

    When I look at my husband for his reaction, I'd say over 80% is what his face is telling me, mainly his eyes. And there's only so many ways to say it.
    Deepen the kiss? That's a better description than the alternatives ways that come to my mind. What a nice way to say a good kiss while still keeping within the Christian guidelines.
    I noticed guys do run their fingers through their hair when frustrated. (If they have hair. :))
    I think I use clenching of fist because my husband does that when he gets mad. He may keep his voice low and calm, but he makes a fist at his side. (Not at me...)

    I remember noticing Louis L'mour always used "wicked" when describing a punch in every book. Once I noticed it, it really bugged me.

    Annoying clichés to me are the stupid fights between h/h.
    I don't like hateful heroines just to prove she's stubborn or independent. That one really gets old...

    I don't know if this is cliché or not, but I hate it when an author lines up every problem after one another for the h/h. A tornado followed by a car wreck. Avalanche. Being shot out by a bad guy. Hurricane. Ok, I've never read that sequence exactly, but you understand. Explore the first 2-3 problems a little deeper and don't see if you can come up w/a list of ten unless you can really make it believable.

    The Emotional Thesaurus is a great tool for different descriptions.
    Love your list Myra.

  71. I really REALLY love when he squares his shoulders and she lifts her chin.

    I don't think I can give that up.

    But so much sighing. I need a thesaurus, clearly!

  72. C'mon Connie. All our heroes HAVE to have hair!!!!!!!!

  73. Yes, these cliches are totally Hallmark Movie worthy! But that is why we watch them. They are cheesy but we can count on them all being the same:
    -Guy & girl meet.
    -They hate each other.
    -They fall in love.
    -Something horrible breaks them up.
    -5 mins left in the movie, problem solved, they kiss or get married.
    -And the credits roll! :) :) :)

    *And KUDOS to PROJECT GUY for watching them with you!!!
    *And THANKS for the heads up! Please put me in the drawing!
    *And you are so SWEET & HAPPY when you aren't the Grammar Queen! I'm kind of scared of her. :)

  74. wow. this is a good food for thought post. I know I've been guilty of a few of the clichés when working on my short stories. I'm with some of the others on how to more creatively say "deepening the kiss" without going over the line of propriety. Brain lock.

    As for making older heroes/heroines not widows/widowers... I guess them being divorced is out of the question for the Christian market even though it's lots more common (unfortunately). Of course, there's the never been married. I was a late in life bride (at 40). There's a lot more of us than people may think.

    Come to think of it, that'd be nice to read sometimes. Sort of to give us late bloomers some hope. I seriously thought I was gonna always be the world's best Spinster Aunt forever. Now, I'm a "mature" mommy, who's still feeling clueless on how younger women with multiple children can actually get ANYTHING done. I can barely figure out my one and only.

    Cool post Myra. Name in draw please.

    Thinking over your Assignment, Vince. Of course, this may mean my brain will start hurting... *heh*

  75. Oh, VINCE! Guilty, guilty guilty as charged on stumbling heroines and couples fitting "perfectly" in each other's arms!

    I agree that in a character's voice, sometimes using clichés can be fun. It becomes a quirk of that particular character. I also like to put a different twist on familiar clichés. One I tweaked in a recent ms. involved something occurring "at the drop of a dusty Stetson" instead of the familiar "at the drop of a hat."(Yes, the story involves a handsome cowboy.)

    I had GQ look up the dictionary definition of "cliché" and here's what the computer told her:

    cliché |klēˈSHā kli-, kli-, ˈklēˌSHā| (also cliche)
    1 a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought: the old cliché “one man's meat is another man's poison.”
    • a very predictable or unoriginal thing or person: each building is a mishmash of tired clichés.
    2 Printing chiefly Brit. a stereotype or electrotype.

  76. You are too cute, MELANIE!!! ;-D

  77. Good points, CONNIE! There just aren't a lot of ways to show certain emotions. The Emotion Thesaurus has helped me a lot (when I remember to look something up, anyway)! A lot of the problem comes down to frequency of certain descriptions. So making sure we have some variety is key.

  78. p.s.
    Heroes don't have to have hair. Hubby dearest is buzz cut fuzz, which I find a bit adorable. So when he's frustrated, he can't pull out hair so it's usually a hand clutch to the head or looking heavenward and asking "BOSUN, why me?"(He was a Boatswain's Mate in the NAVY, so the highest ranking Boatswain's nickname was Bosun.)

  79. Hi, JANA! GQ apologizes for being scary. She just can't help herself sometimes. ;-D

    I agree--the predictability of those Hallmark movie plots is one of the things that makes them so endearing. Like "mind candy." It's entertaining just to see how the scriptwriters get these characters from Point A to Point B to wedding vows.

    Except . . . sometimes it's utterly unbelievable that this couple who just met two weeks ago is already at the altar by the end of the movie!

  80. Did Myra just say it's utterly unbelievable that people get married in TWO WEEKS????

    Dagnabbit, there go half my Love Inspireds, LOL!!!!!!

  81. Oh, DEB H, we can always count on VINCE to make our heads hurt with thinking too hard!

    You know, I like your idea of later-in-life romance where it's one or the other's first time. One of my brothers didn't find true love until in his 40s. He'd always been a very quiet type, but when he met the right woman, it was so sweet. Sadly, his wife passed away several years later. They're both in heaven now.

  82. I never, ever, ever worry about whether or not my idea is cliche. It has never even crossed my mind, because I know that every author is going to put his or her own spin on it and folks will either love it... or not love it!

    And I like exploring various kinds of story lines, and I'm probably more cliche than most because I love the story tropes!

    But I can see the inevitable trap, too, so Myra this information is like GOLD.

    I'm not paying you for the gold, but I want you to know I appreciate it like GOLD.

    That's almost as good, right? :)

  83. DEB H, that's so cute about your husband and "BOSUN." Watch out, because somebody's surely going to steal this adorable description for a book one of these days!

  84. I know, RUTHY!!! But it's fiction, right? We suspend our disbelief for the sake of the story.

  85. Exactly, RUTHY, it's the spin we put on those tropes that makes them work! And you do it so well!

  86. It's lunchtime at my house, and I hear Project Guy starting up our berry/mango smoothies--perfect for a summertime lunch on the screen porch! I'll have him make extra if anyone wants to join us!

    Oh, and we always have a square of yummy dark chocolate for dessert! All the important food groups, right?

    Back shortly!

  87. Thank you, MYRA, for such an interesting post. As a reader (and I read a lot), there are many clichés that don't bother me at all - the brushing the hair back from her face (sweet), the ragged breathing after a kiss (mentioned in many books, including my WIP), deepening kisses, etc. are fine by me. The setting, author voice, and subsequent character conversation is usually different enough that it feels new.

    What does make me want to put a book down and never pick it up again is ANYTHING repeated over and over again. I recently read a Christian romance where the heroine said the phrase "in my eight and twenty years" in nearly every chapter. It drove me nuts, and kept me from enjoying the book as I might otherwise have.

    I know I've used some of the things you mentioned in #10, and will look at my WIP to see if I can make some improvements. I recently went through and looked for all the "filter" words in my manuscript: just, think, that, heard, seem, saw, and so on, and deleted/changed many of those (I have been paying attention to the lessons here, thank you ladies :-) I was shocked by how many times I used those words, and I realized how easy it is to get caught in the "lazy writing" trap. Thanks again for today's lesson!

  88. You're welcome, LAURA! Loved what you said--"The setting, author voice, and subsequent character conversation is usually different enough that it feels new." That's the whole idea, addressing the familiar in such a way that it doesn't feel stale. Just being aware of the cliché traps will help us avoid them and become better writers.

  89. I love how Jen is thinking... there are certain admirable constraints when writing sweet romance, and things like brushing back hair... Cupping her chin.... Tracing a chin with a single thumb....

    Those things scream romance are readily used and that's because the scope of choices is narrowed and yet you want the romantic feelings of love between a totally smokin' hot hero (even if he's 35 and bald and works at a bagel shop) and the schoolmarm up the road.


    Jen, I agree, I think those are more a mode or a convention (which means I'm giving myself permission to use as desired!!!

  90. Jasmine.

    No more quirks?????

    (The guilty lays her head down and weeps.....)

  91. What a great post, Myra. It is really more of a workshop. I have spent over an hour reading, looking at the comments, and at your links. I am saving your list of clichés and will look through my manuscript for those. I have also purchased the Emotions Thesaurus for my kindle. I think that will be a great help.

    I agree with you on a lot of your dislikes. I have also noticed "deepened the kiss." frequently. But like many of the others, I don't know how else to say it. Many of the actions, like pushing back a piece of hair or other such actions show a tenderness that I think would be a common action. But some of these do get used a lot. I am also with you on unique eye color. Why do lavender eyes for a woman or some unusual form of gray or green in a guy make them extra attractive. Most people don't have such unusual eye colors. (Maybe I do, though. My eyes are brown, but from the time my son could talk, he said I have green eyes. He is 21 today and still claims my eyes are green!)

    Please enter me for The Sweetest Rain as I have not read it yet.

  92. Hi, SANDY! You know, in place of "deepened the kiss," I like to see the description expanded with a little more action. Now, don't get me wrong! I'm talking about things like drawing her closer, cradling her head in his palm, just an extended scene with a little more emotion. Not so much what they're doing with their mouths but other (above the waist) feelings and body language.

    And I kind of steer away from too much eye color references because, sure enough, my heroine will start out with blue eyes and end up with brown or green somewhere along the way!

  93. I refuse to do the unusual eye color thing, because it comes across as far-fetched and doesn't feel realistic. And to use some word like cerulean that I don't actually know the meaning of is also annoying. LOL! I've done brown eyes and dark blue eyes and light blue eyes and green eyes. That's it. But that's just me. I'm practical that way.

  94. Makes sense to me, MELANIE. About the most descriptive I've gotten was "pine-green" eyes. And I confess I just wrote about a little girl with eyes the same color as a chocolate-chip smear on the end of her nose. Oh, and I'm guilty of "coffee-colored" eyes, too.

    Ah, me . . .

  95. I've never deepened a kiss, but I like the idea. :)

    Might use it in my next book! LOL!

    Here's the thing, we've all read so many romances that often we see similar lines repeated. But then we keep reading, don't we!

    I like the hero to tuck the heroine's hair behind her ear. It's a close moment without being too much for an inspirational story. :)

    Just my two cents!

  96. I'm with Ruthy. Almost all my couples get married, or decide to get married, after only two weeks!!! But a LOT happens in those two weeks! Besides, it's a Medieval fairy tale so it makes sense, right?

  97. I like the hair-tucking, too, DEBBY! It's a sweet moment!

  98. Orbs. How about Orbs. Her eyes were green orbs.

  99. MELANIE, they probably had MUCH shorter courtships in medieval times, right? ;-D

  100. Okay, TINA, we can do emerald-green orbs. With gold flecks. That shimmer in the moonlight.

  101. "I'll say one thing: many of the 'clichés' you mentioned are non-existent or very rare with Seeker authors as well as LI authors. I can't say I've ever read a bad minister story or bad non-Christian boy hero. Would LI even allow it?"

    Ah, you are right Vince, but we see it in contests we judge...CONSTANTLY.

  102. I battle "sighs" and "eyes" cliches all the time and often, they win! I don't think it's possible to get rid of all our cliches--well, maybe it is and I'm too lazy, but it's really fun when I can come up with a unique way to say something.

    Such good reminders here. Thanks, Myra.

  103. Hi Julie:

    I didn't even think of the bad minister in "Isle of Hope" but then wasn't that off-stage evil? I think that is 100% different than having the bad minister doing his bad stuff throughout the progress of the novel. (It's kind of like a 'cozy bad minister' in which the murder happens off-stage before the story opens.)

    I agree with you that an 'angry at God' character is an essential Christian element and not a cliché.

    In fact I think we need a discussion of the very important difference between a cliché/stereotype and a staple.

    For example: a handsome cowboy is a staple and not a cliché.


  104. Hi, LINDA! Thanks for stopping in! Yes, it's impossible to completely avoid certain kinds of descriptions. Oh my goodness, my characters are just awful sighers!

    But you're right--when we do find fresh and interesting ways to vary our descriptions, it's so much fun and really adds a sparkle to the scene!

  105. Yes, VINCE, but in the wrong hands, that handsome cowboy can easily turn into a clichéd character.

    That's what I'm getting at here. If we don't make the effort to give each character, plot development, and/or description a fresh slant, ANYTHING can start sounding like a cliché or stereotype.

  106. I have not read your book, Myra, but would love to! Thanks for the giveaway!

  107. Exactly, Myra.

    A fresh spin on an old cliche. A new slipcover on the old couch. Don't toss that old couch, simply give it a new look.

  108. Motive! Yes. Season 3 is in progress.

    They are ending the show after Season 4 which is already playing in Canada.

    You can catch up on the USA Network website. Or on Amazon.

    Season 3 is sooooooooooooooooo good. It starts six months after Detective Angie Flynn leaves the unit.

    I love the blue/green noir tones they use to film the show.

  109. Oh YAY--thanks, TINA! Must look for Motive. Now that you reminded me, in the last episode of the previous season, Angie had decided to leave. I wondered if they were going to leave it up in the air like that.

    This summer Project Guy and I have been binge-watching Extant. Very, very weird.

  110. BTW, love the slipcover analogy, TINA! ;)

  111. Hi Melanie:

    What a coincidence!

    Just seconds before I read your post in which you wrote:

    "It can be hard to describe a kiss without being too descriptive, and also to make them all unique, so that you're not repeating yourself."

    I was listening to the Audible book, "Tangled Lies" which dealt with exactly what you were talking about:

    He laughed at her. “Who said anything about long term? It’s a kiss, not a lifetime commitment.”

    “You’re an idiot, Money-boy.” She turned and was halfway up the dock when he took her arm and spun her right back into his arms. This kiss wasn’t tentative or questioning. This was a full-on assault on her senses. He gripped the back of her neck to hold her steady and kissed her like he would never get enough.

    Sasha put her hands on his shoulders, thinking she’d push him away, but then she stopped fighting and gave as good as she got. Oh, the man could kiss. But it wasn’t just technique; it was Jesse. He poured his whole heart into what his mouth was doing. Every nerve ending in her body came to life and begged for more. She growled low in her throat and he pulled her closer, his hands roaming over her back and down over her hips. He trailed kisses along her throat, kissed her mariner’s cross. His callused fingers skimmed the straps of her sundress, and he planted featherlight kisses as he went.

    Mann*, Connie. Tangled Lies (pp. 113-114). . Kindle Edition.

    I think that's a great example of not using the word 'deepening'. : )


    *Connie Mann was just a guest here on Seekerville, BTW.

  112. Thank you, Myra, for this excellent post! I'm saving it to Evernote so I can refer to it as I plot next or whenever something seems off in my story. Yes, Evernote. Paperless, people! :-)

    Debby is spot on. I've heard it's a cliche, but I love the tucking of the hair behind the ear. Such a tender gesture of care and affection.

  113. Cliché/Stereotype Scene

    Whenever a heroine goes into a restaurant with the hero, the waitress flirts with him, even older waitresses, and the other women in the place give him an approving look.

    However, since the hero is supposed to be a 'catch', this scene may be more of a staple than a cliché.

    However, I would like to see somewhat the opposite. As when a plain Jane gets a make-over at the beauty shop and the hero is described as being so proud to have her as his date to the ball that he feels like he is walking on air.

    This, 'the hero is so proud to be with the heroine,' is a feeling that is rare in romances. I think romance readers would enjoy feeling this vicarious emotion.


  114. Oh, yes. That is a sigh-worthy one, by Connie Mann! Well done, Connie.

  115. Myra, this is a fantastic post! I don't write strictly romance, so it's nice to have these in mind when I'm inserting the hint of romance into my story. Some can be well-done, and I'll admit, some cliches can be used creatively and with a unique twist. But that's the key to good writing anyway.

    One that I hate, and this gets used a LOT, is when the female is being pursued by two suitors, and she can't decide between the two of them. Sometimes each guy is equally great (not often), but mostly, it's clear from the start which man the heroine will end up with. I find this annoying because how many women in real life have had to actually choose between two guys fighting over her? Most ladies are hoping for just one good man, and the fact that there are two just seems like something out of fiction (well, it is!). One contemporary book I read had the heroine actually dating BOTH guys, and receiving proposals from BOTH men. Each guy was fully aware of the other in the heroine's life, and didn't have a problem with it. Huh? Any guy I know would not be OK with their significant other dating another party while still dating them. A relationship cannot progress as far as a marriage proposal if there are three people involved in it!

    A writing phrases that I think get overused are "he ground his jaw," either to convey a character's frustration or stubbornness. I read this recently so many times in a book that I kept thinking "man, his dentist is really going to have to do some reconstructive work on his back molars from grinding them down!"

    BTW, your new books sound lovely! Have a great day!

  116. That's what I'm talking about, VINCE!!! Show me the kiss, don't just say he "deepened" it!!!


  117. Hi, MEGHAN! I use Evernote, too. Not as often or as well as I could, but I've saved a lot of keeper stuff there in various files so (hopefully) I can find it again.

  118. Oops, VINCE. I have a flirting waitress (well, actually, a donut shop owner) in a recent wip. But she's also a good friend of the hero and a generally nice person, so not a stereotype, maybe?

    I like the idea of the hero being proud to be with the heroine. That's very romantic!

  119. STEPHANIE, what you described is EXACTLY why you will NEVER find me watching The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Really??? That is just fake romance. And who would even want that person after he/she has been flirting (and doing who knows what else) with so many others???

  120. LOLOLOLOL. You guys have given me so much to think about today.

    But you are right, Stephanie! In reality it should be two girls fighting over one guy. LOLOLOL.

    And yes, grinding teeth means the heroine should back away as this guy is going to cost a fortune in dental work. Ugh and sleep with a mouth guard too. Maybe even head gear. LOLOLOL.

  121. Dainty feet! Pearly teeth. Shell-like ears.


    Cher :-)

  122. Tina, I also feel like the grinding teeth/jaw could mean he has an explosive temper that he's barely keeping in check. Not something readers want to see in their hero: a potential abuser!

    LOL on the headgear and mouthguard. Ah, the things romance writers gloss over! If the characters wake up next to each other (whether they are married, sleeping close for warmth, etc.), they never have nasty morning breath. Or have to use the bathroom first thing in the morning.

    Oooh, another cliche: the characters almost ALWAYS have perfect eyesight! This doesn't bother me as much in contemporaries, because characters often wear contacts, but in historicals, it's only old people or the ugly ducklings/nerds that wear glasses.

  123. I think the problem is only when it's extremely overused within a book or if it's a very specific phrase used in every book.

    Because take Mary's squared shoulder and lifted chin. Really, if you try to change that EVERY time you want to show Deep POV in a book, it's going to start sounding ridiculous. Because you'll end up with a whole bunch of 15 word phrases/purple prose phrases for the quick 3 word phrase you need (esp. considering pacing).

    Back before deep pov, you could go even faster. "She said with determination" but now that's the antiquated approach. Sometimes deep pov, though I agree it's better, brings its own challenges--Of not being ridiculous to avoid the normal.

    Though I have to agree about deepening the kiss, not necessarily because it's cliche, but because I'm tired of Christian fiction glossed over kisses. I'd just plain rather not have a kiss if the entire kiss is "and they kissed." "And they deepened the kiss" is not better in my opinion, because as a reader I'm sad that's all I get. Kisses are where you need creativity and specific to character action. Especially since you're going to only get a handful.

    When Barbara said Gilead says no mouth kisses before marriage....man, I'm not sure I want to read Gilead novels now. How unrealistic and unnecessarily restrictive. I'm sure it can be done and can be natural to some stories, but to force that on all characters?

  124. Good ones, CHERYL! Thanks for chiming in!

  125. Oh, STEPHANIE, I hope you'll read my Castles in the Clouds. The hero has severe eye problems and terrible vision. And I just love him!

  126. Hi, MELISSA! I completely agree on not going to extremes of description that start sounding ridiculous. In most cases, simple is usually the best option. We just need to be careful not to get repetitious. Vary description so it's not only about facial expressions or body language or changes in breathing.

    I guess with Gilead we'll just have to wait and see how those restrictions work for them.

  127. Oh, I am taking notes here. Sometimes I think that the simplest actions work the best, even if they are cliche. I love it when the hero traces the heroines cheek or cups it.

  128. Hi, LORAINE! Great to "see" you again! What a great time we had last night at the CFRR Facebook party!

    Yes, as MELISSA was saying, simple is often the best choice. The bottom line is always what works best in THIS scene, in THIS moment. Does the pacing call for "short and sweet," or is there room to stretch things out with a fuller description?

    I'm working on a big romantic scene right now and trying very hard to keep it fresh and relevant to these characters.

  129. If we writers get too focused on getting rid of cliches, we may hesitate to write a word. Myra's post is a great reminder to avoid them when we can. And especially to not repeat pet cliches all through the story. One crooked grin may not stop a reader, but five in the same novel will have her cringing.


  130. Melissa, sometimes the build-up to a kiss is what makes it so great. I always used to love Ruth Axtell Morren's kisses, partly because of the build-up and partly because she did describe them a wee bit. :-) I try to describe mine a wee bit too. Not too much, but not too little either. But I think we all know what the "deepened the kiss" is really referring to, and if not, Julie spelled it out in an earlier comment. :-)

    I know I should be writing, but this is a fun conversation. LOL!

  131. Right, JANET. We need to mix it up. But get that first draft written and worry about knocking out those repetitions and clichés in revisions!

  132. Vince, I like your example, but I can't let my hero's hands roam over anything below the waist! Ha! That's a no-no. :-) But it's a nice example.
    Here's one from The Beautiful Pretender, my new book:
    Her eyelids drooped low. He could resist no longer. He bent and pressed his mouth to hers. He kissed her softly at first, making sure she did not want to pull away.
    Her hands clung to his shoulders, then entwined around his neck. He kissed her more urgently then, kissed her as if he could erase every cruel memory of life as a maidservant, kissed her as if he was a knight going off to battle.

    It's not particularly unique, maybe, but it reflects the characters and the events of the story. There's more kissing, but this is the all-important first kiss. :-)

  133. That's lovely, MELANIE! A wonderful first kiss, and so beautifully described!

  134. And since we're sharing kisses, here's the first kiss from The Sweetest Rain.

    An ache formed at the base of Michael’s throat. He stepped nearer.

    She didn’t move. Her lips parted. Could she read his tumultuous thoughts?

    “Bryony.” He barely recognized the sound of his own voice. His tongue felt thick, his mouth as dry as the dusty road beneath their feet. “I have no right, none at all, but I want so much to...”

    Her gaze slid sideways. “Please, Michael. Don’t.”

    But he had to, or he would explode into a thousand yearning fragments. Inching closer, he cupped her cheek and tenderly lowered his mouth upon hers. He didn’t demand, didn’t probe, only tasted. The kiss lasted less than a moment, but it was the most precious moment in all eternity, a memory to be savored, cherished, protected.

  135. Great kiss Melanie! And I am So for building up to kisses, if someone does that well, I will stop before I read the kiss and go back and reread the build up before hand to keep it from going by too quickly. :)
    I sometimes write 3 page long "kisses" if you count the build up and the aftermath. :)

  136. Hi All--chiming in late after meeting some lovely folks at my local library where we talked books!

    MYRA, what a great post!Thank you. So much to think about. But knowing me, I'll have to think about it during edits or I'll get paralyzed while writing! :)

    VINCE - thanks so much for sharing that example from Tangled Lies--and not as a 'dont' example, either. :)

    TINA - so appreciate the swoon-worthy mention.

  137. Hi, CONNIE! Oh yes, better to write first and edit later! I paralyze myself often enough overthinking my first draft.

    And I agree--your kissing scene was definitely swoon-worthy! WOW!!!

  138. Hi Myra! My characters get a lot of exercise -- shrugging their shoulders, raising their chin, raising their arms, frowning, leaning toward another character, or stepping back.

    One book I read was filled with flinty stares, steely frowns, and copper highlighted hair. A cliche that used to be everywhere and doesn't seem as prevalent now is the heroine biting her bottom lip. She did that when she wasn't sighing ;-)

    Fun post! Thanks for the reminder to avoid cliches as much as possible.

    Nancy C

  139. Thanks so much, Myra! It was a fun one to write. :)

    Love yours and Melanie's too! Swoon!

  140. NANCY, if only all that "exercise" burned off some author calories!

    And that example you gave--wondering if the writer had a stake in some mining operations--LOL!

    Yes, I've seen the biting/nibbling/chewing the bottom lip in a number of novels. I've thought about using it at times, but when I "practice" the move to see how it fits my character, it usually doesn't.

  141. Hi Melanie:

    I just read the blurb for "The Beautiful Pretended" and it sounds like a medieval version of the 'Bachelor' tv show! Did you have that in mind? You sure have a lot of 5 star reviews. I've got to read it. I bet it was fun to write.

    I agree with you 100% when you wrote:

    "Melissa, sometimes the build-up to a kiss is what makes it so great."

    I mentioned the other day that what can make a kiss so passionate is the context and not just how long the passage is. Ruth has a really passionate, context based, kiss that does not take many words to send the passion to the edge!

    He hugged her close, the feel of her knit hat and soft hair pressed against his neck. And then he had no choice, none whatsoever. He shifted back slightly. Her eyes met his, and he didn’t hesitate or wonder if he should ask permission. He dipped his head and caught her mouth in a sweet, slow kiss, a kiss he’d been waiting for all his life.

    Time stopped.

    It couldn’t stop, not really, because they were needed back at the fires, but it seemed to stop, as if to block out all the old and ugly as long as he was kissing Angelina. When he finally broke the kiss, he kept her close, wanting to protect her and keep her safe from harm.

    (Herne, Ruth Logan. Back in the Saddle: A Novel (Double S Ranch) (Kindle Locations 2741-2746). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

    A great kiss must mean something beyond itself. That's context.


  142. Hi Connie:

    Yes, that kiss passage was a great example, but do you know what? I both read it and listened to it and I think hearing the passage, with the narrator providing the emotion to the words, is even more powerful and emotionally moving.

    Somehow I find that the passion in the kiss is much more impactful when that passion is enhanced by an emotional performance by a skilled narrator. It's like the difference between reading a passionate love letter and actually hearing the lovers in the next room saying the words of the love letter.

    I wish everyone could both read and hear that passage and learn for themselves how much different and enjoyable a well performed Audible book can be.


  143. Myra, what a lovely kiss! I'm still sighing. Thanks for sharing. And for writing it! :)

  144. Wow!! Excellent post, Myra (giggled at some of your comments---I love your sense of humor) and I also enjoyed reading some of the comments that described kissing scenes (think I need a glass of my peach tea to cool off, LOL). ;)

    A while back one of my favorite authors commented that she was weary of seeing the phrase, "His smile didn't quite reach his eyes" - - and since I read that, every time I see that phrase in a book now I think of her! (Not to offend anyone who uses that phrase---I'm just sharing something that another writer shared, LOL).

    This post is going to the front of my Keeper File!! :) Thank you!!
    Please enter me in the drawing!
    Hugs, Patti Jo

  145. Hi, PATTI JO! Yes, JULIE mentioned that same phrase in an earlier comment. It certainly works in the right context. But like any of these possible cliches, we just have to use them in moderation or try to come up with a slightly different slant.

    A glass of your yummy peach tea sure would have been nice this afternoon when it got so hot and humid!

  146. VINCE - Thanks for sharing that insightful take on written vs audio. I've never really thought about the differences, but I will now. Two very different ways of 'living' a story.

  147. LOL, MYRA, I agree with Tina that this was a STELLAR post because it provoked so much feeling on both sides, so no hard feelings here, my friend!

    MELANIE SAID: "Haha! Julie said almost the same I did about "deepening the kiss."

    Of course I did because we're emotional twins, remember??? You poor thing!! ;)

    VINCE SAID: I didn't even think of the bad minister in "Isle of Hope" but then wasn't that off-stage evil? I think that is 100% different than having the bad minister doing his bad stuff throughout the progress of the novel. (It's kind of like a 'cozy bad minister' in which the murder happens off-stage before the story opens.)

    Good point, Vince, about the "off-stage evil" -- very true!!

    LINDA GOODNIGHT SAID: I battle "sighs" and "eyes" cliches all the time and often, they win! I don't think it's possible to get rid of all our cliches--well, maybe it is and I'm too lazy, but it's really fun when I can come up with a unique way to say something."

    LINDA!!! You have no idea how great it is to hear that from a huge author like you (not dress size, mind you, fan size!!). Thank you for saying that because that's how I feel too. I don't worry too much about sighs and eyes because frankly, that's a critical part of "movie mind" to me, a term I coined in my blog entitled, KEEPING IT "REEL" ... OR A "NOVEL" APPROACH TO PUTTING A MOVIE IN YOUR READER'S MIND. I am more concerned about planting the scene in the reader's mind than how commonplace the words might be. That's what editing is for, right? :)

    SUPER POST today, Myra -- gold stars for you!!


  148. Great post, Myra - thank you!!

    Although I come across clichés frequently in my reading, no specific ones stand out at the moment. They become an issue for me if they are overused within the same book to the extent they break my concentration. That being said, I've read books containing clichés which have broken my concentration, yet I felt were some of the best books I've ever read - guess it all depends on how engrossing or relatable the storyline is for me.

    Please enter my name in the drawing for a copy of 'The Sweetest Rain' - thank you!!

  149. I'll take a chance on putting my foot in my mouth again. How is that for a cliche? LOL... One gripe that I have as a reader, having been a Christian since childhood, is the whole hurried conversion in the last few pages just so the hero and heroine can get together and not feel guilty. I'm totally OK with if it is gradually worked out and the non-Christian finds faith naturally on their own. But I really don't like it when it is so obviously a last minute fix to tie it up in a neat Christian package. I read a number of books in a row, I think last year, where this happened in all of them. Which brings me to a gripe/question and that is the whole Christian falling in love with a non-Christian even though they know it's a bad idea. Does this happen as much as Christian romance books would indicate? Now, I'll admit I am 28 and single, never married, but personally I will not allow myself to become emotionally attached to a guy who doesn't share at least my most basic beliefs in matters of faith, and even the simplest and innocent physical displays are totally out.

  150. Myra, I'm late to the party, but this is a goldmine. Can't wait to read all the comments. Love the discussion on this post! :)

  151. As a reader I have to admit I very often just read past the cliche's, especially if I enjoy the story otherwise and have read the author's books before.

    Count me in for the giveaway, thanks.

  152. Thanks, JULIE! As I've said again and again, of course it's not possible to completely avoid the simple or familiar turns of phrases, and in many cases (probably most, in fact) those are the best choice.

    I just hope my post brought some awareness about how easy it is to settle for what's easiest instead of using our creative brains to make our prose truly shine.

  153. BONTON, you are so right about how the repeated use of a phrase or description can break the reader's concentration. That's exactly what we writers want to avoid.

    BTW, thanks again for all you're doing to make the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat happen! So excited to be a part of it!

  154. JASMINE, you make a good point. It can be very off-putting when a novel ties things up too neatly and quickly at the end, whether it's the conversion of a nonChristian or any other plot elements. I know that for some, the conversion experience is like a sudden revelation. But for so many others, reaching true and lasting faith takes time, and change and acceptance come slowly.

  155. MICHELE, thanks for dropping by! You're right--if the rest of the story is strong enough, readers aren't going to dwell too long on the clichés. Hopefully, though, there aren't too many! ;-D

  156. Vince, it's supposed to be a Princess and the Pea plus Beauty and the Beast mash-up, but a LOT of people said it reminded them of The Bachelor! It never occurred to me, honestly. Maybe because I've never watched that show. :-)
    This was fun! Enjoyed this post and the comments!

  157. This was a wonderful list Myra - and for writing emotions I highly recommend Margie Lawson's Writers Academy course called "Writing Body Language and Dialogue Cues Like A Psychologist" which she teaches online every March, or you can buy the complete Lecture Packets as a download 24/7/ Margie is a psychologist who's become a writing teacher and uses her background in psychology in many ways that benefit all writers. Cliches I particularly hate are the "tense jaw", "clenched fists", and one I've read twice recently "her womb clenched with joy"...that's certainly never happened to me! :) Anything stomach related as a response to emotion or sexual feelings is a big turn off to me but I think maybe these two authors were trying not to be cliched and it just didn't come off right. Another thing I hate in Christian or secular fiction is any weird eye colour - the percentage of people who truly have GREEN eyes is minimal - eyes are hazel and might lean towards green more than brown, but I've never seen anyone with truly green eyes. And when an author uses "violet" or "purple" eyes I feel like pitching the book. It takes you right out of the story.
    I was glad someone else mentioned widows and widowers as the main role for older characters. I realize the CBA doesn't want to dwell on divorce or divorced characters but I'm in my "near late" 50's and I've personally only known two people who were truly widowed at a younger age and they remarried in our church. Both their spouses had died in tragic accidents. It's not a realistic portrayal of life to have widowed characters, to my mind, but maybe I'm wrong. It never feels realistic to me when I encounter them, even in Amish fiction unless the wife died in childbirth which was more common. I married at age 30 and was a "career" woman so I'd like to see more stories about older people who don't meet "the one" in their twenties whether it's from building a career, being a missionary/church worker overseas, etc. To me that's much better than a new Christian starting to read our fiction and thinking half of us die young!
    I'm not sure I agree about the God-hater cliche. Myra, you're right, such a person should be getting counselling and maybe that should be part of the story. But we're human and broken and it's not our human "go-to" reaction to know that God rains down hardship on his and it's okay. I've met plenty of Christians, who've railed at God over their cancer, the death of a grandchild, or an adulterous spouse. I think a "God-hater" character has to be handled carefully by the author but again, these are much more realistic reactions to tragedy and the journey through grief with any of them can point the character and the readers towards God. just my .02 cents. :)
    And yes, please enter me in the draw!

    have a blessed day,

  158. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, LAURIE! I've taken two or three of Margie's online classes and learned so much from her! I have whole binders full of my notes from those classes.

    Your comments about young widows and widowers reminded me that a dear young woman in our church died a couple of years ago from ovarian cancer, leaving two precious little girls motherless. Her husband has since remarried, and it was sweet to see him find love again. There definitely seems to be a draw in Christian romance fiction for single moms or dads (for whatever reason) finding true love. So I guess we just have to remember that it's fiction, and we do whatever it takes to tell a good story and make readers care about our characters.

  159. You're right, Myra, people unconsciously tap in to reality eg the many reasons people might find themselves to be single parents (being new Christians is one angle) in fiction. Properly handled I think stories like these minister to a lot of women!

  160. I agree with the statement against the "deepening the kiss" cliche & would include "he lowered his lips to hers" as equally cringe-inducing. Maybe it wouldn't bother me if it wasn't so overused. . . .

    And since we're sharing kissing scenes, here's one of mine:

    His grip on my hand tightens as he pulls me off the road and behind a tree. I do a skip and a jump to keep from falling over. Stumble against him. Grab his arm and look up. In the star-lit silence he stares down at me. I can see the hope in his brown eyes. “Who better to fall in love with than my best friend?”
    I barely squeak out, “In love?” and he kisses me. Lord have mercy, he kisses me. It’s short and sweet and my whole body melts. My hands clutch at his shirtfront. He pulls back, his eyes searching mine. For some reason I whisper, “Heaven,” but in truth it’s a miracle I can speak at all. So he kisses me again. I might as well kiss him back.
    Time slows until it moves as languidly as a lazy river. I’m not sure how long we’re there, making out like two teenagers in the back of a station wagon, only this is so much better. We float under a starry sky, surrounded by the scent of pine trees and the rhythmic sounds of a forest at night. His hands pull me closer. ...

    Thanks! :)

  161. Wow, SHARYN! That's quite an intense kissing scene! Thanks for sharing!

  162. I tend to write grittier Christian fiction, but they usually have a tad of a romantic thread running through them.

    In my current WIP I do have a character who's angry with/refuses to believe in God - but she's not a Christian character.

    I found in my current one a ton of "he touched" someone is always touching someone's arm, shoulder, hand, etc. I also overuse smile and sigh. When I go back to edit, I'm always amazed at what I find that makes me cringe.

    Great post!

  163. As a reader, I really don't mind the cliches as long as they aren't overused within the story or over simplified.

    Sharyn, I really like your kissing scene! Good work!

    I'd love to win one of Myra's books!