Posted on 11 Comments

LB&LI: The Ten Commandments


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As a writer, I hate rules, especially Romancelandia Rules, like:

“The heroine and hero must meet in chapter one!” or “The heroine must be a virgin, a virgin widow, or has experienced nothing but horrid sex with any man except the hero!”

But let’s face it — as readers, we all have lines that we don’t want an author to cross, else their book may very well end up denting the wall. 

Here are a few commandments, either based on my personal reading tastes or something I’ve learned from my lovely talented evil editors!


  1. Thou shalt not lie to the reader and call it “a plot twist.”  Grrr, there’s a highly popular author to this day whom I refuse to read because of a little lie she told in a novella I happened to pick up.  I can’t stand “surprise twists” that are basically lies.  I feel totally betrayed when this happens.  (Not talking Sixth Sense sort of plot points here — which I loved — but deliberate lies told through the POV character and only revealed at the end with a flourish.)  For a twist, the little hints should be there for me to follow like a trail of bread crumbs.
  2. Thou shalt not beat the reader over the head with “foreshadowing.”  Personal taste, but I hate “Little did she know…” or “Unbeknownst to her…”  These are author intrusions and pull me immediately out of the story.
  3. Thou shalt not make the reader dizzy by headhopping.  As my dear friend Wanda said once, headhopping makes my skull crack open.  I just can’t tolerate blatant hops back and forth, paragraph to paragraph.  (Straightfoward shifts once or twice in a scene don’t bother me as much.)
  4. Thou shalt NEVER be kind and gentle to the characters.  Torture them!  Throw more rocks!  Put them in an untenable position, not once but over and over!
  5. Thou shalt not “lathe” any tender body parts.  See the Smart Bitches’ Crimes Against Woodworking for some laughs.
  6. Thy hero shalt not flex his “bicep.”  It’s biceps, even if the heroine is looking at a specific arm.
  7. Thou shalt not rely on “fateful” to describe a character’s day.  Lazy!  (I was guilty of this in Dear Sir, I’m Yours, until Angie got ahold of it.)
  8. Thou shalt not use the word “sag” anywhere near a sentence mentioning the heroine’s breasts.  This one was caught by the copyeditor.  I said her dress “sagged past her breasts” and this was his comment.  Totally cracked me up!  Changed it to “slid.”
  9. Thou shalt NEVER take the easy way out, especially in the climax!  And I mean that both ways.  *winks*
  10. No Romancelandia hero ever need Viagra. Obviously.  He’s also got the biggest tool in the shed, but that goes without saying, right?  :mrgreen:

So what are some of your commandments or readers’ peeves? 

Share them in comments (or simply throw your name in the hat) to be entered to win Patti O’Shea’s three Light Warriors books (unsigned), including In the Midnight Hour, In Twilight’s Shadow, and Edge of Dawn, and winner’s choice of any book from my backlist. 

As Lynn always says, anyone on the planet can enter, even if you’ve won something from me before.  I’ll accept comment entries through midnight CST Friday night, July 17th, on this post, or you can e-mail me ONCE (joely AT joelysueburkhart DOT com).  One of the monsters (my kids) will draw names on Sat. and I’ll post all winners then.


11 thoughts on “LB&LI: The Ten Commandments

  1. Good question. There are a few author’s I avoid because their characters don’t seem like real people. Their characters feel more like untrained actors and actresses. So I guess one of my reader rules would have to be..

    Thou shalt not create unconvincing characters with weak dialogue and ridiculous decision-making skills!

  2. I’d be interested in knowing the example of the first commandment. Mayhaps I should email you?

    And seconded Krista.

  3. Thou shalt not “put” anything anywhere.

    I. Hate. That. Word. Personal preference, I know, but why would anyone use such a lifeless catchall when there are sooo many descriptive verbs available for placing something?

  4. Thou shalt not tell me how wonderful your hero/heroine is.

    There’s something wrong if I can’t agree with the hero when he counts the heroine’s good points (or vice versa). I hate it when I’m told how great the characters are but I don’t feel it. The latter is more important because telling doesn’t convince me if it doesn’t show. For example, if the heroine does stupid stuff yet the hero praises her intelligence, it makes me suspect they’re both lacking in brain power.

  5. These are all great!! Thanks for participating.

  6. Great list.

    I dont like it when the characters are too perfect. They need to be at least a little realistic.

  7. Thou shalt not preach at me.

    Characters with strongly held opinions are fine. Characters who walk the principled walk as well as talking the talk, even better. But fictional voicepipes for an author’s soapbox subject? Nah.

  8. Thou shalt not talk down to your reader.

    Ugh! I hate when it feels like an author thinks I’m stupid.


  9. Number 8 cracks me up.

    My addition: Thou shalt not give your characters names that all sound/look alike. Trying to keep track of who’s who among Jason, Grayson, and Peyton in the first three pages prevents me from actually enjoying the story!

  10. I think Krista nailed it for me too — Thou shalt not create unconvincing characters with weak dialogue and ridiculous decision-making skills! — read the first 3 books in a series a few months ago and I swear the heroines were all the same except for their physical descriptions and names GRRRR

  11. I think that pretty much covers it! That’s a great list of pet peeves.

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