If you read historical romance, you’ve no doubt come across a scene where the heroine becomes so frustrated, she slaps the clueless hero. Often, this is a turning point, which brings the hero to realize the error of his ways, so he can make the changes that lead to the Happily Ever After.
I’ve never been a fan of the slap, or its near-twin, stomping on his foot, though I’ve heard all the arguments for it. The woman is too small to really hurt him. She is so constrained by society she has no other means of her expressing her displeasure. But I can’t really see the hero opening his heart if he expects to get whacked upside the head every time they disagree. And as a writer, the slap looks like the cliché I’m trying to avoid.
Intimate relationships are, by definition, physical. What’s thrilling to one lover might be shocking to the next. Go too far with your hands-off policy, and your romance loses its sizzle.
I once had a contest judge tell me the hero was abusive because he grabbed the heroine’s arm to stop her from leaving. A friend received the same remark about a hero who raised his voice. In both cases, the scenes would have fallen flat had we followed the judge’s advice and removed the offending behavior.
On the other end of the spectrum, I recently read a story where the heroine punched the hero in the mouth. As he sprawled on the floor, wondering if he should get stitches for his bleeding lip, he thought, “Wow. She still hits as hard as she used to. I can’t wait to get back with her.” In my mind, he didn’t look heroic, he looked stupid.
There’s a world of difference between a playful pat on the bottom and the full force paddling I’ve read in western romances. So where do we draw the lines?
I’ve come up with two basics tests to judge my own work. First, if we turned the situation around, would both characters still look heroic? Second, if I saw my teenage kid in this relationship, would I tell him to get out?
Applying these questions to the previous examples: If the hero slapped the heroine, he would be condemned, no longer the hero, but the antagonist. If my teenage son came home with a bloody lip, I would tell him to stop seeing the girl who punched him. So in my book, both of those scenarios are out.
I realize this is a controversial subject. Before the hate mail begins, let me explain. I am all for the kick-ass heroine who fights to defend herself or serve her country. In the real world, violence against women should be universally condemned. Today we are only talking about fiction, mainstream romance writing, and expressions of anger in an otherwise loving and committed relationship.
So what’s your take? Please post a comment and tell us: Are you for the slap or against it? How do you show anger between the hero and heroine? And how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?