We've all got stuff in our favourite genre we just don't like. Maybe these things are dealbreakers that will put you off a book entirely and give it a big fat DNF, maybe they're something that'll make you curl your nose but keep reading, maybe they're things that will make you swear off an author forevermore. Here's mine:
1. "Girl-parts" Issues
We've already gone over how I'm a big fat feminist on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that this is my number one problem. Above anything else, this puts any book I start at greatest risk of getting a DNF from me. Without getting too much into the feminist critiques of M/M Romance and Why Ladies Love It or doing my own Very Special Episode About Internalized Misogyny and You, let's just simplify and say as a matter of opinion, I personally have no patience for books that put their issues with women front and centre.
Books where shrill ex-wives, girlfriends, or lovesick acquaintances are there to bitchily stand in the way of True Love Between Men. Less virulently, books where there are mixed or more favourable portrayals, but where women exist only to encourage or to sabotage the main relationship, having no goals or motivations or relationships with the MCs outside of how they feel about their love life. Books where women are creepily, conspicuously absent, as if the author just couldn't be bothered including them or (even more scarily) just can't imagine a HEA if women are around. Books that feature misogynistic men (which is a perfectly acceptable character trait, within reason) but that celebrate these traits. As a reader I don't think it's funny or endearing or sexy when a grown-ass gay man exclaims "ew, girl parts!", I just want to smack him upside the head and tell him to grow up. Not exactly conducive to romantic fantasies, that.
How to fix it: Make your female characters (even villainous ones!) well-rounded. If they're meant to act as supporting cast, you don't necessarily have to reveal all this development, but if you have it in your pocket, it'll shine through. Give them desires, motivations, and backstory beyond how they react to or participate in the main pairing.
2. Suddenly, Slash Fans! Millions of them!
If you're doing your job right, your readers should be rooting for your power couple. Wanting them to get together and love each other and have fantastic athletic sex forever after. In fandom 'shipping, we call this the OTP (One True Pairing), and it's rewarding as a fan and a creator to be so invested or to see people so invested in a relationship.
Where it gets kind of weird is when everyone in the book (other than the villain(s), of course) is rooting for them. Now, I'm not saying that everyone your couple encounters should be disapproving or homophobic, but it gets a little weird when everyone seems so damn invested in them. There's a middle ground between hating a couple or their sexuality and being one of those people with the yaoi paddle. Having side-characters constantly fawning over the main pairing, trying to meddle in their relationship, cooing at their every moment of PDA... it gets a little... creepy. And if I as a reader don't have those warm fuzzy feelings of OTP, seeing a whole cast of characters getting googly eyed when the main guys kiss just draws attention to the fact that I don't feel the same way.
How to fix it: Seriously, go ahead an have an overinvested mother who wants them to start thinking about babies, but remember that occasionally people are neutral or disinterested in any given couple's love life... and that's normal, and expected, no matter how strong and amazing you as an author know their love is.
3. Half-Assing the Big Stuff
Part of the appeal of writing romance is getting to write all the stark drama of the adversity characters face on their way to love. For M/M romance in particular, there are oodles of issues particular to gay men to explore within the confines of your story. Rape, gay-bashing, AIDS, various forms of homophobia (from nasty comments to being disowned by family to abuse and murder) are all completely valid issues, and some of the best books of the genre look at them unflinchingly and still give us a HEA.
However! If you go there, I genuinely feel it's your responsibility to try and do the subject justice. For real life LGBT people, these are life-and-death experiences we're talking about here, and as an author, to employ them without due thought is to render them toothless soap opera plot-points, worthy of no more gravity or care than a secret baby or an evil twin. That's just not respectful, and if you (like many M/M authors) are a straight woman playing in this sandbox, the least you can do is treat living gay men (and their experiences) with the dignity they deserve.
How to fix it: It depends on the nature of the problem. Usually, your first stop is to research, research, research! I don't put much stock by "write what you know", but "know what you write" works pretty damn well. Read books and articles. Lurk in forums. Listen respectfully to real-life accounts of what you want to write, and, if you find someone willing to talk with you, ask questions. Watch documentaries and news clips. Look for a beta reader who knows the subject to make sure you're doing right by it. And if you don't feel like putting in all that effort and you're just looking for a dramatic plot point to get your story moving and your readers' hearts pounding? Maybe just stick with an evil twin after all. I feel like evil twins are sorely under-appreciated!
4. Seme-Uke Syndrome
In yaoi, genre conventions often dictate that in m/m pairings one man must be the seme (top and be dominant in sex, be older, be more emotionally withdrawn/stable) and one must be the uke (bottom and be submissive, often be younger, be more vulnerable and emotionally expressive). In real life, things aren't so cut-and-dried. Some guys like to bottom. Some guys are tops. Some bottoms are dominant and some aren't. Some guys switch around depending on the day or the partner. Some are emotional and some are stoic and some are small and some are large. Endless arguments over "chicks with dicks" (ugh) aside, people and relationships take on all sorts of endless varieties, and seeing all of those varieties get their unique happy endings keeps things fresh and fascinating.
So it's no surprise that reading endless relationships where a weaker smaller emotional man bottoms for a big stoic protector, thus effectively turning one character into the "woman" and one into the "man" according to traditional gender roles, annoys. It's not that I don't like protective tops or emotional bottoms, but when you see it repeatedly it starts to feel prescriptive, like that's the shape a relationship must take in order to be valid or romantic.
How to fix it: Switch it up! Why can't your couple change roles? Why can't your Dom be physically smaller than his sub, or the bottom be the emotional rock of the relationship, mister responsible? Why are you making the decisions you are? Does it specifically enrich your narrative to stick to these roles, or can you stretch your definitions a little? You might surprise yourself by all the wonderful shapes relationships can take.
5. Everyone's a Sex God
I'm a bit guilty of this one myself: put your MCs in bed together and no matter how experienced they are, they turn into sex-positive yoga-agile porn stars. I only realized how prevalent and kind of annoying this was when I recently read a story where a character was turned off -- nay, disgusted -- by the taste and texture of come. I really loved that this story went there: it gave the sex scene more personality than I was used to, and introduced a note of conflict between the characters. More than that, it made me realize how because my personal kink is a bit of comeplay, every single one of my characters is turned on by come and all the wonderful things you can do with it. How convenient for me!
Romance is partially wish fulfillment so I'm not too hard on it, you know, fulfilling some sexy wishes, but it's amazing how memorable and charming a sex scene becomes when the characters fumble around a bit, or have missteps, misjudge one another's desires or are inexperienced, etc. It can bring a bit of conflict to the scene, or illuminate new aspects of the characters' relationship with one another, even make us fall in love with a character even more when we see how they react to sex that isn't quite perfect.
How to fix it: Plan your character's sexual preferences, attitudes, and perceptions just as thoroughly as you plan any other aspect of characterization. When you plan a character, you always try to give them faults, right? Well how about some sexual skills and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, too? Keep this plan in mind when you write your sex scenes. How do these characters mesh? How can you introduce conflict or novelty into the scene?
So there you go, my top five. So tell me! Any I missed? Any you disagree with?