Manipulative Leads in Romance Novels

31 July, 2016




A long time ago I read an article about a 'famous' Playboy photographer who let us in on his biggest 'trade' secret to capturing the best photos for the magazine.

He said when he starts with a new model, he is silent and refuses to offer the woman any words of encouragement. That way, she becomes desperate and starts to expose herself more, works harder to attract him as a woman, and ends up making love to the 'camera' so-to-speak.

This was an eye-opener moment on Manipulative Behavior because at that time, a friend's photographer friend wanted to work with me, and I hated him. He rubbed me the wrong way and was the most insulting creep I had ever met.

It confused me why he wanted to take my picture if he had nothing nice to say and treated me like dirt.

After reading that Divine Providence article, it made perfect sense.

Especially since he wasn't the first rude guy I had encountered back in the day.

From about the 6th grade on, I met my fair share of manipulative males who sneered at, laughed at, insulted, and belittled me to no end.

It never came off as their believing that by being mean, I would somehow want them.

I just assumed it was an immature guy thing.



Decades later, those same 'guys' behave the way that they had back in their teens and twenties.

They're incapable of intelligent, worthwhile conversation and instead like to bring up ancient mishaps, like the time you slipped and fell, exposing your crotch to the world, or whatever other inane, ridiculous notion pops into their heads.

As long as it makes me uncomfortable, embarrassed, or unhappy, they're good to go.

Insults and laughing AT you are their trademark and making sure you look like an idiot and feel awful is their ultimate goal.

When it comes to manipulative behavior, I feel self-appointed expert on the topic, so when I recognize them as a lead in a Romance novel, I go a little crazy.

There are two plot devices I refuse to read: the extra-marital affair and manipulative bastard (H and/or h).

A disturbing trend in Contemporary Romance novels is the use of manipulative behavior on the part of the H (and the h).

Protagonists, mind you, and neither sex can be excused or redeemed.

If the author thinks I will buy the concept of an h falling for a manipulative H or vice versa, they are dead wrong.

I don't bad-review or low-rate the novel, I just stop reading the story to find out 'what happens' is all, and that is becoming too frequent of late.

I know what happens, and having to read about it in a 'romance' novel is contradictory to my own emotions via experience.

Yes, it happens all the time in real life.

Which is why we hear so much about domestic abuse.

There is nothing romantic, soothing, or promotional about manipulating someone.

According to psychology author George K. Simon, successful psychological manipulation primarily involves the manipulator:

  • Concealing aggressive intentions and behaviors.
  • Knowing the psychological vulnerabilities of the victim to determine which tactics are likely to be the most effective.
  • Having a sufficient level of ruthlessness to have no qualms about causing harm to the victim if necessary.

Consequently, the manipulation is likely to be accomplished through covert aggressive (relational aggressive or passive aggressive) means. ~Wikipedia

When the H cusses at, talks down to, or insults the h and the author refers to it as mutual hate or distrust, I roll my eyes.

When the H insults, cusses out, or badgers the h and the h starts to feel something stir in her 'core', it makes me cringe.

When the H talks down to the h, embarrasses her in front of others, or simply behaves like an arrogant ass and the h begins to wonder what more the H has to offer, I become unhinged.

It makes me wonder how much the author really knows about relationships and if they have ever experienced life outside their Pleasantville snow globe.

The difference between manipulative behavior versus mutual distrust, anger directed at another, or reactionary behavior based on misinformation is like apples to oranges.

Manipulation can be as subtle as a sneer and as outright obvious as 50 Shades, but it is still the unfeeling, insecure attempt to one-up their 'victim'.

Some readers cry foul if the h sheds tears at any point in the story, or if the h spends a paragraph or two wallowing in reflective self-pity, but they are somehow okay with an H being foul-mouthed, aggressive, and/or rude and insulting.

Weeping is real, natural, and nothing to be ashamed of, and wallowing in a few minutes of self-pity is nothing life-shattering or immoral.

Trying to pawn off a jackass or a hag/shrew as a leading love interest is, though.

If both leads are overly antagonistic, insult one another, and are rude before eventually falling into the same bed, that is an author's prerogative and a reader's preference.

If the story involves a typical h meeting an amoral H and her goal is to change him, I'm not buying it or the book.

Manipulation is abuse in any relationship, and as mentioned above, leads to domestic violence at most, destruction of self-worth at least.

Zero romance factor there.

An h labeled as ballzy and brave but actually behaves shrewish or ineffective is just as bad and I fail to see the appeal in a female capable of knocking a male into next Tuesday.

Or an H who lets her get away with it.

Nothing wrong with physically fit females -- that isn't what I said -- it is the notion that a raging h whose guard is always (always) up, who resembles a wounded animal and snaps at everyone she meets is not my idea of romantic material.

If a romantic lead needs Anger Management courses or a full Psychiatric Evaluation at any point in the story, the Romance aspect is out the window and I'm left to wonder what is the point.

There is just too little to work with and I don't see the appeal.

It is a clear indicator of trend, an Editor's advice on formula, and bad things to come, which isn't good, and that's just sad.

OR, it is the author's misguided attempt at making the male protagonist sexy like Loki but missing the mark entirely because they fail to see all that is wrong with Loki's true character.

Sexy? Sure. Trustworthy? Not on your life. Romantic? Never.

A Good for Sex, Not Good for the Long Haul kind of character -- hardly the stuff of Heroic Legend appeal.

The Bad Boy is sexy and has appeal, but White Trash is never a good idea for a male Protagonist.

There is nothing sexy or appealing about Donald Trump, and to be reminded of a guy like him when reading a Romance novel is neither enjoyable nor captivating.

Save the manipulative jerkwad antics for your Antagonist, please.

Don't force me to stop reading just a chapter or two into your story -- which I've never had to do until now.


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