There are sometimes not enough words

Having gotten it in my head that I’d like romances from the 1980s, I came across The Copeland Bride by Justine Cole.  It seemed like the right amount of gut-twisting, darkly tragic stuff I’m back into these days.  Talk of Moliere, a Dickensian back drop, and two people damaged by it all.  There were even a few wittier moments in the beginning.  It could have been great.  And it wasn’t.  If only the writer actually wrote the parts that matter though.

This story was a prime example of why “telling” is not better than “showing.”  I felt like my enjoyment of the story was thwarted at the door of what could have been an exciting exchange ten times too many.  She showed the boring parts and told the interesting parts.  When a character pours their heart out to another, the reader needs to hear the character’s exact words, not the author’s Reader’s Digest version of it.

Entire swaths of what should have been the most poignant parts of the novel were boiled down to a few narrative paragraphs that offered little emotion or sincerity.  It reads more like a historical encounter than a literary one because the characters don’t have strong voices.  They don’t tell their story, the narrator has high-jacked the story and told it for them.  There’s a certain distance that needs to be maintained, and if not it can ruin the story.  A good third person narrator is like a good scientist in the field, observing astutely but not interfering.

I disliked Quinn’s treatment of Noelle a lot the more I kept reading.  In the first half, he was just angry.  In the second half, masochistically cruel would be the appropriate term.  There isn’t a redeeming feature other than his face, which considering that this is romanceland, he’s a dime a dozen.  Noelle isn’t a strong heroine, in spite of the insipid narrative that she’s street smart and carries a knife.  A heroine carrying a weapon doesn’t magically make her self-reliant and able to take care of herself.  The word “rape” gets tossed around too easily.

It just goes to show that the devil is in the details. It also reflects the need for good editors who should be able to spot and correct these kinds of things. But alas, there’s more antagonism toward proper editing and revision these days, so I can hardly be hopeful about future pulp writers.

Have We Met Before?

One of my hugest pet peeves is when characters who have supposedly known each other for years, or they’ve had a very close person in common, that don’t seem to know know each other.  This seems to happen a lot with male characters who end up with their best friend’s sister or female characters who end up with their best friend’s brother.  It’s not the same to just make them fall in love with each other the moment they see one another out of the blue, because they’re already used to the sight.  Something needs to have changed in order for them to reassess the way they look.

What you need to make the past work in the relationship:

  1. Shared memories of a few past events AND how they felt about each other at that point in time.  Did one like the other while the other didn’t notice?  Were they antagonistic toward one another?
  2. When did each of them start feeling differently?  If there wasn’t a direct cause, then when did they realize the change happened?
  3. The characters have to know the general modus operandi of their long time loves, e.g., bad habits new or old, tendencies toward certain actions/activities, etc.  But it’s also really refreshing when either these things are seen in a new light, or the characters discover something new about each other.
  4. The characters should seem familiar with each other.  I’m not quite sure how to elaborate this, but until you establish their feelings about each other and the history of it, it would seem odd to have the characters not seem like they normally belong where they are.

Tessa Dare handled it well in Goddess of the Hunt, when the characters weren’t originally interested in each other but it was quite obvious they knew each other for years, understanding how to manipulate each other and what they wanted.  They were aware how they felt about each other then, and as the story progressed so did their feelings.

Tracy Anne Warren’s Wicked Delights of a Bridal Bed (it’s title doesn’t do it much justice, but that’s another peeve for another time) was also a good example.  The hero was friends with the heroine’s brother for years, and he’d been in love with her for that long and she had a crush on him too, but circumstances weren’t ideal.  But when the story opens, many things have changed that allow them their chance.

Writer Age Stamp Part Deux

While reading Sarah Dessen’s This Lullaby, I felt like the teenagers were older than they were.  I liked the book, and Remy especially but she sounded more like someone in her twenties than late teens.  Even after the early college Psychology and Sociology classes given to us in high school, we were psychoanalyzing each other pretty often.  But high schoolers don’t often dwell on the way their behaviors are habits the way Remy does.

Teens are less hampered by trying to analyze long-standing behaviors or to treat something they did for two years as a long-standing behavior.  They’re still trying out new things and most don’t feel bogged down by the past in that way.  Remy’s reflectiveness felt a little beyond her years, particularly the way she is about sex, drinking and smoking.  She seems weary of it though only eighteen, and I haven’t really heard folks sound like that until they hit their quarter life crisis.  She reminds me more of people’s reactions to graduating college.  Graduating from high school, there are still so many open doors and opportunities waiting, but at the end of college, you’ve made your bed and have to lie in it.  Remy’s lack of seeing college as a new beginning was the primary reason I got that vibe.  It seemed like she had too much experience for the very narrow time frame she had been in her party girl phase.  Even if she was a serial dater for about a year, she still couldn’t have had enough boyfriends and relationships to really draw the conclusions she’s coming to.

There was too much “finality” with Remy’s descriptions to seem like she was still a teen.

Character Descriptions that Need to be Dropped Like a Bad Habit

1) Stop describing the hero as a Greek statue or Adonis

2) Stop describing the hero as a cat or cat-like, which includes but isn’t limited to lynxes, lions, tigers or leopards

3) Stop describing the heroine as a kitten or mouse or mousy

4) Stop writing that the hero “would never force himself on a woman”

5) No more flaming red hair, there are far too many characters that remind me of Little Orphan Annie all grown up

6) I know even when you’re in love in real life, it’s easy to drop the “perfect” word around a lot, but it gets old fast on paper