by Cara McKenna
It occurred to me the other day while my alter ego was finishing a new romance submission that I've written quite a few stories in the past couple of years. I ticked them off in the shower and discovered that I have in fact finished fourteen novellas and novels, ten of which sold, one that I'm polishing up to sub, one that's on one of my benevolent editors' desks, and two single title romances that I shall deal with whenever it is I get off my ass and go to work tricking some pitiable agent into representing me.
Now that I've completed fourteen stories, I've begun noticing patterns in my own writing. I'm a long way from having my oeuvre analyzed by genre bloggers ("Haven't you noticed, her heroines are always orphans!"), but I am rather self-analytical (all the best narcissists are) so I'll do the job myself.
What exactly are my tropes? Though a freshman writer I may be, I can already pick out the themes and elements that crop up again and again in my stories. I'm not talking the super-standard ones—naturally, my men are tall and hung, with few exceptions. We are residents of Romancelandia, after all. But allow me to pinpoint my less universal tendencies. And of course I invite all my fellow writers to share their own favorite tropes, and readers to share those of their favorite authors. For all their bad press, tropes are fun. (And I use the term "trope" in a more narrow, personal sense here; devices and elements repeated by an author, if not necessarily across the genre.) And contrarily enough, I believe pet story elements are part of what makes authors and their stories unique. Whorls in our indiviudal fingerprints, repeating themselves but also making us identifiable.
Anyhow, I'll own mine:
1. My characters drink. Alcohol use appears in every single one of the manuscripts I have completed. Not only that, but only two of those books don't contain a bar scene. In fact two of my books take place in the wilderness, yet they both manage to feature bar scenes. And three of my books are set in bars! Granted two of those are in the same series, but still. Thirsty much, Cara?
2. I like men with accents. Don't we all, I hear you asking? Allow me enumerate said accents: New Zealand (3), Southern/Cajun (3), British, specifically Northern (2), French (1), Australian (1), Scottish (1), Bostonian (1). That leaves a handful of outnumbered, generically accented American men.
3. I'm weak on the ethnicity front. Writing stories with main characters of non-Caucasian flavors makes me nervous enough that I haven't tackled it. Yet. I passionately maintain that people of all colors are equally foxy, but something in me fears I'll "get it wrong" if I try to create an authentically African- or Latino- or Asian-American, etc. Funny how I never worried I'd get it wrong when I wrote books about straight men being corrupted by other not-quite-so-straight men…like I know anything about that! Like I know what it's like to work in any of the professions I give my characters. Still, I've got a little block on the racial front. So I tend to write my share of mixed-race characters instead. Half-Korean, half-Tongan, and the Cajun-Cuban-Choctaw ethnic variety pack that is the infamous Gabriel.
4. My female erotica characters don't take it up the back passage. But quite a few of my guys do! Ah, double-standards. My heroines also get to keep their pubic hair and practical, non-thong underwear. They also tend to have small breasts. I'm like the anti-Maxim, I suppose. See that flash? That's just the light glinting off my artistic license.
5. Hats. I give a lot of my male characters old-timey hats—fedoras and pork pies and Castros and Stetsons. Sorry. I just love a man in a hat.
6. My men sweat for a living. I've covered this topic before—my great lust for the working-class man. I can proudly boast a rainbow of them now: bartender, survivalist, logger, construction worker, professional fighter, army medic, bike messenger, bouncer, large animal vet, mechanic, rig worker, psych nurse (dude, that's totally a physical job). The few men I've written who aren't laborers are artists: musician, sculptor, film professor. Nary a banker or businessman to be seen. And only two lonely guys who work in front of computers all day—Evan and Jay. Any coincidence they both got out-manned in their respective books? It wasn't intentional, I promise. Hell, I sit in front of a computer all day! It's what I'm doing right now! For an author who puts a lot of her personal identity in writing so-called realistic stories, I sure miss the mark on accurate desk-jockey population proportions. On the other hand, I've always said that I need to give my heroes jobs that explain their unnaturally manful physiques. A gym membership just does not get my motor running.
7. My characters suffer a lot of dry spells. This would be more evident to readers if my romances were already released, but it's true: I tend to thrust my characters (of both genders) into long (sometimes very long) periods of abstinence, be they willful or incidental. I've also saddled a couple of heroines with the never-been-orgasmed trope. What can I say—it's a fun cliché to explore. As for the dry spells…I love to make my characters suffer and/or surrender.
How about you all? Authors, do you catch yourself repeating ideas, character archetypes, situations? And readers, do you notice patterns in your favorite authors' backlists'? Are there some tropes we enjoy, perhaps others we roll our eyes at? Any we toss our books and Nooks across the room over? Lay 'em on me.