It isn't much that would make me channel Mr. Mel "Notorious Anti-Semitic, Sexist and Homophobe" Gibson. But one of my crit partners is having fits over a particular plot point in her soon-to-be-released novella. It seems some folks -- additional beta readers, and this is what she gets for showing her work to OTHER people instead of relying SOLELY on my ever-so-sage and insightful advice (that's a joke, by the way...you can tell by the heavy use of sarcasm) --
ANYWAY, it seems that some folks are having difficulty with her hero's behavior. He sleeps with another woman during the course of the story, you see. A woman who is NOT the heroine. The shame...the scandal...the INFAMY...
Of course, he's only just MET the heroine. Doesn't yet know she's meant to be the love of his life. We're not talking love at first sight here, by any stretch of the imagination. I dunno, maybe it's me, but it does seem a tad unreasonable to suggest a man refrain from sex with his long-time mistress on the grounds that he's met some random woman he finds vaguely attractive, if slightly annoying.
And as far as I'm concerned, the only thing a romance HAS to have is the happily-ever-after, just like the only thing a mystery HAS to have is the "whodunnit" and the solution at the end, the only thing science fiction HAS to have is fictional science, and the only thing fantasy HAS to have is some non-reality-based element that can be described as "fantastical." Genre conventions are important, but not to the point where it limits our creativity. Where's the unpredictablity? Where's the opportunity for the reader to say, "Wow! I didn't see THAT coming! I wonder how the author's going to save this relationship/character/plotline?"
I've heard people say, "But this is a HUGE no-no, and the editors won't buy it."
Really? Back in the days of the bodice-rippers -- say, fifteen to thirty years ago -- heroes slept with women who weren't the heroine all the time. These things are cyclical. To mix my metaphors in a shocking manner, the pendulum will swing again to more freedom in characterization and plot. Even the RWA -- one of the more conservative voices in the current romance landscape -- is only calling for a story about a romantic relationship with a "satisfying" ending.
And with Avon, a romance publisher with yet another decidedly conservative outlook, having recently released CLAIMING THE COURTESAN (Anna Campbell) which includes a scene that's been described everywhere as out-and-out rape of the heroine by the hero, I'm thinking that these rules we've written for ourselves as readers and writers are more flexible than we think. If people are buying CLAIMING THE COURTESAN -- and they are, and mostly having a "love it" or "hate it" reaction -- then certainly readers will buy the idea of a man having sex with his longtime mistress after having only just met the heroine. (Note: this is not an endorsement of returning to the bad old days of "rape in romance," wherein the only way a nice girl could enjoy a good poke was if the hero took her by force. It's merely an example of how things shift with the times within the genre.)
Please, I beg you. Be not afraid to take risks. What do we constantly hear editors asking for? Something new. Something different. Something challenging. Something they haven't seen before.
And here's where I channel ol' Mel, in what is perhaps his most iconic role, as William Wallace in BRAVEHEART....
(blue face-paint optional, other offers do not apply, your mileage may vary)
SelahMarch.com - Romance of Dubious Virtue