In my old review for Response, I mentioned that retrograde amnesia plots are the tertiary syphilis of romance novels, and I realized that this comparison was more apt than I thought. Retrograde amnesia plots, especially those involving trauma so severe that the heroine can’t remember anything previous to the accident, including her own name, are painful, undignified, a signal that there’s little that can be done to make the book better (though occasionally drastic measures can save it from painful, miserable death), and it can drive readers crazy. Then I started thinking, well, hell, a lot of the plot lines and genre conventions of romance novels can be similarly compared to STDs.
So, without further ado, we proudly present to you: If Romance Novel Conventions Were Veneral Diseases. How many STDs does YOUR book feature?
Secret babies: Secondary syphilis. It’s terribly unsexy, difficult to recover from, and common sense and a little bit of prevention could’ve headed it off at the pass.
Virgin widows and horny, take-charge women in contemporaries who are still virgins: Herpes Type 2 (HSV-2). One of the most common STDs in Romancelandia. Not curable, but not usually fatal; mostly, it’s unsightly and annoying. Despite its prevalence, is still avoidable if one takes basic precautions.
Feisty heroines who set your teeth on edge and the asshole heroes who (allegedly) lurrrrve them: Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Again, one of the most common STDs in Romancelandia. They can be easily overlooked—that is, until they make the plot break out all over with warts. Can sometimes be cancerous to the whole book if it is infected with a particularly malevolent strain of hero and/or heroine.
Heroes with massive Mommy issues: Gonorrhea. Like gonorrhea, this plot device is eminently treatable, and many, many romance authors, flush with the giddiness of writing their first books, contract this plot device in a bout of frenzied, wanton writing. Can cause quite a bit of discomfort, but that’s youthful indiscretion for you. However, if left unchecked and in combination with other unsound hero behaviors (for example, being a complete cockhead to the heroine for no apparent reason other than the fact that she has ovaries and so did mommy dearest), it can make it easier to contract more fatal diseases, like the Big Misunderstanding.
Flavors of the Month (e.g., sheikhs in the 80s, Navy SEALs in the late 90s and early 00s, brooding vampires and werewolves now): Chlamydia. Like chlamydia, it’s the silent epidemic. You go for months, sometimes years, happily reading these books, feeling nary a twinge. Then suddenly, you look up at your bookshelf, and you realize you haven’t read a book in months that wasn’t part of some plaguey Regency Brotherhood with homoerotic overtones, or you couldn’t remember the last time you cracked open a romance novel in which both protagonists were a) fully alive, and b) fully human. AND IT BURRRRRRNS, OH IT BURRRRRRNS. Worst of all, you were unknowingly infecting your friends with it, too. “Hey, check out this awesome series involving werewolf brothers” you told them, innocently handing off some paperback DOOM. You could weep at your carelessness, but what’s done is done. All you can do is move on, warier and grateful that it didn’t get so bad that you contracted the equivalent of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: the dreaded Fangirlitis.