Kristan Higgins
Kristan Higgins


Jaunty Post

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malfunctionThere are some tried and true elements in a romance (shocking!). Not clichés, necessarily, but classics. A happily ever after, for example. The idea that The One makes Hero/Heroine a better person. Classic plot lines and traditions. When done well, we can’t get enough of it. But when not…ruh-roh.


Below are some trends I’ve noticed over the years, in books and movies. Now, before you think I’m being catty, let me first admit that I’ve used some of these myself, so it’s all in good fun.




Oh! Now that I’ve been around you a while, it seems my hair is no longer straight and obedient but instead lustrous and wild and oh-so-curly! Watch any romantic movie. Watch the heroine’s hair. It gets curlier, doesn’t it? It does. I have wavy hair myself. I always wanted curly hair. Being in love has not turned my hair curly, dang it all. What is wrong with McIrish? He seemed so great…but apparently he’s not The One, since my hair is still just wavy. Hmmmph. Must file for divorce pronto.

Gracious! What a beautiful secret cabin you have here in the mountains, Hero Mine! What a fascinating and heretofore unrevealed character nugget this is! So many heroes were smart with real estate and just happen to have a very tastefully decorated getaway in the mountains/on the ocean/near a pristine and very remote lake. This is, of course where he smuggles heroine so he can cook for her/shag her silly.  I can deal with a cabin. But if it was indeed his Man Paradise, it would have two things and two things only: a LaZBoy recliner and a 60 inch high-def TV with the special NFL bundle. I promise (mostly) to put a 60 inch high-def TV in my hero’s, okay?


gerardOh, my heavens! You dance with predatory, masculine grace that has me oh-so-aroused, despite the fact that I quite hate you! Where did these guys learn how to dance like that, huh? I have yet to see Gerard Butler down at Ye Village Dance Hall in my town. And yet, there he is in The Ugly Truth, dancing in such a way that my eyeballs were on fire, and I just sat there thinking, “But when? But how? Was he raised on a pasa doblé ranch in Brazil?”  Furthermore, Katherine Heigl claims she is a terrible dancer, then begins gyrating and pulsating and throbbing…I had to dunk my head into my super-large silo of root beer just to cool off. Dancing like that doesn’t happen in real life. No, tragically more realistic was the tango scene in Along Came Polly. Ben Stiller gets points for realism, if not for smokin’ sex appeal. (Note Heigl’s hair…it’s curling. I told you.)


Why, Miss Carlisle! You have golden and/or chestnut highlights in your previously considered dull-as-dishwater brown hair! Why? Why can’t Miss Carlisle just have plain old brown hair and still be attractive to Sir Ruttingly? Why does she need highlights to make it pretty? For that matter, why do I? I’m a brunette…Why do I spend forty extra bucks six times a year to get highlights?  Clearly, it’s a conspiracy. This is another version of “Why, Miss Carlisle! Behind those glasses, your eyes are sapphires snapping with blue flame!” or…perhaps…the next thing on my list.


reddressFrooooowww! Miss Carlisle! That red dress and those Jimmy Choos slut you right up! I quite and suddenly ravenous for you! Sure, sure, we all have dreams of prom/wedding/fabulous ball during which we’re scooped up by a Greek billionaire (Andreas, I’m still waiting!) There was Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality. Princess Mia in Princess Diaries. Cinderella in Cinderella. Just once, I’d like to see the heroine in a hideous dress that makes her look worse than the yoga pants and college sweatshirt did. (Note to self: do this in future book). Granted, my heroines have required special underwear…Dr. Rey, thank you!…but still. Let’s have him be stunned with her beauty without the dress, ’kay?


RDJWhen I Faint — and I Shall —  I Shall Be Caught By Hero. I fainted once. I was gardening, I was on a roll, smiting weeds with my mighty sword, I forgot to eat breakfast, didn’t stop for lunch, stood up suddenly, next thing I knew was facedown in the dirt, a rake atop my eye (the gardening tool rake, not the Duke of Badboy, heir to his grandfather’s considerable fortune)  Recently, I saw Only You. The heroine faints. Robert Downey, Jr. catches her. Love that movie! Love Robert Downey Jr.! Love Italy! Love red dresses! Why oh why was I eating dirt with a rake on my eye instead of in RDJ’s arms, huh? Not fair! Not! Fair!


What are your favorite or least favorite clichés in romance writing or movies? Do spill. I’ll pick one responder and send her something fun…probably chocolates, because we all need chocolate. So come on! What clichés work, which don’t, and what’s the difference?

43 thoughts on “Those Delicious Romantic Clichés

  1. Emmanuelle says:

    😳 Hi Kristan,
    One of my favorite romance cliché/classic is the wedding+babies ending. It always works for me. Give me twins and I’m in heaven (guess who was rereading Just One of The Guys over the week-end ?).
    I want HEA for my characters, especially if they have to overcome so many troubles to find it. A public declaration of love and a proposal in front of the whole family, and a bunch of babies… How can it be more HEA than that ?

  2. Mary M says:

    I was reading along, nodding in agreement, and then became completely distracted by your comment that your highlights cost only 40 dollars?! That’s great! I like the hair cliche because as you pointed out, cliches are so true. I think one of the signs of infatuation is styling your hair sexy.

    And I love the dancing cliche. Maybe because you really learn so much about someone by dancing with him.

  3. Emmanuelle, thanks! Of course Chastity had to have twins, right?

    Mary M., the highlights are forty dollars in addition to the obscene cost of the haircut/color. I could buy a small country for what I’ve spent on my hair over the years…

  4. Kirsten says:

    The classic about loving the most unlikely guy/girl that at first seems so wrong and totally not your type. Because they’re just what you wanted/needed without knowing it yourself works for me.

  5. Toni Andrews says:

    La la la la la! I’M NOT LISTENING. Because, when [the next] Mr. Right shows up to sweep me off my feet, my hair SHALL suddenly develop highlights, my outfits will be less dowdy, and HE WILL DANCE THE TANGO, which I don’t really know how to do but he will lead so well that I’ll look fabulous doing it.

    Stop raining on my parade. It’s real, I tell you. REAL.

    Off to bathe in a silo of root beer…

  6. Kirsten, I’m with you on that unlikely match. Love those! Wrote a few myself…

    Toni, relax. Your hair will develop those highlights when HE comes along. It’s pre-ordained! And of course you’ll look fabulous on the dance floor! You shall float with LOVE!

  7. Least favorite -> Hero or heroine in disguise, especially after they’ve hit the sack together and he or she STILL doesn’t recognize the other. Come on… my imagination stretches only so far.

  8. Linda Henderson says:

    I like it when plain Jane turns into a siren in the midst of the story. I mean, who knew that a few cosmetics and some new clothes could totally change someone.

  9. Laurel says:

    It’s funny: I was reading “The Blessing” by Jude Deveraux last night. The heroine is a single mother and, on the night of a fancy ball, she’s primped and Dior-ed by some people the hero has hired. When he sees her, he thinks that he liked her better the other way. (She’s just like all the other women he’s known when she’s in Dior and styled, he thinks.)

  10. Kathryn says:

    Well, I have to have a HEA… one way or another. I also like it when the heroine discovers that, previously unbeknownst to her, the hero has enough money to give her a really great life with all the trappings.

    For clichés I cannot stand, there is one general one I absolutely HATE… the heroine who has to go down into the dark, creepy cellar that is undoubtedly hiding a homicidal maniac ALL BY HERSELF! PLEASE!

  11. Right, Margo. There’s only so much a mask can do…

    Linda, I know. I’ve had makeovers. I still look like me, though. Not Catherine Zeta Jones! I don’t know what the problem is.

    Laurel, I’ll have to look at the Deveraux book. Good for her.

    Kathryn, I don’t mind a rich hero; it’s just that the secret money gets to me. And yes, the Nancy Drew cellar thing…I’m a wimp, so that’s just not gonna happen.

  12. Minna says:

    The Well Meaning Idiot Friend who gives the hero/heroine the worst possible advice -and he/she follows it, no matter how bad the advice is. Like in My Super Ex. Which is the bigger idiot here, the friend or the hero?

  13. RobynDeHart RobynDeHart says:

    LOL, Kristan. Great cliches. The dancing thing made me laugh because The Professor learned to dance by watching Bill Cosby – us doing the tango would be so far removed from sexy.

    But I must say that my heroine in my first book, Courting Claudia, has terrible taste in clothes and wears some doozies. And the hero loves her for it. 🙂

  14. Shana Shana says:

    When the “ugly” heroine takes off her glasses and is suddenly beautiful!

  15. Kristan, what a great list! I loved all of your examples, especially your exploits in the dirt with the rake. 😀 I’m a gardener myself, and could totally picture your predicament, which must have hurt a tad. A rake on the eye? Ow!

  16. Laura says:

    I haven’t read the other comments so someone may have pointed it out but as I was reading and came across this line:

    Let’s have him be stunned with her beauty without the dress, ’kay?

    All I could think was “yeah, he’d definitely be stunned by her ‘beauty’ without the dress”. 😉

    Yeah, my mind kind of went there. lol sorry.

  17. Meg says:

    You are so right about the fainting — and the catching by the hero! I’ve never fainted (or been close to fainting…) in my life, but apparently all the romantic and sexual tension in novels/movies is too much for these ladies. Falling unconscious is the only way to deal with it! And hey, if Robert Downey, Jr. were there to catch me (or, you know, a young Harrison Ford or Paul Newman…), I’d be hurtling to Earth, too!

    My least favorite cliche? Probably the “You make me want to be a better man” bit. I’m all for reformed bad boys, trust me, but I get really sick of seeing the whole “I used to be a total dirtbag but now, seeing this beautiful woman with a pure heart… why, I just have to clean up my act in order to be Good Enough for her!” spiel.

    But maybe that’s just my bitterness over not reforming my own bad boys talking. 🙂

    Great post!

  18. Melissa Blue says:

    Oh, you left out so many other wonderful things. Like the kiss that is somehow more than any kiss the h/h has ever had before. (I’m very fond of this one.) The practically painless loss of virginity. It makes the heroine so wanton…

    It’s no wonder why I love this genre.

    Lastly, never noticed the curly hair thing, but you’re right. Absolutely right.

  19. Was he raised on a pasa doblé ranch in Brazil?

    The one time I fainted, I split my lip on the edge of the refrigerator. Not. At all. Sexy. And I did not wake to the worried handsomeness of my Prince Charming. I woke to my dog licking my face.

    I will say, though, that I am a sucker for a good romance cliche. I’m particularly partial to a chase through the city, ending in a massive smooch in the rain.

  20. rosefox says:

    I have fainted and been caught by my husband. It was not a pretty swoon; I just sort of crumpled. He caught me in the sense that I toppled against him. So even when these things happen in real life, they are nothing like the cliches.

    My least favorite romance cliche is definitely the notion that rape, fondling, forced kissing, a woman being shoved around by a man when he’s angry or upset, etc. is somehow hot and sexy. Some of us are quite happy with our boundaries where they are, thanks.

  21. Janette says:

    ROFL! Yes, yes and yes. And thanks to Toni Andrews for the link 🙂

  22. Shana, I know! I mean, those must’ve been the ugliest glasses in the history of the earth (namely mine, circa 8th grade, with the ultra-chic sticker initials in the corner).

    Catherine, thank you! Laura, you have a dirty mind and good for you!

    Meg,Laura, I’m with you. The lovely ladies at SmartBitchesTrashyBooks call this (I believe) the magic hoo-hoo. Never before has a hoo-hoo (whatever that is, use your imagination) been so very magical.

    Sarah, yes! Kissing in the rain, frooooww! Sorry about your lip, but thanks for the laugh!

    RoseFox, you’re right. Angry men are…angry. Which I tend to find scary, rather than stimulating…

  23. Oops, forgot you, Minna! Yes, you’re right. A best friend is supposed to have your best interests at heart, so a bad best friend is, well, not really best at all! And the hero/ine who listens to stupid advice…oy!

  24. Camile says:

    Oh dear, where to start… I have to say the one I can’t stand when it’s done improperly is the “she/he is a complete jerk to the other, but they’re fated to be together, so no apologies are required”. A recent example of this involved a woman who kidnaps the hero, ignores his requests that she let him go, and tells him that the fact that he was at (insert place) just as she was wishing for a husband is a clear sign that they’re fated to be together. Even the woman’s family tells the guy to suck it up and resign himself to what is “obviously” his destiny. Excuse me? His destiny is to be tied for life to a woman who will ignore his feelings whenever they don’t suit what she wants? I’ll stay single, thanks.

  25. Philip says:

    Don’t know where to find dancing with predatory masculine grace, huh? You must be looking in the wrong place! Try , we can provide what you need….

  26. Infogenium says:

    Absolutely love this cliche – When the reclusive never been kissed or even looked at by a man virgin, is transformed into the most sexually knowledgeable being ever! But only through the touch of our hero she is not a skank.

  27. Ooooh, I know it, Camile! I just hate when either the hero or heroine ignores the wishes of the other! That’s just rude.

    Philip, you have restored my faith in men! Please hop across the pond and teach me to salsa!

    Infogenium, oh, snap! You’re right! She’s not a skank…she’s just been sexually frustrated lo these many, many years, and he alone possesses the key to unlock the TIGRESS within! Meow! (Where do all these guys live, anyway? Just for the record, I’d like to know! Maybe they live near Philip…)

  28. Emily McKay says:

    I’ve got to admit, I’m a sucker for the grand gesture at the end. Billy Crystal running through the ran on News Year Eve. Hugh Grant lying to get into the press conference and then admitting he was an idiot in front of all those reporters. Dougray Scott running out of his arranged marriage to go rescue Drew Barrymore, after she’s already rescued herself. ::Sigh::

    As for the secretly sexy/mousy woman bit, Arrested Developement had this hysterical scene where the frumpy secretary took down her hair and whipped off her glasses and looked much worse. It was very funny. In a sick way. But most of that show was funny in a sick way.

  29. Quilt Lady says:

    Hi Kristan, I love the dancing one U cracked up when I read it. I can see it now. I don’t know about you ladies but most of the men I’m around wouldn’t even attempt to dance. Just about every one I know say they can’t dance. I think that bull but that just my opinion.

    1. Philip says:

      Quilt Lady, they CAN dance, they just need to learn, but they’re afraid of looking stupid. The ones with enough self confidence to not care if they do look stupid, are the ones that dance. And as soon as they learn, they look smart not stupid. (anyway, you wouldn’t want to dance with a wimp would you?).
      The most popular excuse is “two left feet”. Oh really? How do they walk down the street without tripping over? or play soccer? Or drive a car? Or…

  30. Diana says:

    I have to say that I’m a sucker for makeover stories. Even when they’re not very realistic, I eat them up. The movie She’s All That is a good example of this. The actress who played the lead character was cute before her makeover. Then she cut her hair and took off her glasses and voila, she was supposedly better looking. I also enjoy reunion stories in romance books. One of my least favorite clichés in romance writing is probably mistaken identity stories–like sleeping with the wrong twin, etc.

  31. Emily, I’m a HUGE fan of Arrested Development and know the scene you’re talking about…so funny! I love grand gestures, too. Love ’em!

    QL, I know. Where do they hide these men? I’d spit out my teeth if any guy I knew burst into a tango. (Any straight man, that is.)

    Diana, I love makeovers, too, and they really can do wonders for confidence. They don’t, alas, turn us into Catherine Zeta Jones. As for sleeping with the wrong twin…eep! Imagine forgiving that one!

    1. Philip says:

      Kristan, I love (Argentine) Tango. I get to hold a pretty girl very close for a dance full of passion and eye contact and you wonder if I’m straight? My partners would die laughing and none of them would be spitting out their false teeth!

  32. Great post, Kristan! I must admit, I’ve been guilty of the curly hair cliché. I suppose it’s because my hair is curly (actually, now it’s mostly wavy after years of trying to beat it into submission). To me, the carefree curly girl represents self-acceptance – being herself, literally letting down her hair. 😎

  33. Jess Granger says:

    Okay, so get this. I have fainted, and I’ve just plain fallen. I’ve never been caught.

    Once I was literally standing in the center of a half circle of friends, more than half of whom were guys, and I torqued my knee and collapsed on the spot.

    Yeah, not a single one caught me. One even jumped out of my way so I wouldn’t hit him on the way down. And I wonder why I didn’t date much in college. Sheesh!

  34. Nancy, I love the metaphor…I’m just frustrated by my own lack of curling! And Jess, that’s hilarious (if painful). Men! 😉

    The recipient of the chocolates is the lovely Diana! Send me your address at And enjoy!

  35. Maya M. says:

    Hahaha! Too right on all of these. But here’s the kicker: I actually have developed more curly hair than I used to have. Really, truly. Thing is: it had nothing to do with DH. Well that’s inaccurate; he was indirectly involved. It happened during my second pregnancy. That’s right, I ended up with a lovely little boy, plus more curly hair. Before you get all excited, let me also point out that the curly hair arrived with an allergy to earrings (I have no idea how that works) but it’s nine years later and I still can’t wear earrings, without which I feel truly naked, a genetic leftover from my South Asian heritage, I think.

    So go figure.

  36. Diana says:

    Thanks, Kristan! 🙂

  37. Kelly S says:

    The cliche that bothers me is the “you could love me if you knew my secret”/”my secret would destroy you so I’ll never tell you the true reason why I’m destroying any chance of happiness between us”. The violence thing bothers me too – rape is a horrible act of violence – not romantic turn on.

  38. Jami says:

    Gee, I didn’t know you had to fall in love to have curly hair. My mom is a former beautiction so I end up having curly hair whenever she gets it in her head I need it. Or on special occastions. I’ll have to inform her now that I need to find a man before I’m allowed to have curly hair. 😆

    As far as dancing – I have two left feet. (And no, I can’t play soccer either.) I’ve taken lessons, repeatedly, it’s hopeless. This is one girl who will never dance a tango with the hero. Not without stepping on his feet and breaking every single bone in said feet. No dancing clichés or dancing with the stars for me.

    I can’t think of any clichés I like that you haven’t already covered. Unlike many romance readers I actually like the repressed virgin bit. Probably because I have Hang Ups and Issues and it gives me something to relate to. But I can think of clichés I’m tired of. Like the Token Homosexual Character.

    I think what annoys me is that they’re always one of two stereotypes. If they’re male they make them very effinate. If they’re female they’re always “butch.” Having taken many a music and acting class I’ve actually seen more very macho gay men then girly ones. (And I’ve known a lot of straight guys whom act very girly and could out do Carson from Queer Eye on the flaming factor in behavior, but LOVE the ladies!) And I’ve known many a very girly gay women. Why always play to the stereotype? Ug! Heck, I’ve even known men whom are happily married to women – but feel compelled to dress in women’s clothing! They’re straight and very manly. They just like to be in pantyhose and frilly panties from time to time.

    And when they throw them into historicals. I don’t care how open minded you are in real life, very few people in the 14th Century are going to be that tolerant of a lone gay man in their castle. Be a little realistic.

    Then there’s the “He’s an honorable man working with unhonorable ones and doesn’t do diddly squat to stop them.” Like the nice guy who works with slave traders. I can remember this one book where the heroine was kidnapped along with her friends by slave traders and the only reason she was the only one not raped was because she was dressed as a bride. (A noble woman on her wedding day forced her into the bridal dress thinking that the invaders were her rejected suitor. So they were going to trade places so the heroine would be kidnapped and the noble woman could go on to marry her intended.) So here’s this one nice guy, who’s taking money from the slave traders, and he doesn’t do anything to stop these guys. Not even poisoning them or something. Some honor. Even if it meant my death I’d be trying to castrate the slave traders with my bare hands!

    It doesn’t stop me from reading them, mind you. I love romance novels. I just can’t stand things like that or the whole “falling in love with my rapist” bit like In The Garden Of Ruth. Makes me wonder what kind of Hang Ups and Issues the author has.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I shall take my non-dancing shoes and my “I’m not in love so my hair is straight” hair and go bother someone else! 😉

  39. Jami says:

    Oh – sorry for the off topic but for Maya – have you considered it might be an allergy to nickle rather then earrings in general? I have to constantly search for nickle free earrings because even the really expensive kind can have just enough nickle to give me a raging allergic reaction. There’s some good websites for them out there. So you might not have to go earringless.

    Alright, promise to shut up for now. :mrgreen:

  40. Caroline says:

    My favorite cliche is the “strong woman” who has taken care of herself and needs no man, has felt that way for years. The Hero has to be in her life for whatever reason (work together, court ordered protection, next door neighbour whom shes hated her whole life) and she shoves him away until she realizes all of a sudden she cannot live without him and does a one-page 360 with her previous years of empowerment. *snap* presto! Just like that. 😛

    I also enjoy the “I’m having your baby after one night of passionate sex and then we parted forevermore” story line too. 🙂

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