I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately, and the results have been mixed. Sometimes I get a third of the way through and everything is just annoying, so I flip to the end and then bail. Sometimes the book is so good that I race through it and then start it again. More often, it’s good enough to finish, but when I’m done, I think, “I’ll never read that one again.” Then they just stack up on my Kindle. Reader kindling. (Sorry.). While my laptop was silent this weekend, I started thinking about a personal rating system, probably not useful for anyone else but a way to identify the authors I was going to go back to and the authors I was going to metaphorically throw things at, and it seemed to me that the same things kept triggering me, points at which my brain flashed “OH, that was great” or “One more of those and I’m setting this book on digital fire.” Flash points, if you will, the reading experience temperature at which the reader ignites with glee or rage.
I figured a ten-point system. All books start out with 100 points, the C of the book ratings, the books I finish but never read again. Books get plus ten if they do something magnificently. Minus ten would be a novel that does something so annoying I want to burn it in my back yard. Plus and minus five would be things that are nice surprises or annoying but not complete deal-breakers on their own. Plus and minus one are small pleasures and small annoyances that I could absolutely overlook as long as they don’t mount up (nibbled to death by ducks).
THE POINT SYSTEM PLUS RATINGS
• There’s a dog. (+1, also works for a cat or other living thing).
• The dog is a rescue that becomes an active part of the book (+5, along with cats or whatever else is rescued).
• Something happens during the sex scenes that really is a story-changer (+5, c’mon, the first time? It’s not gonna be perfect)
• The hero is an ordinary or quirky looking guy (+5, see Stealth Hottie below.)
• The heroine is a Stealth Hottie (+5, a protagonist that nobody notices at first until they get to know her and then find her wildly attractive).
THE POINT SYSTEM MINUs RATINGS
• The blurb asks, “Can he protect her?” (-1, but only because authors don’t write blurbs)
• The heroine puts on make-up and is instantly transformed (-1, because that actually happens in real life)
• The heroine gets a makeover and suddenly the hero notices her (-5, Shallow R Us)
• The hero smirks. (-5, smirking is a supercilious, asshole move: it means “to smile in an irritatingly smug, conceited, or silly way.”) Actually, any character who’s supposed to be a good person who smirks. Yecch.
• There are cute children who are never noisy, dirty, smart-mouthed, sullen, or annoying as hell (-5, do not use children as adorable props, that’s unrealistic and unfair to kids who may be amoral little ids but who are not colorless moppets.)
• There’s a prologue. (-5, prologues are the stuff that happens before the story begins, evidence of helicopter writing)
• There’s an epilogue. (-5, epilogues are the stuff that happens after the story ends, evidence of helicopter writing)
• The epilogue has a baby in it. (-10, great they’re fertile)
• The hero is a billionaire (-1, you know, you don’t get to be a billionaire by saving the whales)
• The hero is the heroine’s boss (-5, unequal power is not sexy, people)
• The hero is the heroine’s professor (-10, OH MY GOD DO YOU KNOW HOW ABUSIVE THAT IS???? [I may have been in grad school too long, but honestly, that’s horrible])
• There are multiple sex scenes that are awesomely awesome, OMG, and add nothing to story or character. (-10, don’t write the stuff people skip)
• The heroine is staggeringly beautiful, which has nothing to do with the plot (-10, I’m gonna have a hard time relating to her romantic problems)
• If there’s a bakery, inn, bookstore, or cafe that the heroine has inherited that requires her to move to a small, charming village full of quirky, older people who are dumb as rocks that the heroine keeps pulling from the equivalent of kitchen fires, those establishments better be fronts for something fascinating and those old people better be scamming the crap out of her. If not, (-10, for abuse of small businesses and anybody over 70)
• The dog dies (-10; if the dog lives but a kid dies, it’s -100 because what the hell, people?)
There are more, but the important thing here is that this is my system, not meant to be universal criteria. After all, many people appear to like heroes who smirk (hate ’em, really hate ’em, also annoyed with authors who DON’T KNOW WHAT WORDS MEAN) and college professors who are more interested in scoring students instead of essays [I think my worst was the sculpture prof who called me into his office for a consult and asked me if my breasts got hard when I came; I said, “I don’t know, I never looked”]). I’m sure you have other triggers that make you scream “Ten points off!” or “OMG, can I give it twenty?” (No. We have standards here.). So now I’m curious. What are your flash-points? (Don’t forget the actual points, please.)