1. The heroine is stunningly beautiful. It’s one thing for the hero to glance at her legs, or imagine running his fingers through her long hair. It’s quite another if he (or worse, she) rhapsodizes about her “blackberry brandy tresses”? or “the small, perfect dimple in her cheek”?, not to mention her watermelon breasts and thimble waist. Likewise, the hero is tall, broad-shouldered, muscled like a python and hung like a horse.
2. The heroine is a princess. Or a movie star, the president’s daughter, etc. although princesses are the most implausible because the author has to further strain the suspension of disbelief by creating a new country called Bosnikovakia.
3. The hero is a prince, tycoon, billionaire or sheik. The last is particularly difficult for me to believe because I live in the Middle East, and I’m too accustomed to what real sheiks are like.
4. The heroine is a child (or under eighteen, anyway), and the hero is in his thirties.
5. The heroine cries at every opportunity, while the hero snarls as though he missed all his rabies shots.
6. The heroine claims she can take care of herself as she steps on a rattlesnake and simultaneously shoots herself in the ear.
7. The heroine has no useful skills. In historical times, most women were expected to work, and work hard. In contemporary times, a truly admirable heroine should have some ambition, vocation or dream other than that of getting married and having lots of babies.
8. The heroine has every useful skill ever heard of. She can ride a mustang, operate for appendicitis and fix a nuclear reactor. She is Ayla in Jean Auel’s Harlequin Prehistoricals, and almost as boring.
9. No other woman in the novel is allowed to outshine the heroine when it comes to looks or skills, just as no man is allowed to be taller, stronger or richer than the hero. The two are pinnacles of perfection.
10. The heroine has a small, suitably feminine profession like painting flowerpots – something which doesn’t interfere with her courtship by the hero.
11. The heroine has a challenging, interesting profession like being a police officer or an epidemiologist – but it’s just something to while away the time until she can get married and have babies.
12. Improbable names. Sometimes, names like Allegra or Flame can sound different, exotic and interesting – but other times, it’s too easy to be jerked right out of the story. I’ve read about heroines called Ritz, Blaze (which makes me think of a horse), and my personal favorite, Hastings. In the last case, I keep thinking of William the Conqueror.
13. The hero or the heroine is married/engaged to another person when they meet, this person being the Evil Other Woman or Evil Other Man. The EOW is always sexually experienced, while the EOM dabbles in either homosexuality or abuse of the heroine.
14. The hero’s wife/mother betrayed him/lied to him/didn’t change his diapers regularly. As a result, he now distrusts all women.
15. The hero treats the heroine like dirt, while his quiet, decent best friend takes her side and helps her out as much as he can. Guess which one she finds more attractive?
16. The hero is wildly jealous at the mere idea of any other man staking his claim on the fertile territory that is the female protagonist (heroine is too good a word here).
17. The hero/heroine meets a mysterious, alluring stranger (who may also be masked) and who’s so much more intriguing than their boring or uninterested spouse. Gosh, who will they choose in the end?
18. Some kind of otherworldly force intervenes to bring the heroine and hero together. This can work, but when it doesn’t, you get the spirit of dead Aunt Myrtle or a magical bowl called Elmer Presley (yes, this has actually been done in a published novel).
19. The heroine has sisters who pop in just long enough to assure readers that they will star in the sequels. Sometimes the author highlights this by giving all the girls similar names, eg. Faith, Hope and Charity.
20. The hero rapes or otherwise sexually assaults the heroine. This was the normal method of sexual congress in most novels written before 1985; good women didn’t give in easily, and good men never took no for an answer.
21. The heroine is a virgin. The hero is a promiscuous stud. His mistress enjoys sex, so naturally he prefers the clueless innocent who didn’t know what an orgasm was until he came along. Plus, although the hero has had sex with everyone except his mother, he’s never contracted syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, etc.
22. After the rape, the hero demands to know why the heroine didn’t tell him that she was a virgin.
23. The deflowering scene is utterly painless. Or there’s a quick little twinge that doesn’t prevent the heroine from having sex four times more that night.
24. The hero and heroine have sex several times – or several dozen times – throughout the course of the novel and never think about pregnancy or take precautions against it.
25. The hero and heroine have unprotected sex once, and bingo, she’s pregnant. Now the heroine has proven her fertility and thereby her adequacy for the role of Wife. Yay. <waves a little flag>
26. When sex occurs, a “proud manroot”? enters a “willing love grotto”? and the characters “explore the celestial spheres”?. Ridiculous talk during sex occurs in mainstream fiction, too. I’ll never forget the Barbara Taylor Bradford novel I read where the hero said, “I must be enveloped in the lovely warmth that is you, my darling.”? Stick a stamp on that envelope and mail it.
27. The heroine’s actions are described as “shy”? and “hesitant”?, and she is overcome with “mortification”? until she realizes that she loves the hero, whereupon she becomes a sex kitten and behaves “shamelessly”?.
28. The villain may abduct the heroine, and may tear her clothes off, and if the author is particularly daring, he may even (gasp) grope her breast. But he never actually gets to rape her. That’s the hero’s prerogative.
29. Although the heroine has had sex with other men, only the hero gives her an orgasm.
30. Although the heroine was married before she met the hero, her husband was away/sick/dead/impotent/gay/all of the above. As a result, she’s still got that Magic Membrane.
31. Although the heroine’s husband was a nice enough guy and treated her well, she just didn’t feel the overwhelming passion with him that she does with the hero. Because the Great Surge Of Meaningful Desire is something you only feel with the one person.
32. The heroine has a secret child. So first, she most likely hasn’t used contraception. Second, she hasn’t told the hero that she’s expecting his child. Finally, there’s nothing inherently romantic about being a single mother.
33. The heroine has no problems with being a single mother since she has enough money to stay at home. Or her employer is quite happy to give her six years of maternity leave.
34. Despite being unexpectedly pregnant (or, for that matter, pregnant as a result of rape) the heroine never thinks of having an abortion, or thinks of it with horror and loathing. Because, you know, only evil people have abortions.
35. Despite never having known his secret child, the hero bonds immediately and well with the boy (or, more rarely, girl). However, the villain (defined in this case as the man who married the heroine to give her child legitimacy) doesn’t inspire any devotion in the child, which is convenient for all concerned, including the author.
36. The child in question is a paragon of perfection who goes around calling eligible men (i.e. the hero) Daddy and is always conveniently asleep when Daddy and Mommy are feeling frisky.
Any more that I've left out?