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reph
11-28-2005, 06:53 AM
I don't usually look at romance novels. Today my husband and I got to the theater early and had 20 minutes before the movie started. We went to browse in a drugstore, where I picked up three Harlequins to see how they were written. The books were from different lines. One was a Blaze, containing three novellas. One was a Silhouette, and I don't remember the line for the third.

I read the opening pages of each book. I've followed posts on the Novel Writing forum, though I don't write novels. If the advice there about how to present a character and what to do in Chapter One is any good, all three books fall seriously short. Two began by describing their female characters, doing nothing in particular except thinking. In one of them, this went on for several pages of infodump and backstory. There were lines like "She smoothed her blond chignon" even though the POV was the woman's and she had no reason at that moment to think about blondness. (We've covered that more than once on Novels.) The opening of the third was a little livelier: the woman was driving her daughter to school. Still, it was infodumpy, slipping background information irrelevantly into the odd sentence, and the first line was dialogue, without a good reason.

Now, I'm under the impression that the "rules" exist because you lose your reader if you violate them. For example, the first sentence needs a hook so the reader will proceed to the second sentence. Infodump pulls the reader out of the story. And so on. But these authors got published and paid despite writing what the experts would call poor openings. Harlequin's books are popular, so apparently the readers don't mind. What gives? What are the standards, really?

On looking at these books, I thought, geez, I could do better than that if I only had a plot in mind.

kristie911
11-28-2005, 09:30 AM
I don't know...I sometimes think the same things when I pick up a book. I read Harlequin from time-to-time but when I do, it's because I want something easy to read. I hope I don't offend anyone here by saying this but I call it mindless reading. I mean they aren't exactly Crime and Punishment or Moby Dick. And while I know they're aren't mindless writing it seems to me (my experience) readers that read these books tend to only read these books. I have an aunt that has gotten Harlequin books every month for the last two decades! But she's never read another book besides those. If I read more than a handful of them at a time, I feel like my brain is turning to mush.

Okay, I'm starting to ramble a bit and not getting to the point. Anyway, it just seems to me that these books are more forgiving? maybe that's not the right word. They have their own set of rules...maybe it's the readers that are more forgiving than readers of more mainstream books. I don't have an answer, I guess, but I'm sure someone will.

And I really hope that didn't come off as offensive to anyone that writes for Harlequin...it wasn't meant to be at all!

henriette
11-28-2005, 06:43 PM
i must admit i have a healthy respect for writers that can crank out numerous books that follow such stringent rules with the same ending over and over.

but i do wish that the 'romance' genre would ease up on the strict "happily ever after" policy and start injecting new life or tragedy into their stories. i mean, if one has read harlequins for 20 years, wouldn't one want to be surprised by the ending just ONCE?

Susan Gable
11-28-2005, 07:14 PM
i must admit i have a healthy respect for writers that can crank out numerous books that follow such stringent rules with the same ending over and over.

but i do wish that the 'romance' genre would ease up on the strict "happily ever after" policy and start injecting new life or tragedy into their stories. i mean, if one has read harlequins for 20 years, wouldn't one want to be surprised by the ending just ONCE?

No. Absolutely not. The comfort of a true romance novel is that is guarantees a happy ending. I'm pretty sure we've had this discussion here before. There are love stories out there with tragic endings. Those are not romances. The romance readers would get seriously ticked off if I killed off my heroine in the last pages of the book. It's like having a mystery novel where they never solve the mystery. The readers would be furious and would never buy that author's books again.

Try to imagine Lord of the RIngs where the bad guys, the forces of darkness, win. The Ring never gets thrown into the pit, and evil triumphs. That would tick off readers, who expect in stories such as that, that good, that our protagonists, will triumph.

As a genre romance writer, I have an obligation to my readers to fulfill their expectations.

There can be tragedy along the way (I have a book that featured a heroine grieving over her child's death) but the ending must be upbeat and satisfying to the reader. (If it's really a romance.)

That said, there are many avenues today that are exploring "non-traditional" endings. Harlequin has started several new lines that are different - not the complete focus on the romance. More women's fictiony instead of romance. For example, the new Next line, which features stories about the "Next" thing in a woman's life - not a romance.

As to the original post regarding "proper" craft rules being broken all over the place, I can explain some of that. For one, craft rules are not set in stone like some writers would have you believe. Two, it depends on who wrote the book. Authors who have been around since the 80's, or even early 90's are going to write differently than the new kids. The craft standards have changed since they started, and often they don't change as quickly as the new kids do. Especially if they have a sizable following already - why should they? They've got their fans, they sell their books, and everyone is happy. :)

There also seems to be a learning curve as you aquire craft skills. First they tend to get over-applied. (NEVER, ever tell anything! NEVER, ever name an emotion.) Then you later learn that sometimes it's perfectly acceptable, indeed, works better for the story, for you do XYZ. When you work with editors, that becomes even more apparent.

I think this accounts for the phenomenon in romance contests that shows that in general, published authors tend to score entries higher than unpublished judges. The published authors have learned more about the flexibility of the "rules." Some (SOME! Not pointing any fingers here!) of the unpublished writers haven't learned that yet, and demand blood for every time a "rule" is broken, without taking into account whether or not it works for the story.

Craft rules must be learned, mastered, and then applied in ways that serve the story. It's all about the story. (At least, it is IMHO.)

Susan G.

Susan Gable
11-28-2005, 07:28 PM
I do agree that the main purpose of an opening is to hook, to intrigue the reader.

That said, the opening to my third book is this:

Lexie Jacobs had never felt more afraid or alone in her life.

That said a lot, since the two sensations had become near-constant companions in the past few months.


So, my opening is TELLING. But, I felt it was intriguing. Would make a reader wonder what's going with her. Why is she alone and afraid? Why is it worse right now? Why have the past few months been bad?

Sometimes I open with dialogue. I've heard writers debate (on these boards, even) if you should ever open with a piece of dialogue. Again, if it pulls the reader in, makes them wonder what's going on, or gives a good sense of conflict, then yes, why not open with dialogue?

Opening of my last book:

"Erie sucks."

(And, lol, I wasn't sure my editor was going to let me "get away with" that one, but she did. Instantly you know someone isn't happy. It goes right into showing the conflict between my hero and his teenage daughter.)

The craft "rules" are our tools. We use them. They're necessary. But there are times to break the "rules." :)

Serve the story. Serve the characters. Use the tools to do so.

Susan G.

henriette
11-28-2005, 08:32 PM
ok, so what about this scenario:

boy meets girl. boy loves girl. boy loses girl. boy gets girl back.

boy and girl get married in fantastic lavish wedding, go on honeymoon, live happily for about a year.

THEN:

boy and girl die in a car crash (together, instantaneously, no suffering) but leave behind a legacy of their love- a child, a foundation, a memorial which in turn brings together two new lovers.

the romance between the two main protagonists ends HEA, but the book does not, although the promise of a new romance gives the reader a slightly uplifting ending.

would this be acceptable? i'm not trying to be a pain in the *** here, but i'm curious. :)

ETA: ooo censorship! whee! the word i was using is a synonym to "donkey" hehehe...

Susan Gable
11-28-2005, 08:48 PM
Oh, yes, and also it sound more like what you're describing is what I'd call "women's fiction" - bigger, broader stories that may not have the traditional HEA, may not even actually focus on the romance in the woman's life, though that could be part of the story.

Susan G.

Irysangel
11-28-2005, 09:18 PM
i must admit i have a healthy respect for writers that can crank out numerous books that follow such stringent rules with the same ending over and over.

but i do wish that the 'romance' genre would ease up on the strict "happily ever after" policy and start injecting new life or tragedy into their stories. i mean, if one has read harlequins for 20 years, wouldn't one want to be surprised by the ending just ONCE?


Oh ack, heck no. If you put tragedy at the end of my otherwise happy romance, I'm sending you hate mail, and I'm broadcasting to all my friends on the 'net about how ripped off I am by your novel. ;)

Seriously -- you do not mess with the HEA.

Prime example? I love Disney movies. I saw Pocahontas and was angry for WEEKS afterwards because it wasn't a typical HEA. Romances are light, fun, happy reading. If I want death or tragedy I'll read THE LOVELY BONES.

:)

kristie911
11-28-2005, 09:38 PM
i mean, if one has read harlequins for 20 years, wouldn't one want to be surprised by the ending just ONCE?

Never! That's why I pick up a Harlequin...I know how it's going to end. Maybe I've just read a book that left me reeling (and crying) at the end or was just a "hard to get through" book and I want something light, something I know will end well. And something I don't have to keep track of a million loose ends that tie up in a huge conspiracy theory at the end (which make my head hurt!).

If I picked up a Harlequin and no one had sex and there was no HEA...I'd be pissed!

Susan Gable
11-28-2005, 09:45 PM
Never! That's why I pick up a Harlequin...I know how it's going to end. Maybe I've just read a book that left me reeling (and crying) at the end or was just a "hard to get through" book and I want something light, something I know will end well. And something I don't have to keep track of a million loose ends that tie up in a huge conspiracy theory at the end (which make my head hurt!).

If I picked up a Harlequin and no one had sex and there was no HEA...I'd be pissed!

Thank you. That makes my point about meeting my readers' expectations quite nicely. :) And if you were pissed, I'm pretty certain you wouldn't pick up another book that author, right?

(Although do watch which HQ lines you pick up - not all of them have sex. <G> And actually, as I've been pointing out, some of the newer Harlequin lines don't have the traditional HEA. So know what you're picking up off the shelf. Bombshells don't have as much romance in them. Next doesn't.)

Susan G.

reph
11-28-2005, 11:15 PM
For one, craft rules are not set in stone like some writers would have you believe. Two, it depends on who wrote the book. Authors who have been around since the 80's, or even early 90's are going to write differently than the new kids.
That explains something, but I still wonder what the appeal to readers is. The openings of those three books just looked amateurish to me – the way you'd begin a story if you weren't trying to make it interesting. One of them must have had ten pages of background information about the character and her situation. If I'd been reading for enjoyment, I would have felt I was cramming for a test.

Katiba
11-29-2005, 03:41 PM
Susan's reply was very thoughtful and full of details. Still, I don't think it answered the original poster's question. She asked why *romances* are able to break these rules. But both of the arguments that Susan puts forth - that writers who've been around for a long time will have an older style but already have a fan base, and that experienced writers know when to break the craft rules - would surely apply to other genres as well? Most if not all genres include experienced writers and writers who have been around for a long time (often but perhaps not always the same thing).

I write YA and I am more familiar with that genre (although I do read romance) and I can tell you that there ARE writers still publishing in YA who got their start a long time ago (Joan Lowery Nixon, for example) who still publish books even though their style is very different from most of what's being acquired now. However, it's style that's different, not craft - these authors still start their books with action, weave backstory into the story and avoid info dumps, go sparingly on the adverbs etc. For the most part, even series books in YA follow the rules of craft. So the question remains: why is romance different?

I don't have a difinitive answer for that, but it seems to me there are (at least) three possibilities:

1) They're not different, and every genre publishes a certain number of books whose authors don't adhere to craft. While I don't think this is true for YA, I certainly don't read every single YA book published, so I don't know for sure.

2) Because romance has such a large share of the market (more than 50%, I believe), the great need for romance writers means that in some cases, publishers are required to go with some writers who are not as experienced in craft. The argument would go something like: If 500 romances are published every year, but only 50 thrillers, and the same number of people write romances and thrillers, then obviously the thriller market would be able to be more exclusive. I don't have the numbers to back this up, so it's just a possibility.

3) There's something specific to the romance genre that requires a different kind of craft. If this is true, I can't imagine what it is - perhaps I don't read enough romance, and I certainly don't read it as carefully as I read YA, so I will have to leave the analysis up to someone else. Quite honestly, I don't think this is the answer, because there are many, many romance writers who do adhere to the rules of craft, so romance certainly doesn't *require* a different craft. But it's possible that it allows for it more than other genres?

These are just suggestions, and I'm very willing to consider other possibilities - I do think, however, that any possibilities have to take into account the original poster's actual question - why is romance different? - even if it's just to say that the poster is wrong, and romance isn't different, and here are the reasons why I think that.

Susan Gable
11-29-2005, 05:40 PM
However, it's style that's different, not craft - these authors still start their books with action, weave backstory into the story and avoid info dumps, go sparingly on the adverbs etc. For the most part, even series books in YA follow the rules of craft. So the question remains: why is romance different?

I that any possibilities have to take into account the original poster's actual question - why is romance different? - even if it's just to say that the poster is wrong, and romance isn't different, and here are the reasons why I think that.

Reph's question related to the fact that Harlequin books are massively popular and so the readers didn't seem to mind the craft flaws she saw in the samples she picked up. But I'll get back to Reph's question later. Let's start with your premise in this post.

All YA's start with great usage of craft? They start with action, weave backstory in small bites, avoid the information dump? Even the bigwig authors?

Okay, I have some bigwig YA's sitting on my shelf. Let's take a peek at the openings of some of my favorites:

Maniac Magee was not born in a dump. He was born in a house, a pretty ordinary house, right across the river from here, in Bridgeport. And he had regular parents, a mother and a father.

But not for long.

One day his partens left him with a sitter and took the P&W high-speed trolley into the city. On the way back home, they were on board when the P&W had its famous crash, when the motorman was drunk and took the high trestle over the Schuykill River at sixty miles an hour, and the whole kaboodle took a swan dive into the water.

And just like that, Maniac was an orphan. He was three years old.

Okay, so that looks like a big start with backstory to me. Granted, this isn't a brand new book. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (a fabulous book, btw!) has a 1990 copyright.

Okay, so let's look at something a little more recent. Let's look at something with a 2000 copyright date, another fantastic story by a very talented writer. Holes by Louis Sachar:

There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it it just a dry, flat wasteland.

There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled and dried up along with the lake, and the people who lived there.

During the summer the daytime temperature hovers around ninety-five degrees in the shade -- if you can find any shade. There's not much shade in a big dry lake.

The only trees are two old oaks on the eastern edfe of the "lake." A hammock is stretched between the two trees, and a log cabin stands behind that.

The campers are forbidden to lie in the hammock. It belongs to the Warden. The warden owns the shade.

Out on the lake, rattlesnakes and scorpions find shade under rocks and in the holes dug by the campers.

Where's the action there? I don't see any action. That's all setting, and setting backstory. Look at all the "to be" verbs - that's another thing that many writers get all upset about. "Try to limit your passive verbs" writers are often told, with good reason. (Please note that passive verbs are NOT the same thing as passive sentence construction, and many times people confuse the two.) There's no character POV here. It's a narrator. There's no showing, only TELLING.

So, does that example meet "the standards" for "perfect craft?" If you read that without knowing it's a great book, without knowing anything else about the story, would it grab you? How would you judge the writer based on that beginning? If given that piece to critique, what would you tell the writer? <G> What would you have told Jerry Spinelli about the Maniac McGee opening if you were critting it?

What's my point? My point is that I don't know how anyone can say that one genre has worse craft than any other genre. There are romance novels (unfortunately some of them written by some "bigiwgs" who've been around a long time and sell many, many copies) that make me just want to throw the damn book at a wall. That make me cringe with their slaughter of craft. On the other hand, there are others (including some by "bigwigs" who sell millions and millions of copies) that sweep me away in the characters and story, who use craft very well so that I never stumble in my reading of their tale.

Because there is such a high demand for romance novels does NOT "excuse" poor craft. Trust me when I tell you that it's not easy to sell a romance novel to a big publisher. They get ridiculous numbers of submissions each year to fill the slots they have. And don't forget that the competition for those slots is first among their current stable of authors, then the unpubs.

Sometimes crap happens. Sometimes writers produce books under very tight deadlines and huge amounts of personal problems in their lives. So not every book may be the very best they can produce - it may simply be the best they can produce at that time, under those pressures. Maybe their mother died. Maybe their husband walked out on them. Maybe they're trying their best to deal with issues with their kid while writing this book.

Do you know what the turnaround time can be for substantial story revisions? Two weeks. That's the average turnaround time. And I'm not talking for writers to tweak - I'm talking about when the editor has some substantial issues with the plot and wants a number of plot areas addressed - things that require scraping big chunks of the story and rewriting from scratch. Sometimes that happens and the author also has a dayjob that she has to attend to during the day, and then try to cram that rewriting in at night and get it back to her editor on time.

That's the reality of this business. :Shrug: You learn to roll with the punches and produce the best you can at the moment. I'm very concerned with my quality over quantity. But quantity is what helps you build a name, helps you pay the bills. (Although I dare say that quantity without quality isn't going to matter for very long. :) )

Reph wanted to know if readers care as much as we do. She said:
Harlequin's books are popular, so apparently the readers don't mind. What gives? What are the standards, really?

The readers don't know the tiny details that we do as writers. Craft matters to them only to the point that anything that makes them stumble in the reading, or anything that pulls from the fictional reality (<G>) is NOT a good thing. Every reader brings their own POV to the story. Look at it this way -- I love CSI. I watch it almost every week. But someone who actually works in law enforcement, or a criminal lab might HATE the show because of all the "flaws" that they spot in the storylines and lab work. That's how it is with us writers as readers. We've got too much information. It makes us really picky readers. We can't shut off the internal editor long enough to just enjoy. I find myself doing it even with movies. "Who wrote this and who let them get away with writing this? That's crap dialogue." <G>

Picking things apart becomes second nature for us. Which sometimes makes it darn hard to just sit back and enjoy something.

Susan G. - sorry to be so long-winded this morning. :)

Katiba
11-29-2005, 06:28 PM
My main point was simply that your original answers did not address the question: why romance? I thought I made it clear in my post that I was not saying that the answer to this question is not that there are more slots, but simply that this *kind* of answer responds to the question. In fact, I specifically said I don't have the numbers to make that kind of argument. "It's not only romance" is a perfectly valid answer to the question. However, to me, your original answers did not answer the question as it was asked.

And to be quite clear, I was in *no* way trying to put romance writers or category writers down. In fact, I tried to write category a few years ago, in the mistaken belief that it would be easier to break in there. I had several requests for manuscripts but all were rejected. It was only when I realized that I should be writing YA that I was able to land an agent. So I certainly wasn't trying to say that it's easier to write romance, since I, for one, have been more successful writing in a different field.

A

Susan Gable
11-29-2005, 06:48 PM
However, to me, your original answers did not answer the question as it was asked.



Well, I didn't understand that Reph was asking why romance. I thought she was looking for a more comprehensive explanation of why some stuff that we think is sloppy craft gets published. Reph, sorry if I didn't answer your question clearly the first time. :(

So, I'm glad my new answer was clearer - IMHO, it's not JUST romance. <G> I think you can find those sorts of "issues" in published books across the board.

And Katiba, I didn't think you were insulting romance writers. :) (Belive me, you'll be able to tell when I'm feeling insulted. LOL!) I'm just sharing some of my thoughts on a variety of issues Reph's question raised. I wasn't trying to insult Spinelli or Sacher, either. I think their stories are wonderful. (For completely crazy reading, try Sacher's Sideways Stories from Wayside School. I used that one with my fourth graders, and we had great fun working though the math problems from the companion book, too.) Using their samples, I was just pointing out that most of us would have probably offered quite a lot of "advice" had we been asked to critique those pieces. :)

So, my basic answer stands. It's not just romance. <G> And all my other "answers" stand, too - there are many reasons why what we perceive as sloppy craft gets published. :)


Susan G.

Cathy C
11-29-2005, 08:15 PM
Boy, go away for a few hours and see what happens over here... ;)


I agree with Susan, and with Katiba, AND with reph. I've read some incredible dreck in most every genre -- stuff that makes me wonder who was sleeping with who to get the book to see the light of day. But just as I'm fixing to toss it into the trash, I'll find someone somewhere on the web or in person who just LOVED the book! "Oh my god! It was wonderful, incredibly written, mezmerizing!" To which I'll either :faint: or :Wha: or :crazy: or :Soapbox:

In other words, it's all a matter of taste, and I'll just bet that whatever book reph picked up is probably dogeared from overreading on someone's "keep it forever" shelf.

I love books that some find dreck, and detest other things that people consider classics, so I have no room to throw stones. I know that some find my storylines too dark to be romance, and some find it too romance-y, and others love them just the way they are.

But, as Susan says -- it's not just romance. Readers of romance aren't somehow less concerned with quality merely BECAUSE they read romances. That's too broad of a brush. A good book is a good book is a good book. But what's "good" is subjective.

Just my .02!

henriette
11-29-2005, 09:17 PM
i guess it all comes down to one simple thing; the romance reader wants it a certain way and that is that. she (i am assuming here, but am confident that at least 95% of romance readers are women, the other 5% metro or gay men lol) wants fantasy. she wants a book that does not delve into the realities of the world around us- death, taxes, divorce, unrequited passion. she wants an escape from her own HEA that didn't EA so well...or she wants to live vicariously through someone else...

just wanted to note that when i mentioned straying from the standard HEA, i did not mean ending the book with a puppy massacre and the lovers being eaten by bears. it just seems to me that HEA is a very black and white ending, where there are so many shades of grey that aren't necessarily traumatic but might be bittersweet, or hopeful about the future that could be just as satisfying- perhaps even more so because there would be a small element of surprise. not so much so that the reader is turned off, but she is inspired and intrigued by the slight change from the average harlequin...

lrs
11-29-2005, 09:36 PM
I just picked up a Tom Clancy novel the other day, having never read his books before. I was not impressed. I only read the first 50 pages and was bored to death. Why? Because it was all backstory and detailed information. In other words, too much tell and not enough action. There was nothing that pulled me in. My point is, agreeing with others here, its not just romance.

reph
11-29-2005, 11:59 PM
I appreciate the various posters' insights addressing aspects of my question. There's too much up there to respond to, so I'll start by arbitrarily picking on Cathy:

In other words, it's all a matter of taste, and I'll just bet that whatever book reph picked up is probably dogeared from overreading on someone's "keep it forever" shelf.
No, I looked at the opening pages of three new books in a store. Two of them had the same fault, long infodump/backstory, tell instead of show. The third had a milder version: same problems, but more subtle. My concern isn't that rules are sacred; it's that those particular rules, I thought, tell writers what they have to do to make a story hold the reader's attention.

I don't expect most readers to balk if you make a mistake with the subjunctive. I do expect them to balk if you bore them or if you describe characters with clich้s (long legs, green eyes [her], broad shoulders, white teeth [him]) and violate POV so much that the characters don't come alive. But these novels are very popular.

Maybe those three books were a fluke, and most novels in the genre do a better job of telling a story. To find out, I poked around at Harlequin's site. Harlequin lets you read excerpts from new books before Adding them to Cart. Each excerpt looks like a complete first chapter. I read several. Most had the same faults as the three in the store.

I don't maintain that other genres are better written. The question is, if story and character trump everything, why do I find basic, major shortcomings in story telling and character presentation in books that sell so many copies?

Not only that, but this genre is meant for light reading. People use romance novels to relax, to be entertained. They want something simple and pleasant after, perhaps, a hard day at work. I'd therefore expect that romances would have to be engaging without requiring much cognitive effort. The reader should be able to dive right into the story and stay there until it ends. If this paragraph contains any false premises, will someone please identify them for me?

veinglory
11-30-2005, 12:35 AM
But I think that is modern HQ lines like Blaze the reader actually does want to start of with the heroine bored at work, buying shoes or commuting. The romance is a tranformative experience for most romance heorines and it is important to establish need she had for Mr Talldark'nhandsome who will almost always appear near the end of chapter one or mid Chapter 2... I do think soem of the blah blah blah introspection gets a little out of hand some times but it is a feature of the genre especially for contemporary short novels--to some extent I blame chicklit for the sheer amount fo 'thinking' in some of these books now-days ;)

Cathy C
11-30-2005, 02:01 AM
by reph: Not only that, but this genre is meant for light reading. People use romance novels to relax, to be entertained. They want something simple and pleasant after, perhaps, a hard day at work. I'd therefore expect that romances would have to be engaging without requiring much cognitive effort. The reader should be able to dive right into the story and stay there until it ends. If this paragraph contains any false premises, will someone please identify them for me?


Happy to, since most of the premises are false. Romance, as a GENRE, is no more meant for light reading than any other genre. Some of the category H/S books are single plot arcs, rather than double or multiple plot arcs that you might find in a single title romance. They are shorter, both to encourage readers to purchase multiple books when buying, and to allow a more convenient single sitting read, if the reader is so inclined. But to say that they don't "require much cognitive effort" is another broad brush that is inaccurate.

I think something I'm noticing in your posts is that you've chosen one "correct" method of writing and are trying to apply it across the board to all books. But different editors like different things, just as different readers do. Why do you feel it is wrong to have a lot of backstory at the beginning? Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has almost five chapters of initial backstory. It's a best seller. The Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency, another best seller, has one-dimensional characters and tells, rather than shows in every single "case." While I found both of these books to be absolute dreck, and happily donated them to the long waiting list at the library, it's quite obvious from their sales figures that the rest of the world did NOT consider them dreck.

I think you're finding basic, major shortcomings in books that don't follow the rules that you've learned. But those aren't the only rules that exist. While I happen to agree with you that it SHOULD be basic storytelling, the fact is that it's NOT basic. Thankfully so. It means there ARE NO RULES, so long as there's a willing publisher out there who likes a particular method of writing. It's why so many publishers tell aspiring authors, "Read our books to see what we like." Obviously, certain lines at H/S LIKE backstory dumps and plot-heavy, versus character-heavy, stories. Cool. Nice to know.


by Henriette: i guess it all comes down to one simple thing; the romance reader wants it a certain way and that is that. she (i am assuming here, but am confident that at least 95% of romance readers are women, the other 5% metro or gay men lol) wants fantasy. she wants a book that does not delve into the realities of the world around us- death, taxes, divorce, unrequited passion. she wants an escape from her own HEA that didn't EA so well...or she wants to live vicariously through someone else...


Yes, romance readers want it a certain way. Just like mystery readers do. Go ahead -- try to write a mystery WITHOUT solving the case at the end. After all, that's what happens in more than half of the cases that hit the desks at the police station. NOT solving the case is much more reality-based than finding perfect justice at the end of 300 pages. What I think you're failing to grasp is that ANY book is like a television show. Each show must wrap up certain details in order to stay on the air. Sure, you can have long-running threads that bounce up and down, but EVERY SINGLE EPISODE, you must deal with the situation at hand. Books are the same. Romances sell ROMANCE. The romance must be wrapped up. That's the goal of the book. A mystery sells the solution OF the mystery; thrillers have to save the world; etc., etc. To a romance, an HEA is as much a part of the requirement to "stay on the air" as freeing the defendant at the end of a Perry Mason show. It's just the way it is. Yes, it's cliched, but it's what lovers of the genre WANT. There's nothing wrong with it. It just is.


Feel free to disagree, though. That's the point of discussing things. Just remember to keep things polite. We're discussing CONCEPTS here, not picking on each other. :)

reph
11-30-2005, 03:53 AM
Romance, as a GENRE, is no more meant for light reading than any other genre....to say that they don't "require much cognitive effort" is another broad brush that is inaccurate.
I'm seeing contradictory statements and wondering which ones to believe. kristie911 posted: "something easy to read. I hope I don't offend anyone here by saying this but I call it mindless reading." henriette mentioned escapism: the story should be pleasant, a diversion from the troubles of real life.

I have the impression that readers turn to romances for the same kind of reason they might turn to humor. This is not a putdown of either genre.

Another source of confusion: Earlier this year, I was hired to proofread a novel probably best described as women's fiction, with a plot that included romance but wasn't limited to that. It had big problems of the kind discussed on the Novel Writing forum, especially an overbalance of tell against show. Worse, I got halfway through without knowing who the main characters were. I was thinking how much money the publisher would lose if publishing the book was the mistake I feared it would be. Because I don't know the genre, I queried at this forum, asking whether such a book would sell. Some of the pros here confirmed that it wouldn't. They said readers won't accept such things. Now the answer is the opposite.


I think something I'm noticing in your posts is that you've chosen one "correct" method of writing and are trying to apply it across the board to all books. But different editors like different things, just as different readers do. Why do you feel it is wrong to have a lot of backstory at the beginning?
Well, in the samples that occasioned my first post, it looked awkward. Information was dropped on the page as if the authors had written up their preparatory notes about the character's history and used them in the manuscript. It looked like what many writers do who are just starting out. On other AW forums where people post samples, some of them seem to approach writing a story as if it were like having a dollhouse or a model train set. This is the place (detailed description of made-up planet), these are the people (detailed description of alien races), now I'll start moving them around.

I felt I was studying facts, not watching a movie. Of course, a book isn't a movie, but I didn't find those pages engaging.

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 04:02 AM
Reph, I'd like to hear your comments on the pieces I posted from those very successful YA books. How do you feel about the Maniac Magee opening? The Holes opening?

Do those meet your expectations? Follow the craft rules as you think they should?

Curious minds want to know. :)

Susan G.

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 04:21 AM
I'm seeing contradictory statements and wondering which ones to believe.

Yes. :) That's the answer. Yes. To both.


kristie911 posted: "something easy to read. I hope I don't offend anyone here by saying this but I call it mindless reading."


Reph, do you know how Kristie defines "easy to read?" I'm willing to bet that she doesn't define it in the same way that you do. Why? Because like everything else when it comes to writing, it's SUBJECTIVE.

I'm also willing to bet that none of us here would define "mindless reading" in the same way.


henriette mentioned escapism: the story should be pleasant, a diversion from the troubles of real life.

Uhhhh, henriette wasn't happy with the genre, so I think there was some sarcasm there. I think the purpose of most fiction is escapism, a diversion from real life. Star Wars is certainly escapism. Fantasy novels are escapism. Again, this is not a feature that's limited to romance.

And again, how do you define "pleasant?" I've written romance novels that dealt with the loss of a child, raising a child who's had a heart transplant, and dealing with a pregnant teenage daughter. I've written about a surrogate mother who ran away while the baby was still in-utero, and who didn't want to surrender the child when the father found them. That sounds like "real life" to me. Doesn't sound particularly pleasant. But my books say ROMANCE on them, and I have many satisfied readers, so I guess that they weren't seeking mindless drivel that was total fluff when they picked up my book to read it. What do you think?


Another source of confusion: Earlier this year, I was hired to proofread a novel probably best described as women's fiction, with a plot that included romance but wasn't limited to that. It had big problems of the kind discussed on the Novel Writing forum, especially an overbalance of tell against show. Worse, I got halfway through without knowing who the main characters were. I was thinking how much money the publisher would lose if publishing the book was the mistake I feared it would be. Because I don't know the genre, I queried at this forum, asking whether such a book would sell. Some of the pros here confirmed that it wouldn't. They said readers won't accept such things. Now the answer is the opposite.

Reph, when we offered advice on that ms, we only had what you were telling us to go by. It's SUBJECTIVE! That's what Cathy was saying in her post. What you consider to be too much telling might be what some editor considers to be just enough. This is why when something is entered in a contest, it can happen that an entry receives one really high score, and one really low score. Because readers are looking at it differently. This is what I've tried to say in many different ways in this thread today, and honestly, I'm starting to feel like I'm banging my head against a wall. :Headbang:

What part of subjective is so hard to understand? What part of "the rules are not set in stone and are subject to interpretation" is unclear?

This is part of the reason why this is a CRAFT, and why it takes time to master it. (If we ever truly master it.) This stuff isn't black and white, it's many shades and shadows. Nuances.

Susan G.

Cathy C
11-30-2005, 05:35 AM
by reph: Earlier this year, I was hired to proofread a novel probably best described as women's fiction, with a plot that included romance but wasn't limited to that.


This must have been before I arrived here. I've only been a member about half a year. But I probably would have given the same advice that you received.

See, the problem is that ALL of us who are published think we're doing it right -- whatever way we're doing it. After all, we got published. But I write single title for Tor. Could I get those same books that are selling at high mid-list numbers for Tor published by H/S? No -- hell no! No way would Harlequin pick up a "romance" in male POV, when the male is a Mafia hitman who also happens to be a werewolf. We break lots of rules in our book, because we didn't know there WERE any rules. We just tried to write a good book. Some people like it. Some don't. For EXACTLY the same reasons, FWIW.

I doubt seriously that even with the numbers we have presently, we could get a book purchased by H/S or Dorchester or Steeple Hill or any number of others. But maybe Del Ray, Bantam or Pocket, or some others would have us. Don't know. Every publisher has a "style" that they put out, and that style defines the publisher! This is critical information for every genre. Does the reader CARE who puts out a book? Nah. They seldom look at the spine or on the fly leaf to see which publisher put out a book. Would a reader CARE whether Nora Roberts was published with Jove or Avon or Pocket or Warner? Nope. They probably don't know right this minute which one NR's latest is with. But there IS some flow-over to the publisher, at a very, very subconscious level. H/S has made a name of category romance. The "category", whether it's Blaze or Bombshell or Regency, has a certain "feel" that is like a McDonald's hamburger. Whether you stop in a McDonald's in New York, or L.A., or Tokyo or London, you know you'll get the EXACT SAME BURGER. Publishers WANT that name recognition. H/S has achieved it. Whether right or wrong -- they have the readers. Even with readership way down, they still own a large chunk of the market.

So yeah, you can buy a burger at Wendy's, or at Good Times or Burger King, but the REAL owner of the market will always be McDonald's. Because they've figured out what people want. People WANT consistency, along with selection, along with uniqueness. All of which are inconsistent with each other. Tough thing to sell.

There will always be people that write "wrong" (as I define the term) and somehow, inexplicably to me, get published. But I know that I'm right for what I write. And Susan's right for what she writes, even if it's completely opposite of what I do. And for those who are still trying to get published, all they can do is either emulate those who came before, or try something totally new and hope for the best.

It's all any of us can do... :Shrug:

reph
11-30-2005, 06:09 AM
Reph, I'd like to hear your comments on the pieces I posted from those very successful YA books.
I might like them both if I were a young adult, the second one (Holes) more than the first (Maniac Magee), which I'd guess aims at an even younger audience. Holes's author did a good job of painting a word picture, evoking a setting. The prose is more graceful and purposeful than the openings of the novels I found at the drugstore. As a reader, I don't feel this author is just loading facts onto the page.

Actually, I wasn't so taken with M. Magee at all, but since it was "very successful," saying so could make me "very unpopular."

reph
11-30-2005, 06:25 AM
But my books say ROMANCE on them, and I have many satisfied readers, so I guess that they weren't seeking mindless drivel that was total fluff when they picked up my book to read it. What do you think?
"Mindless drivel"? "Total fluff"? I wasn't even thinking those things. I was thinking about the relation between certain features of writing and the reader's ease or difficulty in getting lost in the story. For example, too much telling, and the reader remains detached, at a distance from the characters. The narrator's voice in the long descriptive passages I complained about was too unrelated to the character's personality.

I'm starting to feel like I'm banging my head against a wall.
That isn't a result I wanted.

What part of subjective is so hard to understand? What part of "the rules are not set in stone and are subject to interpretation" is unclear?
None of that is hard or unclear. Obviously I've failed to communicate.

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 06:31 AM
I might like them both if I were a young adult, the second one (Holes) more than the first (Maniac Magee), which I'd guess aims at an even younger audience. Holes's author did a good job of painting a word picture, evoking a setting. The prose is more graceful and purposeful than the openings of the novels I found at the drugstore. As a reader, I don't feel this author is just loading facts onto the page.

Actually, I wasn't so taken with M. Magee at all, but since it was "very successful," saying so could make me "very unpopular."

It's not going to make you unpopular with me. <G> I enjoyed Maniac because I loved the characters. That's what's most important to me. But the portion of the book that I gave you didn't give yu a chance to meet Maniac yet.

Actually, I'm glad to see that you didn't like at least one of those. That makes my point completely. :)

Susan G.

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 06:32 AM
"None of that is hard or unclear. Obviously I've failed to communicate.

I was feeling like *I'd* failed to communicate clearly. I still feel like somehow we haven't connected here.

Susan G.

kristie911
11-30-2005, 07:44 AM
I'm finding this thread extremely interesting. In fact it's made me go back and look at the opening pages of my WIP and also the work I'm currently trying to sell.

The finished one is a single title 100,000 word romance. It doesn't start with the info dump but rather with action. Interesting, since I realized right away (Before this thread) that besides being too long, it wouldn't be a fit for any of the H/S lines except maybe MIRA.

My WIP has more of an info dump at the beginning, first with the female character then the male character and eventually, I put them together. The more I edit it, the more I think it might be a good fit for one of the H/S lines. It's funny how if you read both Harlequin and more "mainstream" publishers you see the difference.

My whole point is: the rules are obviously different depending on what you're writing. If I was writing Sci/Fi or murder mysteries, the rules would be different there too.

I think there are a couple of more hard and fast rules i.e. Watch passive voice, but there may be places a writer would use it and it might work for them. It's so subjective, in fact, that we could argue about it for the next hundred years and not agree. And that whole time, publishers would be cranking out books that I think are crap but someone else loves. Case in point...I loved DaVinci Code. I wouldn't dare say that most of the time because I would get flambasted here. But I thought it was entertaining. Same with James Patterson's novels. Love them. Not saying they are the most well-written and I could sit down and tear them apart but I chose not too. I read them simply for entertainment.

That's how I feel when I pick up something from Harlequin. I want entertainment and I know how it's going to end. It's for entertainment purposes...

reph
11-30-2005, 07:51 AM
Okay, then, is the unspoken answer "People on the Novels forum issue blanket judgments – THIS is a bad way to do it, THAT is a good way – when they shouldn't"?

I'll try to say this one more time, differently. It happens that I agree with the guidelines often offered on Novel Writing and elsewhere (e.g., don't do a mirror scene, it's clumsy and unrealistic) because I can see how observing them helps the reader into the world of the book. Because romance novels are leisure reading, I should think they'd be made as inviting as possible. People don't have to read these books to pass a course or to keep their jobs, unless they're fiction editors. They read these books because they want to. And because the stories are about people and their romantic or family relationships, I should think getting the reader to identify with the main character would be paramount. Much of the advice on the Novels forum has that goal.

Are the romance writers here saying readers' tastes differ so widely that absorbing the story, stepping into the story's world, isn't important for all readers? Or are you saying infodumps and "As you know, Bob" don't distance all readers from the story?

Am I being understood any better yet?

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 05:57 PM
Okay, then, is the unspoken answer "People on the Novels forum issue blanket judgments – THIS is a bad way to do it, THAT is a good way – when they shouldn't"?

What we're saying is, yes, there are craft standards. There are logical reasons for the craft standards as they are right now. (i.e. - Limit changing POV because that allows for a deeper bond between the reader and the character.) HOWEVER, those standards are subject to interpretation. I've banged heads on the novel boards more than once when I've admited that I'm not a POV purist, but will, in fact, change POVs mid-scene. In fact, I find it rather insulting as a reader when there is a break for no other reason than to change POVs. (ie. there is no scene change, just a head/POV change.) I can follow a POV change as a reader as long as the writer does it clearly.

POV Purists smack me down for this. I know POV. I've mastered the craft skill. I don't make switches by accident, and I don't head-hop. I make controlled changes that *I* feel are for the benefit of my story. So, what makes the POV purists "right" and me wrong? (Obviously I don't think I'm wrong, or else I wouldn't do it.)

New writers MUST learn and master these craft skills. You can't break a rule until you know and understand that you're breaking a rule. Otherwise it's not breaking a rule, it's just not knowing what you're doing.

So, we "teach" these craft skills and standards to new writers. But, when they're ready, they'll get to the point where they allow the story and their own knowledge and skill determine exactly how they craft. That's coming into maturity as a writer. (Now, it's not always easy to tell one from the other - but for example, taking the POV rule, if you notice blatant head-hopping in a new novel, it means either - the writer doesn't understand POV, or the writer has been around long enough that she's always head-hopped and isn't about to change her style now (although even the celebrated Nora has cleaned up her POV a lot. :) ) However, if what you notice is a controlled changed, that doesn't happen that frequently, I think you can presume that the writer isn't a POV purist and has switched intentionally in a manner they feel works best for their story and their writing.)

Yes, there are some "Rule Nazis" out there who insist it MUST, absolutely, positively, ONLY be done the way they say so. I'm of the opinion that's not the case.


Because romance novels are leisure reading, I should think they'd be made as inviting as possible. People don't have to read these books to pass a course or to keep their jobs, unless they're fiction editors.

And yet, those books have all, if they're on the shelves, made it through an editor's okay. Yes, sometimes I wonder about some of the stuff I read, too. Sometimes I say, good grief, this is terrible, I can't believe this made it to the shelf like this.

But, who defines "as inviting as possible" when it comes to the "rules?" You haven't answered that question. Is it you? Is it me? Is it the editor? Is it a "Rule Nazi?"

Even different editors have different opinions about certain craft conventions. Some editors are POV purists - if I were working with one, I'd either have to have a long discussion with her about why I'm NOT a POV purist, or I'd have to change my method to meet with her approval. Why would I do that if I feel it (controlled change of POV) works for my craft? Because if push came to shove, I'd rather sell another book and get it on the shelves than to annoy my editor to the point that she doesn't want to buy from me anymore.

Does that make me a sell-out? Maybe. But I don't care. What would matter more to me is getting stories out to readers.



Are the romance writers here saying readers' tastes differ so widely that absorbing the story, stepping into the story's world, isn't important for all readers?

We are saying that readers' tastes and reading habits differ widely, and what allows them to step into the story world is different for each and every one of them. What keeps YOU out of the story world might not keep one of THEM out of the story world. (Again, things that jar us from the fictional reality vary. If you know a lot about the subject the writer is discussing, and the writer makes a mistake, it's going to pull you out. If you don't know a lot, you won't catch the error - like the writer didn't - and you won't be disengaged from the story.)



Or are you saying infodumps and "As you know, Bob" don't distance all readers from the story?


I don't think you can ever say ANYTHING distances ALL readers from the story. As I mentioned, readers are not as educated about craft as we are. Anytime you say it should ALWAYS, or NEVER, or EVERYONE... well, you're setting yourself up to be wrong when you speak in absolutes. A few years ago, the paranormals that are so HOT (in marketing terms) right now, well, the writers who were doing them couldn't GIVE the mss away. Nobody wanted to touch them. So I know for a fact that there were people telling writers, "You will NEVER sell this werewolf story. No way. No publisher will ever buy a werewolf hero."

Uh, huh. Now werewolf heroes are almost becoming commonplace. <G>

I had a writer tell me I would NEVER sell my first heroine because she was too unconventional. It was that unconventional heroine who appealed to the editor who bought the book. :Shrug:

So when a writer tells another: You should ALWAYS start in the middle of action, or You should NEVER open with dialogue -- That's wrong. Sometimes it will work for the book to do something else. Again, that's why this is a craft. This isn't paint-by-numbers, no matter how many people might imagine it is. Not even the humble romance novel is a paint-by-numbers job. Is it possible to find one on the shelf that makes you think it's a paint-by-numbers, that makes you question the skill of the artist? (And, ugh, I hate to refer to myself as a writer as an artist, because that's not what I consider myself - I'm an entertainer, a storyteller. But this metaphor is working for me right now. <G>) Yes. Absolutely. But maybe I think some modern art really looks like paint-by-numbers. Does that make it so?

What we (okay, I <G>) are/am trying to say is that what you consider an info-dump may not have struck the writer and her editor as an info-dump. Or maybe they thought it was only a tiny info-dump, and that was okay. Or maybe they messed up, and it really was a info-dump.

If that's the case, then there are possible reactions by the readers: They will pick up the book, get bored, put it back on the shelf and not buy it. They will pick it, browse it, decide to give it a shot, and take it home, where they will either - enjoy it or not. They might have bought it because they love this particular author and have been reading her books for a while now. They might have bought it because they didn't find the info-dump disconcerting at all. (Head-hopping NEVER, ever bothered me as a reader until I learned about it as a writer. THEN it started to irritate me when I read books with it. I'd been reading head-hopping books all my life until that point without a problem. And again, that illustrates that craft conventions change over time.) So, SOMETIMES the info dump does NOT distance the reader. Obviously.

HOWEVER, since your first reader when you're trying to get something published is going to be an EDITOR, who is more educated about craft conventions than the average reader, do I recommend doing a big, boring info-dump at the start of your ms? No, I do not. I don't like big, boring info dumps, either. I don't like "As you know, Bob" either.

So, why do editors "allow" what you perceived as an info-dump? Well, as I mentioned earlier - either she didn't find it to be as horrible as you did, or mistakes were made (it does happen <gasp>) or it fell through the cracks (editors are horribly overworked - there's just not enough of them these days) or the author has been around a long time and has a great following and it doesn't matter to her readers. They are willing to read for the story, and don't know that this is a "bad" thing.

A reader on one of my lists said yesterday that she will even forgive typos (you know, a bunch of them, not the few that sometimes slip in) and other types of disconcerting errors like that IF she finds the characters engaging. (And engaging characters are really subjective.)

Shades and shades of gray.

Susan G.

Cathy C
11-30-2005, 07:33 PM
I don't have much else to add to what Susan's said except that I know I'm a rule breaker. See, the problem I have is that I didn't know there WERE rules. I spent the first 35 years of my life as solely a reader. I LOVE to read (except, strangely enough -- romances and westerns, even though those seem to be what I write... :ROFL: ) I didn't put fingers to keyboard on a work of fiction until September of 1996. I remember the date quite well, because I'd never considered writing. But I thought of a cool story and wanted to write it. It's still a good story, even though it's still on the shelf. The writing is even fairly solid, because I knew what I liked as a READER and wanted the book to be something I would read. I DID NOT, and HAVE NOT, ever in my life picked up a book on "writing." The only books on my shelves are Strunk & White, Roget's Thesaurus, Webster's Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style, so I could learn proper punctuation for fiction (which is quite different than is taught in Strunk & White, FWIW.)


So, with my limited knowledge, I wrote what I thought was a unique book and put it out for the world to reject. Except that they didn't. They bought it instead. Now, since that first book, I've "learned" that I did everything wrong. There ARE info dumps, and "As you know, Bob," lines in all of our books. They're now considered our style. :Shrug: But can I legitimately recommend to other writers what worked for us, but HAS NOT worked for the previous thousand writers to the very same publisher? No. That's not fair. It's not fair that someone found our work intriguing out of the thousands of slush offerings received every day. I still don't know why they did. I like to think it's because we're good writers, but I know there are a lot better ones. I read them every day. I don't think I'm an adequate example of craft, and yet we keep selling books. We keep getting fans, from all over the world.

So, I guess the point is that there is no right or wrong way to write. But as Susan so eloquently phrased it,


So, we "teach" these craft skills and standards to new writers. But, when they're ready, they'll get to the point where they allow the story and their own knowledge and skill determine exactly how they craft.

If a writer knows what they want to say, and can "pull it off" to break the rules, then go for it. But like all things, the rules are a good place to start. If they don't work for your style, then find your own path.

I think the most important thing about this discussion has been that there remains a certain background negative something that says books which are light reads, books of specific genres, are somehow allowed to be inadequate in order to make money. This is false. Every book is a risk for a publisher, every title on the shelf either makes money or doesn't. Readers know what they want, and the sales of the book reflect it. I think it's important to remember that the titles that reph originally picked off the shelf might NOT sell. The rest of the world might well agree that they're dreck, the book won't sell through, and the editor will get thumped on and told not to do it again.

But the mere fact that a book is shelved in romance doesn't give it special license to be dreck. Nor does a book that's a western, or a mystery, or -- well, any genre out there. Literary, classic, non-fiction, memoir, or mainstream fiction -- they're all REQUIRED by the reading public to be a good read. Some achieve it. Others don't. Editors rise and fall based on their skill in selection and editing. Mistakes count, both for the publisher and the author. People in the industry remember the bombs that an editor thought was brilliant, the house offered a whopping advance, and the readers said "Pfft!" and it sat on the shelf unsold. But does the reader remember the bombs? No. They remember the keepers. Even the "okay" reads fall away from memory, except for a vague recognition.

My goal is not to be immortal. I don't strive to be a Hemingway, or an Austin, who will be read for the ages. I want our books to be a beach read. I want a reader to recognize our name for an escape from a sucky job, or screaming kids, or fighting neighbors. It doesn't matter what genre it happens in. I'd be just as happy writing mystery or horror or yes, romance. But EVERY book is going to be the best book I can make it, regardless of the genre. The reader is my goal. If they love the book, they'll reward me with money. What the reader wants, the reader gets.

But the jury is still out on what the reader wants, so let the games begin...

:D

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 07:51 PM
A saying that I find might be very appropriate to this discussion:




"Craft is always secondary to the truth of emotional connection." Konstantin Stanislavsky






For those of you who are not familiar with Stanislavsky, he pioneered method acting - the ability of the actor to BECOME the character to make the portrayal more realistic. But I find his comment applies very well to writing. Notice he doesn't say that craft isn't important. But he says it's SECONDARY to the truth of emotional connection.

The writer's job is to create the truth of emotional connection. Craft is one way to do it. But I also know of too many writers who edit the life, the emotional connection, right out of their work because they're so hung up on the rules of craft. They create sterile pieces.

An editor (and a reader) would rather see a ms that has life, spark, but a few craft problems, than see a ms that is technically flawless, but is flat. Dull. Lifeless. Lacking an emotional connection.

It's way easier to correct/fix the craft issues than it is to attempt to breathe life into a dead ms. Life and spark are really hard to quantify. That's why it's easier to learn the technical skills of writing.

There are some people who believe that with enough training, anyone can become a writer. I think it's part natural and part learned. As Cathy pointed out, she sold her first ms. The one where she didn't know ANYTHING about the "rules." But she had the natural storytelling ability. The spark. (And in large part, that came because she was a voracious reader and had a passion for books.)

Just something to else to add to the discussion. :)

Susan G.

veinglory
11-30-2005, 08:58 PM
I don't think there are rules about infodumping, quick starts etc in romance. You can get some certainty by studying specific lines and imprints and what they seem to want--but even then some authors will 'get away' with breaking rules because the editor knows it is being done in such a way that the reader will still love it. In the end looking at sample books is the best approach because it is not up to the editor to conform to our writer's rules--rather the reverse ;)

henriette
11-30-2005, 09:18 PM
Cathy C writes:

"Yes, romance readers want it a certain way. Just like mystery readers do. Go ahead -- try to write a mystery WITHOUT solving the case at the end. After all, that's what happens in more than half of the cases that hit the desks at the police station. NOT solving the case is much more reality-based than finding perfect justice at the end of 300 pages. What I think you're failing to grasp is that ANY book is like a television show. Each show must wrap up certain details in order to stay on the air. Sure, you can have long-running threads that bounce up and down, but EVERY SINGLE EPISODE, you must deal with the situation at hand."

i must disagree with this, and i'll explain why. for the past 10 years or so, crime shows have dominated the airwaves. they usually solve the crime/mystery/horrible murder at the end of 60 minutes, right?

but now, there is a new wave of programming such as LOST, prison break, invasion etc. that are breaking free from that mold and giving very little to no information about the mystery presented. these shows are the newest runaway hits because they are giving the public something they have not had in a while, which is leaving the viewers wanting more and needing to contemplate on their own what the next chapter of the adventure will hold.

now, if something of the same sort happened with harlequins: not ALL of them, but perhaps 10%; a new audience that is intrigued by the uplifting but not necessarily traditional endings provided in these certain books might be more apt to pick up a romance and give it a chance.

in my perfect universe, the market would be enriched by variety and the traditional romance would remain revered. hey, i'm all for a good bodice-ripper every once in awhile. but i would like to find one that surprises me once in a blue moon.

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 09:46 PM
but now, there is a new wave of programming such as LOST, prison break, invasion etc. that are breaking free from that mold and giving very little to no information about the mystery presented. these shows are the newest runaway hits because they are giving the public something they have not had in a while, which is leaving the viewers wanting more and needing to contemplate on their own what the next chapter of the adventure will hold.

Uhhhh, Lost is NOT a mystery. It's mysterious, but it's not a mystery. And while I loved the first season, I have to admit, the writers are seriously getting on my nerves this season because they are NOT providing enough answers. They're risking their audience, IMHO. They stumbled into this last season, and now they're making a conscious effort to play it this way. But the first few new episodes of the seasons recovered way too much ground, IMHO. They were making me absolutely NUTS. And I'll put up with that for a while, because they did manage to hook me, but I won't put up with it for a long time. I'll find something else to watch if they don't deliver. See, the thing with the first season was even though it was mysterious, it was all about the CHARACTERS. We were making an emotional BOND (see posts above) with these characters. Now I feel like the writers have lost sight of those emotional bonds and are giving in to following what they think is the "winning formula" that they've created with this show. You can only tease for so long before you have to pay it off. <VBG>

But I digress from my original point, which was that this is not a mystery. And even if we do want to call it a mystery(which I don't <G>), my dissatisfaction with this season could very well relate to that deep-set desire that a mystery must be solved to satisfy the viewer/reader. <G>

I'd call these shows more paranormal thrillers. (Not Prison Break, obviously. But Lost, Invasion...)


now, if something of the same sort happened with harlequins: not ALL of them, but perhaps 10%; a new audience that is intrigued by the uplifting but not necessarily traditional endings provided in these certain books might be more apt to pick up a romance and give it a chance.

I did say that some of the newer lines at Harlequin are doing EXACTLY this. They don't nec. end with a marriage proposal - they end with giving the reader the hint that this relationship will continue in some form.

But I don't think it pays to tick off the established readers to experiment too much. Case in point, the Bombshells (kick-as* heroine line) are now ramping up the romance because the readers complained. This is the bird-in-the-hand theory. Is it worth it to tick off 5 regular readers of HQ to bring in one new one? Not in my opinion.


in my perfect universe, the market would be enriched by variety and the traditional romance would remain revered. hey, i'm all for a good bodice-ripper every once in awhile. but i would like to find one that surprises me once in a blue moon.

First of all, there is a HUGE variety out there. I don't know where you're looking, but the field has really opened up on the last 2-3 years.

Secondly, <heavysigh> Please, please, we do NOT use the term bodice-ripper. Bodice-ripper generally no longer applies to a romance novel. Not too often do the heroes these days actually rip the clothes off the heroine, especially when she's less than willing. These days it might be the heroine who does the clothes ripping. Bodice-ripper is considered a derogetory term used by people who are ignorant about the changes in romance in the last 10-or-so years.

:) Thanks!

Susan G.

Sonarbabe
11-30-2005, 09:59 PM
A bit off topic, but I wanted to comment on Susan's remark regarding head-hopping/POV switches. It does somehow tie in to this discussion, so bear with me. I've made the comment (okay, I whined, I admit it <G>) before on another thread how one agent turned down my ms because I had too many POV switches. Some in the same scene. Now it could be that I didn't make the distinction clear enough (I thought I had) or it could be he simply doesn't like POV switches in mid-scene. Regardless, since then, I take great delight in catching all the head-hopping moments in the romance books I read. It means that I'm not the only person who does it and the books were still published and in many cases were excellent reads. Obviously, these author's agents didn't mind head-hopping, nor did the editor. Which just brings us back to the same saying that's been said over and over in this thread: Different Strokes for Different Folks. Some don't mind it, some find it disturbing. There's no definitive "right" or "wrong". Just guidelines and things to keep in mind.

That's my take on it all in a nutshell. I may be wrong, (I often am) but that's my opinion. :popcorn:

reph
11-30-2005, 11:26 PM
The writer's job is to create the truth of emotional connection. Craft is one way to do it. But I also know of too many writers who edit the life, the emotional connection, right out of their work because they're so hung up on the rules of craft. They create sterile pieces.
I think I can account for at least some of that frustration we've been feeling. You thought I was upholding The Rules at the expense of emotional connection? No, I've believed all along that these "rules" exist to create emotional connection. That's why I was astonished to see long infodumps, irrelevant asides, and the like in a genre whose appeal is emotional. Those "violations of craft rules" subverted the flow of the stories (think speed bumps and potholes) and reduced the heroines to stereotypical beautiful women sealed in glass boxes. They made the stories sterile, or at least a bit less alive than they could have been. That's why I called them storytelling faults from the beginning.

One kind of example of what I'm talking about goes like this. (What follows is a composite, drawn from readings of several Chapter Ones.) The story opens with a scene of the female MC at work in an office. The second paragraph is packed with facts, including her full name, her age, her hair and eye color, what she's wearing, the name of the company, what business it's in, the name of the town, her department and job title, her job title before that, her father's previous ownership of the firm, his full name and his age at retirement, the recent sale of the company to another named person, his name and age, his hair color and body build (umm, guess who's going to be the romantic hero here), where the heroine went to college, what she majored in, the number of windows in her office, and what the weather's like today (it's hot).

That paragraph might include one or two points of information that aren't background or deadly description. Maybe the heroine is nervous or excited about the change in ownership. Maybe her feet hurt.

As a reader, I'll react to a paragraph like that by wondering which parts will be on the quiz. (As an editor, I'll react with "Good Lord, that's awful!") Readers' tastes differ, however – I could hardly have failed to pick up this message from posts here. Do they differ so much that some readers enjoy and expect a first page of that kind?

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 11:53 PM
One kind of example of what I'm talking about goes like this. (What follows is a composite, drawn from readings of several Chapter Ones.) The story opens with a scene of the female MC at work in an office. The second paragraph is packed with facts, including her full name, her age, her hair and eye color, what she's wearing, the name of the company, what business it's in, the name of the town, her department and job title, her job title before that, her father's previous ownership of the firm, his full name and his age at retirement, the recent sale of the company to another named person, his name and age, his hair color and body build (umm, guess who's going to be the romantic hero here), where the heroine went to college, what she majored in, the number of windows in her office, and what the weather's like today (it's hot).

That paragraph might include one or two points of information that aren't background or deadly description. Maybe the heroine is nervous or excited about the change in ownership. Maybe her feet hurt.



Uhhhhhh....ewwww, and ouch. Okay, if you're reading a lot of THAT, then I can see how that would leave a sour taste. (LOL- Sometimes I have to remember to describe my characters when I get into the other character's POV. Because, since I use deep POV, well, it's not often that the heroine things about her long whatever hair. <G> As you pointed out.)

But you know, I've just been opening bunches of category romances here in my office, and I can't find one (I'm skimming first pages, not just first paragraphs) that matches that description. I can't find any that are in the heroine's POV that have her describing herself. I did find ONE that talked about the hunky hero pretty quickly. I found one older one that opened in the hero's POV with him ogling the heroine pretty quick. But that's acceptable craft usage. It's not him describing his own hunky shoulders. <G>

Now, the POV character should give their full name right up front. It gets it out of the way, and it's done. The reader has the character's full name. In essence, you are introducing the reader and character, so a full name makes sense to me upfront.

I did pick up one category romance that I read a while back that made me quite annoyed with the writing. That one did have SOME of the stuff you're talking about, but not to the extent you mention.

You mentioned reading some of these excerpts on-line. I HATE putting fellow authors into the hot seat, especially without them being here, and this being a public forum. So perhaps you could privately send me the links to those excerpts so that I could read them myself and know that we're discussing the same thing? I don't like to always discuss in the abstract. I like to deal as much as possible in solid facts. :) (Funny for a person whose work involves so much emotion, but true. <G>)

Susan G.

Susan Gable
11-30-2005, 11:57 PM
As a reader, I'll react to a paragraph like that by wondering which parts will be on the quiz. (As an editor, I'll react with "Good Lord, that's awful!") Readers' tastes differ, however – I could hardly have failed to pick up this message from posts here. Do they differ so much that some readers enjoy and expect a first page of that kind?

And to answer this direct question - Yes. I think some readers would be perfectly fine with this - because it grounds them and sets the stage for them. This would appeal to the reader who wants all those details out of the way right off the bat. Where are they, who are they, and what do they look like? Okay, now I'm grounded.

Personally, I wouldn't do it like that. But I do like to make sure I've addressed the important questions pretty close up front, like where is this story set. Who is this person? And what kind of conflict is going on for her/him? Would I do that all in one paragraph? No. But would I want all of that answered in the first few pages? Yes, absolutely.

Susan G.

reph
12-01-2005, 02:47 AM
Uhhhhhh....ewwww, and ouch. Okay, if you're reading a lot of THAT, then I can see how that would leave a sour taste....But you know, I've just been opening bunches of category romances here in my office, and I can't find one...that matches that description. I can't find any that are in the heroine's POV that have her describing herself....
I admit I exaggerated a little.

Often it's the author doing the describing, not the heroine. That's part of my problem with such passages. The character's POV is abandoned while the description goes on. Either that, or the facts come by way of the character's thoughts, and it reads (to me, anyway) like an interruption.


Now, the POV character should give their full name right up front.
Well, shet my mouth and call me Ishmael Wellington Smith! I'd rather have just a first name for a while because people don't usually experience themselves using their full names. That is, I don't think most ordinary people do.


You mentioned reading some of these excerpts on-line. I HATE putting fellow authors into the hot seat, especially without them being here, and this being a public forum. So perhaps you could privately send me the links to those excerpts...
I've avoided direct quotes so as not to ridicule the writers. They might even be here under other names. I'll find some examples for you.

Susan Gable
12-01-2005, 03:40 AM
Well, shet my mouth and call me Ishmael Wellington Smith! I'd rather have just a first name for a while because people don't usually experience themselves using their full names. That is, I don't think most ordinary people do.


ISHMAEL WELLINGTON SMITH! (Is that any relation to John Jacob Jinglehimersmit?)

Okay, you're right, most people do not sit around thinking of themselves by their full name. But...you're writing a story. You need to introduce the character to the reader. <shrug> It's a convention for the convenience of the reader. Remember, that's who you're writing for.

Cath, what do you think? I think it's pretty much SOP in all the books that I've read lately. (And believe me, I'm widely read. Not just category romance, not just single title romance, not just into women's fiction, but also mystery (the exception in mystery is the "unknown" bad guy who never ID's himself by any name, lest he give himself away. <G>) and various thrillers, especially medical thrillers.) Okay, I'm going to do another experiment. I'm going to go grab a bunch of books (I've FINALLY unpacked all my boxes of books for my office. <blissful sigh> <G>) and see if the first time (or close to it) I meet the character is when I get their full names.

Results - it's running pretty much half and half. And I've even discovered that some authors introduce the POV character by full name in some books right away, and not in others.

Hmmmmm....must mean that this isn't a "rule" either way, as well. <G> Author's preference, editor's preference, and story preference must determine it. :)

Fascinating, huh? :) Another nuance.

Susan G.

Cathy C
12-01-2005, 05:14 AM
Cath, what do you think? I think it's pretty much SOP in all the books that I've read lately.

I think it depends on the sub-genre, AND in the POV used. We use first person primarily, and people don't think of THEMSELVES by name. So we use other people to bring it in generally. But yeah, I'm pretty sure that if I went back through our books, at least ONE main character is introduced in full, at least first name and last, by page five. Our March release has her first name as the first word of the book, as dialogue, and then in full on page 2, I believe (sneakily introduced by an announcement on the airport loudspeaker to "pick up the white courtesy phone").

clara bow
12-01-2005, 05:54 AM
May I please just write that this has been an extraordinarily righteous discussion? Thank you!

As someone practicing writing using a paranormal romance as a vehicle, I really appreciate the comments, insights, and nuggets of wisdom from folks here (I spread a few rep points around, needless to say). Although not all of us writers will be published, it'd be nice at least for there to be a range of book types in all the genres to appeal to varying tastes. I really liked the McDonalds analogy. While I strive to eat a healthy, balanced diet, I still crave a fast food meal now and then (or a B or a C movie). Some people are the exact opposite, and others in between.

Of course it's difficult emotionally when you've written a spectacular novel that's rejected all over the place, yet sally/joe writer has published the equivalent of a Rally's hamburger (or whatever bad fast food floats your boat). I know I feel frustrated when I read sub-par writing. But in the larger context of business and making money and marketing and all of that, it makes sense, and it's nothing personal. It's difficult for the truly talented writer or gourmet restauranteur or invention genius who can't get a leg up, but I suppose that's why persistence is so important, because it's challenging to predict when you will find your audience.

Anyhoo, these were just some thoughts I had in response to this thread. Thanks again for all the feedback!

Cathy C
12-01-2005, 06:13 PM
Clarabow wrote: It's difficult for the truly talented writer or gourmet restauranteur or invention genius who can't get a leg up.


I think you're absolutely correct, clara, that this is true in any profession. My husband is a former high-end chef, and now a craftsman welder. When we moved to Texas, he discovered that the local concept of "barbeque" is meat smoked until it's nearly jerky, with a thin, bitter sauce that's sort of vinegar with a bit of tabasco thrown in. Everybody welds fences and machinery, but most of the product looks like a two-year-old's attempt. As a craftsman, he chews his fingers, because quality doesn't mean "worth more."


Henriette wrote: but now, there is a new wave of programming such as LOST, prison break, invasion etc. that are breaking free from that mold and giving very little to no information about the mystery presented.

I'll have to take your word for this. I haven't had access to network broadcasts for over two years now. We don't get any signals, and cable isn't out here. We have satellite, but the networks are at a premium cost. But it's quite possible that what Susan says is true. People often like "unique" concepts, but then eventually want them to fall into familiar patterns. Think about past detective-style shows that included sexual tension as a binding force:

Moonlighting
Remington Steele
Scarecrow & Mrs. King
Hill Street Blues
NYPD Blue

Once the tension was resolved by the parties pairing off, the thrill was over. The romance was complete, the "book" was done. Ratings dropped like a rock. People WANT conflict, and they want resolution. But then it's time to move on. Books that don't deliver on the resolution aspect aren't best sellers, unless it's ENSURED that there will be a sequel. Readers will go along for a pretty long ride in order to see tension building over and over, just like a television series. But a stand-alone title had better deliver by the end of the book. Maybe non-series books are better compared to movies. Yeah, a shocking, tear-jerking ending is fine on some (think Casa Blanca), but if you're going to the movies to see a romantic story, it had better conclude closer to the way the African Queen did. If Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn had simply parted ways at the end of the story, viewers would have been outraged and the movie would have tanked, instead of becoming a classic for the ages.

What think the rest of you?

(BTW -- I'm going to stay out of the "bodice-ripper" debate, since I have no problem with the term. But I know too many people who do, so I'll let the rest of you sort that out. Keep it polite, though... :) )

henriette
12-01-2005, 08:56 PM
well gosh darn it all, i guess i gotta explain that bodice ripping is SEXY!

i mean, come on: let's all have a sense of humour here. we're not discussing plato's republic. i typed "romance" into amazon.com and the first book that came up had a fair amount of bodice, but i will admit there was no ripping, only bare chested clutching. so perhaps the better term would be "bodice clutching"?

my favourite scene in "pirates of the carribbean" is when cap'n jack sparrow rips off the heroine's bodice to help her breathe after she nearly drowns.

even better is his response to "how did you know to do that?"

"i see you've never been to singapore..."

HUMINA HUMINA!

ok so i'm going to ruffle some more feathers, but this idea came to me between snooze buttons. romance novels are like pornography: without the "money" shot (you ladies know what i'm talkin bout) there is no ending. it's just going going going. the HEA is equal to the money shot.

thoughts? *wink*

Susan Gable
12-01-2005, 09:05 PM
my favourite scene in "pirates of the carribbean" is when cap'n jack sparrow rips off the heroine's bodice to help her breathe after she nearly drowns.

Well, you know, Cap'n Jack can rip my bodice anytime he likes. :banana:

Susan G.

scarletpeaches
12-01-2005, 09:08 PM
I think I'll rent that DVD tonight! :kiss:

Hubba hubba. Johnny Depp, though, never looked hotter than in Secret Window.

Sonarbabe
12-01-2005, 10:31 PM
Not many men can wear eyeliner and look right sexy doing it, but Johnny Depp? Hoo-ie, baby! This is the time where having a little boy who digs pirates is a plus. He gets a Disney pirate movie and I get eye candy. Win-win, if you ask me.

henriette
12-02-2005, 02:39 AM
ooo and his newest movie, "the libertine", has him as a 17th century poet. imagine ruffled collars, riding horses and writing verse with quill pens by candlelight...

then again perhaps i should keep this to myself...hands off, he's MY secret boyfriend! *wink*

Susan Gable
12-02-2005, 03:49 AM
ooo and his newest movie, "the libertine", has him as a 17th century poet. imagine ruffled collars, riding horses and writing verse with quill pens by candlelight...


I found him quite charming in Finding Neverland. (Now there, henriette, there's your very untraditional non-romance romance, since it doesn't have the HEA.)

Okay, and speaking of hunks in upcoming movies, we have Heath Ledger (I don't care how young he is, he's a cutie!) as Cassanova, and then, we have Antonio Banderas as a ballroom dancing teacher who works with inner city kids and uses ballroom dancing (HOT ballroom dancing! <G>) to reach them. Oooooo, yum. <G>

Susan G.

Sonarbabe
12-02-2005, 04:29 AM
Okay, and speaking of hunks in upcoming movies, we have Heath Ledger (I don't care how young he is, he's a cutie!) as Cassanova, and then, we have Antonio Banderas as a ballroom dancing teacher who works with inner city kids and uses ballroom dancing (HOT ballroom dancing! <G>) to reach them. Oooooo, yum. <G>

Susan G.


Oh, Susan. You said the "A" word. Antonio Banderas is my fantasy dream guy. Loved him in Once Upon A Time In Mexico and Johnny Depp was in it to boot! *drools* Oh, sweet heaven, is it getting hot in here? Must...get back...to...writing....

batgirl
12-02-2005, 08:20 AM
Just to briefly interrupt the chocolatey Depp goodness, sorry ... I won't be long ...
A study of romance fiction (can't think of the title offhand) published back in the 1980s, in one chapter examined sample passages from a couple of mainstream or literary works, and compared to a category romance (historical). The specific point being made was that the romance excerpt made the point explicitly, while the others made it implicitly - the point being that the atmosphere in the room was tense. All three used details of silence, people concentrating on work and not meeting each others eyes, jumping at sudden sounds, that sort of thing, but the romance excerpt also said that there was tension in the air.
The author of the study argued that this was important because many of the romance readers were squeezing their reading in while the toddler napped, during coffee breaks in the office, while something was warming on the stove, in the bath, and generally in snatched moments, sometimes only with time for one or two paragraphs. They didn't have the leisure time and concentration to be attentive to nuance. They needed the signposts and info-dumps, or they wouldn't be able to pick the story thread up again.

Just a thought, and it's an older book, so perhaps everyone is aware of the argument already, but I hadn't noticed it being mentioned.
-Barbara

Please return to the scheduled Deppredations.