Question: What Are Your SFF Deal Breakers?

Posted February 19, 2015 by Carmel in Question / 105 Comments


One of the things I love most about reading speculative fiction is that almost anything is possible; a man can turn into a wolf, power isn’t measured by one’s size, time travel exists, and eternity takes on a whole new meaning when immortality is on the table. However, there are a few steadfast rules that shouldn’t be broken in my opinion; I’m not saying that I’ll quit a series entirely if an author does the unthinkable, although I have been known to do so on occasion, but I will give the book a lower rating. My main no-no’s are:

Death Is Forever: Unless a human is being turned into a vampire, ghoul, or zombie, once they stop breathing it should be permanent. George R. R. Martin aside, writers need to think long and hard before offing one of their babies whether it be a protagonist, villain or secondary except if the character is going to be a ghost for the remainder of the series. This brings me to my next point…

Ghosts & Romance Don’t Mix: I’m all for the intermingling of supes when it comes to couples, but spirit is an entirely different state of being. They are incorporeal, so even if they have the sickest poltergeist powers ever the fact remains that they aren’t part of the physical world which means that the only way that a specter love interest can end well is if either A) They get revived (see previous deal breaker) or B) Their mate takes a dirt nap. Option two can’t really be considered a HEA, so very few authors are willing to go that route.

There Is No Cure: Whether a character is born a supe or made into one, doesn’t really matter in the long run; however what does matter is that it’s a do not pass go, do not collect $200 type deal. Lycanthropy, vampirism, witcheryβ€”you name itβ€”is for life. It’s a condition, a disease, or whatever you want to call it that is irreversible, like diabetes. It can be controlled, and sometimes even suppressed, but there is no antidote. A zombie can’t undie, a wizard can’t vaporize the magic in his blood, and Fae cannot become average Joe’s. Period.

Magic Cause & Effect: Like the physical world, magic systems need to have strict rules and boundaries that are non-negotiable, otherwise dudes like Gandalf could do ANYTHING, and how boring would Fantasy be without epic quests? Just wave a wand, and POOF, end of story. Also, there needs to be a cost to hocus pocus whether it be physical pain, blood sacrifice, or going dark. It’s one of nature’s basic rules: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

What Are Your SFF Deal Breakers?

Have a bookish question you’d like Rabid Reads to weigh-in on? E-mail me, and be sure you include your blog URL (if you have one), so we can give you credit!

Carmel Signature

Owner, designer and main blogger behind Rabid Reads. Avid book reader, snowboard bunny, video gamer and Supernatural fan. I love all things paranormal, werewolves especially. Oh, and I’m Canadian, eh!

Facebook Twitter Google+    


105 responses to “Question: What Are Your SFF Deal Breakers?

  1. I agree with all of the above but I also must say that zombies and romance do not mix IMO. It’s not that they are undead cause vampires are..but they are rotting, body parts could fall’s just gross and I don’t see anything romantic about a man whose skin is rotting off!!! πŸ™‚ I just can’t do it..nope nope. πŸ™‚
    Stormi recently posted…Audioreview of Vanished

  2. I think I’m more flexible on some of these points than you are – like the coming back from the dead. I can think of two series I really enjoy where the hero dies and comes back. But the magical world/system is really important for me too. I don’t like it when it doesn’t make sense or when everything is too easy. There should be costs, it shouldn’t be simple.
    Berls recently posted…Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

  3. I agree with you about the ghosts. It’s so hard to bring back a ghost without it feeling like breaking the magic/world building rules.

    Bug-shifters would probably be a deal breaker for me. Bugs are not cool or sexy. LOL.

  4. Lucia from Reading Is My

    Ghosts & Romance Don’t Mix! I 100% agree with this deal breaker. I just cannot do human/ghost romance. Heck, I wouldnt even call it a romance. I once read YA novel with human/ghost romance and it was just so…sick. Hero was endangering his life all the time until he died so he could “be” with his ghost lady. Not for me.
    Lucia recently posted…LIFE CHANGING READS #3: How Heather Demetrios changed my perception of YA contemporary novels

  5. I’m fairly flexible as long as the is a legitimate reason for it. For example in Dark Needs at Night’s Edge by Kresley Cole, there is a ghost. She makes it work. Now, this isn’t my favorite book in the series, but I didn’t hate it either. I just need the solution to the issue to be plausible in the world they live in.

    I do agree with death is forever. I can’t think of a single story where I liked how the character came back to life. There are some where we THINK the character is dead, but were wrong, that is fine. I have left a series because of this, though I’ve been told that I need to pick it back up. Maybe one day.

    Stormi mentioned zombies. The only zombies I’ve read are Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombies and she handles the rotting issue, so it doesn’t bother me. I couldn’t handle it if there was actual rot all the time.
    Melanie recently posted…Review: Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

    • It was actually Dark Needs at Night’s Edge that prompted this post. LOL! I listened to it recently, and was reminded why I avoid ghost romances, even Cole couldn’t make it work for me.

      A zombie dating a zombie makes sense cuz it’s like two smokers dating, you can’t smell the nicotine on each other.

  6. Agree that magic needs to have a cause and effect. I hate it when supernaturals in books are given unlimited powers that just seem to stack-up more and more as the series progresses because the author keeps adding on without taking away. There needs to be consequences in some shape or another to using magic.

    A couple of my deal breakers are probably:
    The special snowflake: I’m so tired of books where the main character is the only of their kind and so special everyone wants him/her for whatever purpose.

    Sex magic: Good god I hate it when magic needs to be increased by this. To me it can either verge too much on rape if one party isn’t willing but it needs to be done to “save” something or just a lazy excuse to get two people together.

    • I’ve quite many a series where the protagonist just seemed to manifest a massive amount of power out of no where. Magic doesn’t solve everything.

      You made me laugh with your special snowflake comment. Too true! I’ve given up on sex magic too. It just doesn’t work for me.

  7. These are all deal breakers for me as well. I use to not mind the ghost, having a crush on it thing but then I realized, what is the point? Not like something can happen between them right?

    So I agree, these are all rules author’s should live by. For the most part I can believe anything if it is done realistically and well, but that believe-ability depends on the author’s talent of world building. πŸ˜‰
    kindlemom1 recently posted…Review: Hunting Grounds by Patricia Briggs

    • It really does come down to how the author handles it. If there’s enough set-up to make it credible, I’m willing to go with it, but too often deal breakers come out of the blue.

    • Aah yes, Edie and what was his name? Ti? Blech! I’m so happy that he didn’t end up being the final match for that series’ heroine. I’m still pissed at Ward too. LOL! Talk about holding a grudge.

  8. I completely agree on the ghosts and romance Carmel! I haven’t read a ghostly romance yet that really worked for me, though there was one that ended with the other person taking a dirt nap as well. So, that was sort of a happy ending? In a kind of horrifying way:)

  9. Hi Carmel!
    I completely agree with you on the “Death is Forever” thing–the CW television series and certain comic books drive me CRAZY with this one. When a character is dead, they should stay dead! And I’m so glad you mentioned “Ghosts & Romance Don’t Mix” because I was actually on the fence about that as a concept in one of my own works in progress and I decided against it for similar reasons to what you stated.

    Completely agree that magic must always come at a price, otherwise if the magic-using character can have free rein and do anything, it’s boring.

    One of my other dealbreakers is supernatural characters who blindly help the main character and his or her friends (a “Scooby Gang”) because of manipulation that becomes boring, like when a vampire says to a witch that s/he has to help the vampire’s cause otherwise they’ll kill the witch or otherwise hurt a family member–there’s only so many times they can use that threat before it becomes boring/expected. I feel like that’s very overdone.

    Great discussion topic!

    • I’m glad that I was able to further reinforce your decision to axe the ghost romance. The blackmail thing is so overdone! I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a deal breaker, but it’s definitely up there on my list of tropes to avoid.

  10. The ghost thing drives me batty! I have seen triangles setup where it is a ghost and a live guy–never mind that I hate triangles but where exactly do you see a relationship with a guy you can’t touch going? Also don’t go with that “ghost can posses a guy’s body” cheat because ewwww that is like a really weird rape (yep I went there if the body he possessed was not interested in having sex then it just shouldn’t happen).

    Yep for life on the supe thing. The only one I will give on is the kill the master vampire and all off his vampires if pure will turn back. Only because that was probably the first thing I learned about Vampires and even then I was skeptical but I will accept it. Everyone else is stuck. Especially witches since you aren’t turned—you either are born with magic or not. Werewolves–no out either as they aren’t technically immortal and the first of the line probably died out thousands of years ago.

    WE totally agree on all points (except maybe the vampire thing but that is highly unlikely to happen since that dude/dudette has been around a long time for a reason and you aren’t likely to know who they are).
    Felicia the Geeky Blogger recently posted…Snagged @ The Library Review: Bodyguard by Jennifer Ashley

    • I fully knew what was coming when I opened this can of worms, so no worries on your rape comment. It’s a valid point anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a story line that featured vamps reverting back to human when their master was killed, they are usually just free of his pull.

  11. I’m not a fan of the ghost thing. I really didn’t like it when J.R. Ward did it in Vishous’s book with Jane. I didn’t really like it in Kresley Cole’s book either. It didn’t stop me from reading the rest of the series, but I always cringe when they make an appearance. The rest of your points are totally true too. Aggravating when I read them. It normally won’t stop me from continuing a series, but I will grind my teeth, shake my head and roll my eyes.
    Tanya recently posted…Review ~ Sin Undone by Larissa Ione

  12. I’m actually okay with any creativity the author works into their speculative fiction so long as they don’t break their own rules when her or she feels its convenient to do so. If the author writes in fated mates for shifters then a story about a shifter falling in love with someone other than the fated mate bond doesn’t work for me or if dead means gone then they’re gone.
    Now my preferences are generally along the lines of what you stated up in your post. I too prefer that use of power or doing magic will cost. I prefer characters that don’t suddenly sprout extraordinary gifts to meet each new crisis like Batman’s utility belt. And I’m skeptical about a heroine or hero being THE One- and the only one that can do something etc. Also, I always wonder how it seriously works when you get a thousand year old immortal falling for a twenty-something new immortal or even a mortal. It takes robbing the cradle pretty far.

    Fun discussion!
    Sophia Rose recently posted…The Great Pick Up Line with Broken Honor by Tonya Burrows #TGPUL

    • Aaah, yes, it’s priceless when an author establishes rules only to break them later on. I’m sorry, but you just lost all credibility! The immortal / mortal love interest always freaks me out too, although if the dude is hot enough I’m game. πŸ˜‰

  13. Excellent discussion post! I don’t mind a ghost BFF, but as a love interest? No way! Even Jane in the BDB bothered me, although Ward did sort of explain things.

    My biggest pet peeve is when the author doesn’t follow the rules. I don’t mind if you make your own rules and set everything up, but if you just throw it out there that oh yeah, your vampires can walk in sunlight without so much as a sunburn? Um, no.

    And zombie-love? What if something falls off at a crucial point? Ewwwwwww!
    Terri recently posted…Superheroes Anonymous book review

    • Ghosts have their place in speculative fiction, just not as a OTP. Some authors really need to think long term before they put stuff on the page like how will this rule impact the direction I want to go in in the future?

  14. What an excellent post! Well, I agree with all your four choices, especially the magic-comes-at-a-cost thing. The wand-waving poof can be super annoying. I also don’t like when I can’t make sense of the character’s choices, which usually happens when the author doesn’t scratch under that surface at all. I hate it when stupid reasons and circumstances arrive suddenly to keep the protagonists from getting together (if it’s a decision, based on some sort of mentality and rooted in personal history, fine; but just to drag things on … big no-no). There are others, I guess, but I think these will do for now πŸ™‚
    Ramona recently posted…Abridged Books

    • Whatever do you mean? Too Stupid To Live protagonists are my FAVOURITE! No, not really. I shouldn’t even joke about that. I hate them, and pray for Darwinism to kick-in ASAP.

    • There are certain situations where it’s ok for a character to come back; however the author has to make it clear that it’s a possibility well beforehand. No, oops, my fans are pissed, so I need to fix this. *POOF* He’s alive!

    • I was on the fence about giving the last Secret book 5 stars because the author broke two of my rules. I thought she should have used Marcela’s necklace as an out instead of the prophecy. But, I just love that series so much… I had to give it to her.

  15. Wow, you really hit the nail bang on the head with all of these points! I couldn’t agree more with them! I’ve read a few books where some characters just have too much magic that it’s ridiculous, borderline invincible. A really great topic πŸ™‚ I just stumbled across your blog for the first time, your taste in books is fabulous! Totally going to have a big stalk around now!
    Anna recently posted…Is it really a review?

    • Thanks for the blog love! I appreciate it! The Jessica McClain (Amanda Carlson) & Black Wings (Christina Henry) series come to mind when I think of magic overload. Needless to say, I threw in the towel on both.

  16. Hmm that actually would be an interesting ending to a story if the main character dies to be with her ghostly mate. I am not a big fan of ghost romances either, but I have read a few in the past.
    I completely agree with your last point, I find it an absolute must in fantasy books that the magic system makes sense. There are rules, limits etc. Same with the world building and rules of the magical world.
    Time travel used to be one of my deal breakers and while I am not a fan of the genre I recently read a time travel book which was pretty good, so who knows I might try them more often.
    Lola recently posted…Lola’s Ramblings: Who are your Favourite Authors?

    • I read a book where one character died to be with the other, and it was a first for me. Coincidentally, it was shortly after I typed up this post. That’s karma for you. LOL!

  17. I used to be a big fan of this indie series, Keira Hudson. I loved how gritty and unique the story was. Then the authoer kept on killing/reviving the characters. It just became ridiculous because he’d do plot twists to make the dead come back.

    Also I agree with the ghost romance. Like how the heck does one romance a spirit when their parts aren’t tangible?? Wind/air play?
    Braine Talk Supe recently posted…Boob Tube Binges: Snowed In

    • Some authors just push their luck too far, and end up losing readers in the process. Granted, there are always the die hards who’ll stick it out, but why go there? *shrugs*

  18. I agree too. But what are your thoughts on Gandalf then? He did die and come back didn’t he?
    I also am turned off by the ghost romances, won’t touch them!

  19. Ghost romances really, really don’t work for me either! And I have actually quit (or at least put on hold for a very long time, so far) a series where a character was killed, and was dead for over one book before coming back to life thanks to magic. What made this even more unbelievable what that the character in question was a vampire, and turned to dust upon dying, so yeah, suspension of disbelief and all that still made me call BS!

    I also love time travel stories. But they have to make some kind of sense even if time travel really doesn’t. Like in 99% of stories involving time travel, there will be a continuum rip or something very bad happens if a characters meets his or her future or past self. I have read a time travel story where that didn’t happen at all, and future and past selves were able to chat together. That just made me upset, because if that’s possible in that universe, what does that say about the ‘essence’ of a person? How can that be inside of two different persons in the same place at the same time?

    Great question this week, Carmel πŸ™‚ Have a terrific afternoon πŸ™‚
    Lexxie recently posted…Up Close and (un)Conventional #13 – Mature and sexy characters

    • Hmmmm…. I wonder what vampire you’re talking about? Are his initials E.S. perhaps? πŸ˜‰

      Time travel is tough. It’s more common in Science Fiction which I don’t read a lot of, but authors really have to pay attention to their time lines in order for it to be believable.

      • Yup, you got it, Carmel, his initiales are indeed E.S… I’m hoping to get back into that series with the same love and enthusiasm I had for it in the beginning.

        I love time travel stories, I think it’s because I would love to be able to travel through time myself one day πŸ˜‰ But it has to make sense based on the ‘laws’ that exist for this kind of paranormal plot.
        Lexxie recently posted…Review: Double Play – Jill Shalvis

      • I’ve read so many installments since that Thing That Can’t Be Named happened, and I think I’ve just deleted it from my memory. It’s better that way.

  20. That’s a good list, Carmel! My deal breaker is when someone who is supposed to be Immortal and old as dirt still behaves like an immature teen and can’t control their emotions and impulses. I really hate that! What were they doing with themselves ll this time. I also don’t believe that they will be bored and do not use any of the modern technology or would not follow paranormal shows/trends at least for fun! :)))
    kara-karina recently posted…Fantasy Romance Review: Chronicles of Warlands series by Elizabeth Vaughan

    • Hehe! Yuppers. I’ve come across a few instances where that happened, and it’s a tough pill to swallow. You can’t seriously tell me that you’ve lived for thousands of years, and have nothing to show for it? URGH!

  21. Mogsy from BiblioSanctum  

    You know, I don’t have any deal breakers. Unless boring can be considered one, but I don’t think that’s what you’re asking. Seriously, as long as a series is still entertaining me, there’s nothing I won’t read.

    I understand your “no ghost romances” point though. There’s a series I’m reading right now (Chris Marie Green’s Jensen Murphy books) about a ghost protagonist. The author’s teasing a couple romantic threads, but none of them hold any appeal to me at all for exactly the reasons you stated. It’s a dead end (no pun intended!) street.
    Mogsy recently posted…Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

    • Sometimes I wish that I could just turn my brain off, and go with the flow. Your approach is better than mine because it IS SFF, so technically anything is possible… I was curious about that series, never read one with a ghost lead before.

  22. I hadn’t really even thought about it, Carmel. But I agree with all your points. I have read an interesting YA romance with ghosts…A Certain Slant of Light. Zombies are a whole ‘nother thing. The death thing and the cure – yeah, those would definitely be no-go’s for me because despite it being fantasy, you’re right…certain rules still apply. This was a great post, Carmel.
    Bookworm Brandee recently posted…#COYER Mini-Challenge & Giveaway ~ Acrostic Accolades

  23. I think the only one on your list that is a hard and fast rule for me is the Magic Cause and Effect. Ever world has to have rules that are non negotiable. And most of the time, those stories that take the time to lay out the rules and really explain their world make better stories, for me at least.

    As for the others, I could point to a couple different books for each bullet point that I completely enjoyed but would probably make you crazy. πŸ™‚ That’s why they are your deal breakers and not mine.

    As for mine, I am coming to realize that I have very little tolerance for the weak-willed female protagonist. I need a strong, kick you in the ass female who doesn’t put up with her man’s crap…. much. *grin*
    Judy recently posted…@IndieSagePromo Review: The Hooker and the Hermit by L.H. Cosway & Penny Reid

    • My deal breakers are totally a personal preference, so I certainly understand why some if not all aren’t yours too. Weak heroines didn’t make the cut because a lot of the time they will grow stronger throughout a series, but if they never learn from their mistakes then absolutely, cya!

    • I could have gone with a more general question rather than a genre specific one; however I don’t read much of anything else, so it wouldn’t have made a very good discussion post.

  24. I definitely agree with all of your deal breakers Carmel. It especially annoys me when suddenly vampires and werewolves can be come normal humans again. And ghost romance… ugh. And Zombies should not get into romances either, they are crazed disgusting undead things that are mindless and dangerous, not romantic! πŸ™‚

    • Like everything else in life, I’m sure there are downsides to being a supe, but for the most part the pros far outweigh the cons, so it baffles me why any of ’em would even want to be human again.

      I totally should have included the zombie point; I’ve only come across one in my fictional wanderings, so it slipped my mind (probably for good reason!).

    • I listened to one recently, and immediately deducted points before I was even a couple of chapters in. It’s unfair to the author, but I can’t change how I feel.

  25. julie from m5monkeys  

    I would concur with the ghosts one and death. Chicago land vamps broke that rule but i quit it also since it was like the scooby gang . Ghost series books have to done right or else I don’t read them. Some work out and others do not πŸ™
    julie recently posted…Red Queen

  26. I’m pretty flexible, but my biggest pet peeve is definitely inconsistencies. I don’t care what the bounds of the magic in whatever world you’re writing about are, but I DO expect there to be some sort of rules governing its employ — what CAN work, what CAN’T work, and so on. None of this “Oh, I need such and such to be possible now, so hey magic can do that now.”
    Liza Barrett recently posted…Movie Musical Challenge: Show Boat

    • My thoughts exactly! You can’t spend a couple of books laying the groundwork for your fictional universe only to throw it out the window when it’s convenient. You made your bed, now LIE IN IT!

  27. Well, you pretty much covered all of my deal breakers too, lol.
    I have only one more: religion involved in any major way in the plot. Any religion. I don’t mind some assassin monks or anything, lol, as long as they don’t start to preach at any point during or after the killing is done, haha. Religious figures or creatures emerging from religious systems can be involved, but keep the actual faith system, any faith system, waaaay out of my leisure time reading, you know?
    Livia recently posted…Q&A with Brandi Evans, A Soldier’s Seduction Excerpt & Giveaway

  28. La Coccinelle from The Ladybug Reads...

    I don’t mind some of the things you mentioned. I liked Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, even with the “cure” (or whatever happened there…) so I don’t necessarily need things to be “permanent”. I also don’t mind ghosts in romance. The only thing they can’t do is the physical stuff. Is love only based on the physical? I sure hope not.

    For me, a deal breaker would be something like rule-breaking. Example: the Twilight series. You can’t establish that vampires can’t have babies and then go and put a vampire baby in there because it’s convenient to the plot. You can’t say that all newly created vampires are super bloodthirsty, violent, and uncontrollable… and then make your heroine turn into a controlled, gentle vampire because she has love in her heart (or whatever Meyer’s excuse was). If you make rules, you have to play by them!
    La Coccinelle recently posted…New to the TBR Pile (17)

    • Love isn’t purely physical, but it’s an integral part as far as I’m concerned, otherwise you’re just friends who live together. Twilight definitely broke a shit ton of rules along the way, but it’s an excellent example of author spitting in cause & effect’s face. Thanks for bringing it up!

  29. My biggest deal breaker is when the hero/heroine totally shrugs off injuries when they don’t have special healing/coping skills. If you aren’t special in some way, there is no way you can fight with a broken arm/multiple stab wounds/etc. There has to be a cost and it seems like often there is no cost for physical injuries. It highly annoys me.
    Sarah recently posted…Review: The Windup Girl

  30. Hmm, I guess I’m more forgiving than you are when it comes to things like this. I like ghosts in romance because they can do things that a living, breathing human cannot. And if they get to come back to life because they did something great, then that’s all the better. I also like it when a vampire or werewolf is ‘cured’. Be it from an ancient curse that’s being lifted or from some 2000 year old artifact or water that they found and it cured them of their vampirism or werewolf disease.
    Mary Kirkland recently posted…Review: 11 in 1 Credit Card Multitool

    • I just find that ghost romances are plain sad, no matter how an author spins ’em. As for curing vampirism; I read paranormal books, so if that aspect goes away, then the story no longer holds my interest.

    • Magic doesn’t solve everything, and I really dislike it when a series cheats by breaking its own rules. It kinda kills all of the books that came before the current installment IMO.

  31. I have to agree on all of these. I especially think that magic having a price is a good thing. Magic can not just happen without a payment of some sort or trade off. Otherwise Potter would have been done for in 5 seconds if there was no trade offs.
    I also have to say that I don’t like it when authors state that because the person is from a different species that they can get away with whatever they want sexually. Sometimes in a series I have come across abuse or rape and the author wrote it off saying it was because of the supernatural being’s nature. I don’t believe that and it will cause me to stop the book right then and there.
    Great post
    Alexa recently posted…Allegiant by Veronica Roth *Alexa’s Review*

    • I agree on your last point. Being different is no excuse to get a free pass for doing bad things. You can only plead ignorance for so long because it becomes intentional.

  32. That is a good point about ghosts and romance, and yah you rarely ever see it where the other dies so they can be together. And yah no bringing people back from the dead! I read a romance once where the vampirism was reversed and I was like dude that’s not cool! I don’t know what my deal breakers are, those are good ones though.
    Tabitha (not yet read) recently posted…Review: Snowblind by Christopher Golden

    • Whenever one of my deal breakers pop-up in a book, I make a point of stating that my rating is based on a personal pet peeve because not everyone feels the same way.