Adventure into Romance with Shelley Munro
News About Shelley Blog Books Extras Contact Small Font Large Font

December 30th, 2008
Reality in Romance

Angela James did a great post at Romancing the Blog a few days ago about reality in romances. “How is it,” she asked, “that the hero and heroine don’t suffer from morning breath in most romances?”

I’ve wondered this myself. Other things bother me, too, not usually enough to stop reading, but I do pause to consider. The issue of condoms bothers me, depending on the circumstances and the plot. In historicals I wonder about bathing. People didn’t used to have many baths because they considered it unhealthy and having a bath inside was plain hard work. The water needed heating and then servants needed to transport it to the bath. I don’t know about you but I’m wondering exactly how smelly things were. I like it when the hero or heroine take the time to swim in a river or lake.

I think about the feasibility of some sexual positions (can we say dislocated joints?) and wonder what happened to clothes. As my editor has points out to me it’s difficult to undress if you’re still wearing boots! Funny that…

What things bother you when you’re reading a romance? Are they enough to make you stop reading a particular book or author? Do you think I’m being hypersensitive because after all it is only fiction?

28 comments to “Reality in Romance”

  1. And when and where do they go to the bathroom? Do they ever fart? In fact it was months before I farted in front of my husband. And I never farted in front of any of my dates!

  2. LOL yes. I’m actually quite paranoid about stuff like morning breath and personal hygeine, not to mention the condoms! But since I also wouldn’t find it very romantic to read that the hero had dodgy breath or whiffed a bit, I’ve learnt to suspend disbelief when it comes to that.

    Maybe that’s why I write about angels and demons, as I’ve managed to convince myself that, no matter what, they would never suffer from bad breath or BO!!!

  3. Sometimes I roll my eyes at overly purple dialogue. Nobody talks like that. I mean, nobody.

    When it comes to those things like bathing, I can sometimes tell myself that the author means for them to be behind the scenes and even if he/she doesn’t write about it, we assume that the characters have bathed or otherwise used the facilities. But in my own books I usually include a scene to take care of stuff like that.

  4. I agree with JK, they’re doing the bathing and the farting and the going to the bathroom stuff off camera where I don’t need to read it, because frankly it would turn me off a book to read that stuff.

  5. I’m okay with having most of the mundane stuff left out of fiction, i.e., eating, bathroom breaks, teeth brushing. Condoms are optional, though I prefer some reference to birth control (even if it’s just internal or just made clear to the reader that this isn’t going to turn into an accidental pregnancy story :). I’m flexible on sexual positions unless its really glaringly obvious something isn’t possible or the the description is so confusing that I have no idea exactly how the characters are positioned. But…I do like mention of showers (either via one line mention or by taking the sex to the water). One thing that will always gross me out and kick me right out of the story is if there’s anal sex without a mention of clean-up or an obvious shift in time where it’s reasonable to expect showers have been taken.

  6. I’m usually happy as long it’s mentioned in passing or i read a blurb in the front of an anthology stating that just because a condon isn’t mentioned doest mean it isn’t safe sex and books like this a for adults. I thought that was a really good idea. I always try and remember that this is fiction and supposed to be ‘perfect’

  7. Well I’m sensitive to some of that stuff, too. I rarely write a scene where my couple has sex in the morning when they first wake up cos come on…stank breath! LOL

    Historicals don’t bother me but maybe now they will! Once something is pointed out to me I tend to get fixated. :wink:

  8. I am bothered by dirty talk or something of the like when it just doesn’t sound natural. You know what I mean. Surely you’ve read passages like that. Don’t get me wrong, I do love dirty talking, but I want it to sound natural.
    I hardly ever quit reading a book and such scenes do pass, so it’s not a big quibble, but a quibble nonetheless.


  9. You know speaking of the breath thing, remember that tooth paste that came out a few years back that was supposed to last through the night…whatever happened to that. Must have fizzled. I thought that would be at the top of the toothpaste list:)

  10. Jory – I have to agree on the anal sex without cleanup. That’s icky, as is double-dipping. That squicks me out.

    Sandra – don’t all toothpastes say they do that????

    Deidre – along the same lines as unnatural dialogue, baby talk really tears me from a storyline. I like my characters to act like adults having fun, not kids playing dressup.

  11. Well, when it comes to historicals, I tend to let the details slide simply because of the hygiene (or lack thereof) of the time. I’m also okay with the mundane daily acts, such as going to the restroom, being left out unless they have some importance, such as eating when the hero and heroine are feeding each other or something.

    However, one thing that tends to bother me in contemporary stories is when the birth control/STD issue isn’t mentioned. Most of the stories I read usually have a condom going on, or mention it being on, at some point, or, when the act is done, the characters realize they forgot it and do the quick double check on whether or not heroine is on birth control and they’re both healthy. It really bothers me when, in the absence of a condom, the characters don’t even bother to worry about possible pregnancy or STD (though that wouldn’t really fit into a romance, right?).

    I have to agree with what Jory and Deidre brought up about the lack of cleanup and the unnatural dialogue. It definitely breaks the flow of the story for me, and that really bothers me.

  12. I am totally willing to suspend disbelief on things like this, as am I willing to assume that certain things happen “off screen”

    I read romance novels and such for the hot fantasy – I’m not sure why some people demand such realism from their romances. Granted, I don’t like it to get to a point where I’m rolling my eyes, but Yes…I can totally do without morning breath, farting and detailed scenes of the characters using the bathroom.


  13. Can we say Willing Suspension of Disbelief, as one of my old college professors termed it. However, I do find that pragmatic side hard to put aside when the story talks about them kissing and getting at it before even getting out of bed to relieve themselves or freshen up. It appeases my sensibilities when a sentence or two is devoted to saying something along the lines of “She freshened up before joining him in bed.” or vice versa.

  14. Hey, cool, Shelley. Cat Burglar is already listed on the Access Romance website’s New Books page. Congratulations. Julie :razz:

  15. I was bothered for a while that birth control seemed like it HAD to be mentioned. Sort of like a laundry list of points that must be made. This was a hot discussion on the Rebel Romantica BB and most others were bothered if a condom wasn’t mentioned. To me it seemed like it was the PC safety point. I’d prefer the story flow along so nicely that I don’t even notice unless it is an exceptionally hot scene. Now, if the condom’s put on with no hands I’ll be happy to hear it! How often do characters buckle-up? I don’t think I’ve ever read about a character putting a child lock on their gun.
    I tend to believe that characters do the normal stuff (hygeine and safety issues) as a routine and don’t feel the need to point it out. Maybe if the books were inteded for a bunch of beginners I’d feel differently. I am in the minority though.

    I occasionally do think about normal vs story in a historical. Too much of what really happened just wouldn’t make enjoyable reading. Usually I just ignore reality.

    The one series I really needed to think about sexual positions was the Sleeping Beauty series. I couldn’t even visualize how a couple of them were possible for a contortionist!

  16. LOL! Yes, funny that. ;-) I like reality in stories I read but I don’t want to read about anyone farting, though. ;-)


  17. Lynda,
    The PC condom thing bothers me too and I still have ambivalent feelings about it. I remember reading one time that it needed to be mentioned as a sign that the hero truly cared for the heroine. Which in today’s world is true. Guess I’ve just been out of that scene for a while.

  18. I’m a lot more forgiving when it comes to genres such as historical, paranormal and sci-fi. When it comes to contemporary stories I need that little dose of reality because it grounds me.

    It’s a fascinating topic because we all read differently and go into a book with different expectations.

    Paz – can you imagine a story with farting? It almost makes me want to write one in to see what readers say. :grin:

  19. The mention of condoms doesn’t generrally take me out of the story if its done smoothly. It can be a brief mention, or if it can somehow be worked into showing character or a plot point. In one of mine, the couple, who’d been friends for some time, had a first encounter while somewhat intoxicated. When the hero realized next day what had happened he nearly had an apolexy thinking that not only had he violated the friendship, but he hadn’t even bothered to protect his friend.

  20. Andrea,
    Now that’s a sweet way to do it, and it serves a purpose. I like that. What story is it?

  21. Thanks Julie. Its in Who’s That Lady?

  22. Ah reality…
    I’m ambivalent about condoms. Sometimes they yank me out of the story — it just seems so freaking unsexy!! — and other times I don’t notice.
    I choose NOT to make reference to safe sex/std’s – and other ‘real’ stuff in my latest book and I didn’t have any complaints — and the hero was a womanizing rock star :lol:
    But y’know… it’s FICTION and we get to make stuff up, so why get hung up over an unsexy detail. I mean, I’m sure know one is going to read a romance novel and think… “the heroine in the lastest Nora Roberts book didn’t insist on one, so neither am I!!”

    On the other hand, I DID make reference to not-so-fresh-breath, so there!!! LOL

  23. Well it is fiction but i like when an author keeps some resemblance of reality. I have no problem with sexual positions since it’s nice to imagine some things can be done a certain way, even though you KNOW it cannot. There are people whose morning breath doesn’t bother me, so i think that depends on the person. One of the things i really dislike though is the overuse of some things. Sometimes authors try to be careful about condoms for example, but it’s used so many times in the book that you wonder what kind of trust do the characters really have….or wether they have ever read about getting tested?!

  24. Reality has its place but I am willing to suspend disbelief and go with the flow. I do sometimes wonder about the unprotected sex and the woman not getting pregnant if no reference is made to infertility and they have sex all the time over months and there is no baby.

  25. How true, Dayanna!

    it’s used so many times in the book that you wonder what kind of trust do the characters really have….or wether they have ever read about getting tested?!

  26. Checked out your site, Andrea for Who’s That Lady. Looks like a great read.

  27. I think when they first started having mentions of condoms, etc., it was a little jarring, but these days, I think I notice it more when they don’t! And then there’s no mention of the unprotected sex any time later. I do tend to be OK with suspending a little disbelief about positions, teeth brushing, etc., but to be honest, I think a bunch of this hinges on how much I’m liking the story and the characters. If I’m into them/it, I’ll forgive tons of stuff. If I’m already sort of “meh” on them or the story, all kinds of things are going to bug me!

  28. For historicals, I think that body odors would be more of the norm and not as noticeable to the characters. That’s what I like to think anyway. :grin:

    One of the more unforgettable scenes in Outlander is when Claire beds down with the clan for the first time — I believe the line was something about 200 farting snoring men.

    As for condoms, yeah, they can break the flow of a scene, but um, they kind of do that IRL too, so if you’re reading/writing a realistic contemporary scene, it’s kind of OK in that respect.

    In harder core erotica, where the content of a scene might be meant to be a bit– or a lot– more extreme than what most readers would generally attempt… oh, this is awkward. What I mean is if you’re further into the fantasy end of the spectrum, whatever direction that takes, I think more latitude with condoms (among many other things) is easier to accept.