I neglected to actually hit the “publish” button when this was supposed to post, so David, who is out of town, kindly let me have his slot today.
I just finished a book and started another and in the meantime I’ve been doing a lot of crocheting, cleaning, cooking and reading. I’m so far behind on all my reading that I hardly know what book to grab first. But I have always loved regency romances and I haven’t read any in quite awhile, so I grabbed some up to read. One of the things I find very satisfying about regencies is the witty repartee. The good ones are full of it and I can’t tell you how much I love just romping through the dialog. Plus I’m a sucker for romances and happy endings and anything set in regency England.
I like a strong heroine as well–which you’ve probably figured out if you’ve read my books–and I like a strong hero. But the thing that I most want and sometimes do not get, is a plot that makes sense and isn’t too coincidental or too stupid to be true. Sadly, I’ve run across a couple of those. It made me think about how I would have written these books to satisfy and then it got me to thinking about satisfying the reader and just what that means.
In romance novels, you typically have the Happily Ever After ending (HEA). That means that the lovers will come together and that’s the primary goal. Certainly there are frequently other subplots that might involve intrigue or crime or something else, but the end of the book will be about the HEA. I know that when I go into reading a romance and so I’m expecting it. The problem is, how did we get there?
For one novel, the entire thing could and should have ended seventy five pages sooner than it did, simply because these very smart, very forthright characters suddenly became stupid. Stooooopid. What do I mean? Well, an artificial conflict was created simply because suddenly they would no longer talk honestly with one another, something they’d been doing for the entire book until that point. (Picture me banging my head on the keyboard). All they needed to do was talk. That’s it. Had they done so, the entire problem would have vanished. Poof. I hate it when authors do this, almost as much as I hate it when authors get female characters pregnant as the main plot device.
The problem is that suddenly the characters change character. They aren’t themselves. They aren’t doing what they would have done in the first 200 pages of the book. Suddenly they are doing something else entirely. Why? Well, it seems to me that the author was trying to satisfy the need to push the personal conflict. To raise the stakes and make it appear that the two couldn’t work it out. Except because it was so patently artificial, it made me want to throw the book across the room (TBAR tm by Mindy Klasky)
The other book had a similar problem, but the author rescued it somewhat before it got too out of hand. Our main characters are strong, the conflict is real and deals with things that don’t make me roll my eyes. Then about 3/4 of the way through, the male hero becomes an idiot. Total. He, once again, stops talking to the female lead. Now the fact that she doesn’t push him makes reasonable sense, given her background and I found myself more forgiving of her. But the male–I wanted to kick him in the balls. Luckily, the last part of the book didn’t hinge on that lack of communication. Other plot elements rose and they carried the day. Which meant that I didn’t have to TBAR the book. It was a close thing there for awhile.
What I think these writers are doing is trying to satisfy the romantic expectations of their readers, but it doesn’t work. At least not for me. That’s because, as I said, the characters stop being themselves and turn into someone else I don’t recognize. And I don’t give a shit about any of them. I care about the early characters who’ve I’ve been bonding with for several hundred pages.
That idea of satisfaction, though, makes me think about how we as writers think about our stories and how we come to satisfying endings, or plots or what have you. I’ll admit, I write to entertain myself. I write the story that I would love to read because I’m telling myself the story as I go and I want to be entertained. What I want is plausibility, escalating conflict, strong characters, snappy dialog, tension and passion (not just romantic, but fear, loathing, depression and so on). I want to care about my characters and feel that they are real. I try not to think about my readers and what would satisfy them. I think about the story and what makes it good for me. I figure that if it’s good for me, it will be good for others.
But then for the two books above, I wonder, weren’t those authors satisfied? Wasn’t it good for them? Which then makes me wonder if I can trust myself to know what a good story is. But who else is there? Yes, I count on my agent and editors and my beta readers, and they always ask questions that make me reconsider the story. But in the end, it’s me who has to be satisfied.
Hey look! Another things for writers to be neurotic about!
I have no solution to offer. I’m wondering what you think and how you approach writing stories.