Maggie Robinson


Aug 1
2007
Romance Land Shorthand Contest!

I’ve been making faces at myself in the mirror, trying to replicate “The smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.” I know what that means in Romance Land Shorthand, but what the hell does it look like? Upon careful experimentation, I still can’t tell you, but I made myself laugh out loud. Jack Nicholson and his maniacal grin may have something to worry about.

We come across inevitable, intriguing, and inexorable phrases/concepts often used in romance novels. What’s your favorite cliché—plot, word, sentence or scene? You can cite one of the ones below if you wish (I’m crazy about the hero always being scared of his valet). Here’s the opening of Third-Rate Romance, my recently completed and languishing romance novel spoof. I haven’t counted, but there are a clutch of clichés for your reading pleasure. One lucky commenter will win August’s prizes—a brand-new copy of Stephanie Laurens’ first-rate, non-clichéd All About Passion, some fabulous Maine bookmarks and other surprises. Look for the winner and new post on August 8.

“I don’t know why my father has to be an impoverished earl who lost the family fortune at one turn of the cards,” complained Lady Eleanor Buxton, her auburn eyebrows knotted in adorable frustration. “It’s such a cliché. Why didn’t she make him a ship’s captain so I could have sailed around the world and had an adventure or two? I might be wearing skintight breeches fighting Barbary pirates this very minute instead of lounging about Lady Caterham’s dull old drawing room.” She gave a fringed ottoman a vicious kick.

“Do think for a moment, Ellie. You know you’d only have to be captured quite early on and sold into slavery,” replied Lionel Hamilton, fourth Duke of Cleves, sixth Earl of Wynton, ninth Viscount Stacy and thirteenth Baron Gussington. “But that,” he added, pausing, “might be rather amusing.”

A long tapered finger tapped his chin and his dark eyes took on a faraway look. “Hmm. Imagine Ali Bey or some such villain looming above you, your helpless ivory limbs tied with silken ropes as he has his wicked way with you.” The duke brushed an imaginary tuft of lint off his well-toned thigh. “I confess that image quite piques my interest.” The bulge in his perfectly form-fitting inexpressibles confirmed his opinion.

“Rape is never amusing! It goes against every tenet of the romance genre since the 1970s,” Eleanor informed him, her green eyes flashing the obligatory daggers. “You know you’d have to save me before it ever came to that, and very likely you’d be imprisoned and tortured. And then she’d make me save you by some clever trick or other! Not that you’d deserve it!”

“Now, now,” Lionel said mildly, “you know we are meant for each other. You hated me on sight and have misconstrued my every action since the beginning.” He took a discreet pinch of snuff and leaned idly against a marble Corinthian column stolen from an ancient grave site.

“Disgusting habit! And lower that damned eyebrow. I cannot endure it!”

Lionel smiled his crooked smile instead and picked at an invisible thread on the sleeve of his immaculate Weston coat. How he lived to torment the little baggage. It was simply too simple. “I can see you in the harem now, my love. Your riot of copper curls might sway the sultan initially, but I doubt he’d be fond of you long once you turned your fiery temper upon him. And you know,” he drawled, “you’d inevitably get fat. All the sugared dates, goat cheese and whatnot. I believe more pulchritude is the standard of beauty in the East.”

He cast an assessing black glance at her piquant little face. “Plus, you’d be veiled. It seems a damn shame to cover up that pert little nose, faintly freckled and twitching in anger.”

Eleanor threw herself down on the striped Sheraton sofa. “This book is insupportable! I’ll probably be doomed to act like a widgeon almost up until the end! Then you’ll settle my father’s debts anonymously and pave your way. You think you’re so darned noble.”

“Is it really such an arduous task to love me, Ellie? I’m considered quite a catch, you know. The matchmaking mamas have set their sights on me for an age,” Lionel said, somewhat hurt.

Eleanor snorted in a most unladylike fashion. “Oh, I know your artfully disarranged black hair is all the rage. Your eyes are as black as spades and twice as sharp. How you are so tan in the middle of a rainy English spring after an endless English winter is a mystery, but I’ll go along with it.” She smoothed the folds of her bottle-green riding habit. “Why am I wearing this? It’s all wrong for an afternoon visit to Lady Caterham’s drawing room,” she mumbled to herself. “She doesn’t know the difference between sarcenet and dampened muslin, I wager. Lionel,” Eleanor implored, “please hold me!”

Lionel swiftly ensconced himself on the sofa, doing his grim duty. He was unusually tall for a nineteenth century Englishman and did not find himself at all comfortable; nevertheless, he enveloped the petite trembling form of Lady Eleanor as she ruined his lapels with salty tears. His valet would no doubt give him hell.

I’m going to go practice my smirk now, right after I quirk an eyebrow or two. For more of TRR, all of Chapter 1 is posted to the left. Don’t forget Romance Novel TV’s writers’ workshop this month, so you can avoid cliché-city!

27 comments to “Romance Land Shorthand Contest!”

  1. Santa
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    1
     · August 1st, 2007 at 10:25 am · Link

    I still don’t get hooded eyes or looking at someone with lowered lashes. I’ve got the raised eyebrow and slightly lifting the corners of my mouth in a shadow of a smile but those lowered lashes elude me. I can’t see a damn thing when I lower my lashes!!



  2. AprilsMom
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    2
     · August 1st, 2007 at 1:18 pm · Link

    I always grin at the description of the hero as “moving with the lean, predatory grace of a panther”. Although it’s great set-the-mood imagery, how many 19th century heroines would have actually set eyes on a panther?

    Maggie, I love TRR! Great job.



  3. Marisa
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    3
     · August 1st, 2007 at 7:19 pm · Link

    Oh My, Maggie you made me LOL.

    Ok the 2 most cliche phrases that drive me nuts when I read them are:
    1. ‘turnabout is fair play’
    2. “she turned her head to give him better access”.

    Yikes whenever I see those two phrases I think there must be another way to say – that he or she is getting their own back , and that she was really into the kiss. Yes?



  4. anne
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    4
     · August 1st, 2007 at 11:47 pm · Link

    LOL, Maggie, TRR is too precious! Thanks so much for the giggles!



  5. anne
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     · August 1st, 2007 at 11:50 pm · Link

    Oh! I forgot to say that, among cliches, “gaze,” “purple-headed warrior” and “heaving breasts” are enough to make me throw the book into the fire.



  6. anne
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    6
     · August 2nd, 2007 at 12:06 am · Link

    …And, if the cocked cock isn’t a cliche, it should be! (Consider it used once, then let’s obliterate from the language, LOL!)



  7. elyssany
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     · August 2nd, 2007 at 3:18 am · Link

    I like when the heroes are always described as walking into the room with a predatory look. Okay, are we talking cute obsessive or scary possessive?

    But really what would we be without a cocked eyebrow, exclamations from virgins in “I don’t think that’s going to fit,” or the “her heart was so full it was going to burst.”



  8. Maggie Robinson
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    8
     · August 2nd, 2007 at 7:25 am · Link

    Oh, these cliches are all good! Thanks everybody. Keep ’em coming! I’m paying attention for revisions.

    I think Pricess Diana was famous for the lowered lashes thing. I know she read a lot of her step-grandmother Barbara Cartland’s books with all those demure virgins. Anybody want to confess to reading some? *raising hand really reluctantly*



  9. RevMelinda
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     · August 3rd, 2007 at 1:38 am · Link

    Maggie, how about “depredations” or “ministrations”? (As in, “he continued his depredations/ministrations as she moaned in ecstasy, etc etc etc.”)

    I’ve complained about “crisp hair” (beneath her seeking fingers) and “hair-dusted” (legs, chest, etc) before. And ever since I read someone somewhere complain about “pants” I can’t read that word in a love scene any more (“her breath came in ragged pants”–uh, were they cargos or capris?).



  10. Keira Soleore
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    10
     · August 3rd, 2007 at 2:39 am · Link

    Maggie, you’re a RIOT!! This is my third trip here today to read your intriguing tale of mobile eyebrows and innocent pampered moues.

    I raise an “enthusiastic” hand as an avid past reader of Barbara Cartlands. Wish I could find more of those impossibly improbable stories these days.

    *impossibly broad shoulders
    *well-muscled thighs
    *clenched jaws (TMJ ouch!)
    *muscle ticking in jaw
    *tremulous sighs
    *tremulous lips
    *heaving bosom

    Given that the hero walks around the entire novel in an eager state and goes riding often, isn’t it a miracle he’s able to father children?



  11. Sue A.
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    11
     · August 3rd, 2007 at 5:32 am · Link

    My favorite cliche words have to do with love scenes, where the descriptive passages are filled with words that belong in the kitchen as easily as the bedroom.
    juice, honey, cream, milk, peaches, apples, plums…



  12. Maggie Robinson
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    12
     · August 3rd, 2007 at 5:48 am · Link

    Sue A, now I’m thinking of those pebbled berries and strawberry-tipped nipples, and it’s only 5:45 AM!

    Keira, really excellent list! The fun thing about TRR is I can pack as many bad (good?) cliches in it as I want.

    RevM, I have no salad references. I’ll have to amend that.:)



  13. terrio
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    13
     · August 3rd, 2007 at 11:52 am · Link

    I’m late but I finally made it over here. I do so heart TRR. It cracks me up all the time and it’s all the funnier (?) for being so damn accurate.

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned the “she burst into a million little pieces”. And I do have to wonder how these guys are sooooo easily aroused all the time. I realize guys are easy but a look across the room? Hmmm…..

    I’m sure there are more but I’m running very low on sleep. When the mind kicks back in (make that “if”) I’ll try to come up with more.



  14. Tessa Dare
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     · August 3rd, 2007 at 12:10 pm · Link

    lol, RevMelinda, at the pants.

    I had a joke in GOTH that went something like this…
    “He stroked her again and again, until her breath came in hot little pants, and Jeremy thought he would come in his.”

    But then – my esteemed CP pointed out that they didn’t use the word ‘pants’ to refer to clothing for another hundred years. Dangit.

    So anyone writing a contemp is welcome to use it!

    I get tired of eyes being compared to precious stones. Glittering like diamonds, shining like sapphires, enigmatic as emeralds, black as obsidian, etc. etc.



  15. MsHellion
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    15
     · August 3rd, 2007 at 12:21 pm · Link

    I love the “lowered lashes” and “smirk” or “quirked smile” or “cocked brow”–those are my favorite.

    I do think it’s funny though when the hero sees something like the heroine’s pinky finger and gets an immediate hard-on. What’s with that?



  16. RevMelinda
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    16
     · August 3rd, 2007 at 2:29 pm · Link

    Tessa, that is wicked funny! I love it! And once you start noticing them, “pants” are everywhere.

    Maggie, I just reread all of TRR and it just knocked me out as always. So Much Fun!

    Does Lionel possess a quizzing glass?



  17. BernardL
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    17
     · August 3rd, 2007 at 4:54 pm · Link

    Watch the blonde on CSI Miami sometime. She has the goofiest smile I have ever seen, and will flash it at the most absurd times imaginable. It never reaches her eyes. I’d be real happy if it never reached her mouth either. 🙂

    Great excerpt.



  18. beverley
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    18
     · August 3rd, 2007 at 6:13 pm · Link

    Oh Maggie, you had be dying with laughter. You must continue. I wasn’t ready for it to end. Love the ‘artfully disarranged black hair bit’. It’s so nice we romance writers don’t take ourselves toooooo seriously.



  19. Maggie Robinson
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     · August 3rd, 2007 at 6:42 pm · Link

    Bev, it’s been a blast to write…now if only I could get an agent to read it, LOL. I’m going to introduce my Western couple in a future blog.

    Terrio and Hellion, thanks for dropping by in the midst of your vacation madness!It is amazing these romance characters can get off instantly, isn’t it? The white throat…the perfect earlobe, etc.

    Tessa, that quote makes me want to start a new contemporary. I would of course attribute the genius to you.

    Bernard, I’ll have to break my no-TV rule and catch CSI sometime!

    RevM, I’ll have to add a quizzing glass in revisions. Lionel is really a hoot later on in the story, all icy dukeness.

    And thanks, Santa, Aprilsmom,Marisa,Anne and Ely for your earlier input. I got knocked off the computer (thunderstorm)after I had carefully responded to each of your posts and was too lazy to do it again. I guess I’m lucky to be alive, huh? You are officially entered in the contest!



  20. Janga
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    20
     · August 4th, 2007 at 9:45 pm · Link

    Tessa, I just read the phrase “obsidian eyes” today, and it threw me out of the story. I found myself wondering if the hero’s eyes were black, brown, or dark green. Were they sharp as weapons? Emblamatic of fiery depths?By the time I had spent thirty minutes pondering the properties of “obsidian,” I had no desire to return to the story.

    Maggie, the cliche that irritates me most at the present is one of title rather than words. I think if we counted all the dukes in Britain from 1066-2006, we would have fewer than those who have inhabited Regency-set histoticals in the past five years.

    As for TRR, I too love it. I bow before your wit, Maggie.



  21. Lindsey
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    21
     · August 6th, 2007 at 9:50 am · Link

    Yay for TRR – I’ve missed it!

    I’m so with Janga on dukes. I’m also highly skeptical of the number of heroines who are the incomparable of the season.



  22. maykong
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    22
     · August 6th, 2007 at 11:43 am · Link

    Haha, that was great! I always smile a bit when descriptions such as “heaving bosom”, “flashing eyes”, “steely gaze” are used. Trying to do these in real life is a lot harder than you’d think. ^^



  23. PJ
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    23
     · August 6th, 2007 at 12:08 pm · Link

    I’m LMAO. These are all so true and so funny! What gets me is when the hero catches a glimpse of her “delicately turned ankle” and immediately gets a hard on. I mean, come on. Her ankle? I’ll have you know I’ve been showing my “delicately turned ankle” all damn summer and not one turned-on hero has followed me home yet!



  24. PJ
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     · August 6th, 2007 at 12:11 pm · Link

    Maggie, TRR is great. Excellent job!

    ~PJ



  25. Maggie Robinson
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     · August 6th, 2007 at 12:43 pm · Link

    Yeah, PJ, I never figured out the allure of ankles or calves (and especially not thighs, LOL…at least mine) but I guess it all had to do with the “forbidden” aspect.

    May, I have quite a bosom myself, but I cannot make it heave no matter how hard I try. Those Playtex Everyday Basics bras are like bands of iron…which is a good thing. 🙂

    Janga, no jeweled eyes, and no ruby lips either!

    Lindsey (and Janga), I read somewhere the # of dukes (non-royal) during the regency was pretty miniscule. Today there are 5 royal and about 25 regular, I think. And let’s not forget, in our beloved Regencies, they’re all SPIES too! At least Lionel is.



  26. irisheyes
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     · August 7th, 2007 at 2:26 pm · Link

    Hilarious post, Maggie! TRR was great. I’m not sure there’s a cliche you missed. I suppose you’d have to wait until Ellie and Lionel get intimate for all the sexual cliches to surface.

    The cliche that was kind of getting old for me was the I hate you, you hate me let’s just have fabulous sex together. Also, the earth-shattering sex in a moving carriage thing is pretty hilarious, especially considering the times.

    The instant “arousal” every other minute is also a little outrageous. But then again, considering what was and wasn’t allowed, I suppose I can see it a whole lot more in historicals than in contemporaries.



  27. Maggie Robinson
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     · August 8th, 2007 at 7:46 am · Link

    Oh, Irish, Lionel and Ellie have fabulous sex in a carriage later on! Kelly King didn’t think to write it, but the characters thought of it all on their own. 😉