Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sturgeon's Law

"90% of everything is crap."

Unfortunately, that seems to hold true for the books I've picked up lately. Last night I finished a regency I'd bought because someone had recommended it as including a fascinating (and rare) look at work prisons. I'd never read a regency that included such, and was disappointed in this that the glimpse was a brief one, only a couple pages, and did not contribute to the plot.

Okay, I thought, so it might turn out to be a nice regency. But it wasn't. Oh, I made it through the book, but I did so because the writer—who seemed to be able to produce decent prose—had to resolve her situations and I wondered how she'd do that. I was wrong. Oh, things were resolved. In a wishy-washy fashion.

First of all, we were given a heroine who had zero self-esteem. That's okay; the heroine in my books, Touch of Danger and the upcoming Star-Crossed, also suffers from that problem. But she gets over it. She learns and grows. This heroine took a step forward every so often, but quickly moved backward into her misery.

The hero had zero respect for the heroine. Oh, he'd loved her since she was a child. Yet he'd let her take four Seasons and hadn't offered for her. He'd have been content to take the chance of someone else proposing to her? He liked knowing she wouldn't accept anyone because she loved him, and it was fine how she was thus depressed and beginning to be scorned as a spinster? How odd and illogical. It's only when her dowry becomes so great that he decides that yes, he could stand to have her as his wife. Even though, remember, he's loved her since she was a child.

The heroine has also loved him, and apparently that's enough to put up with his emotional bullying and disrespect. The two don't communicate so everything goes unresolved until near the end. Things get worse and worse, our heroine falls far backward into the throes of terrible self-esteem and depression, our hero gets more controlling and demanding, and the solution is found when a high-born mucky-muck deigns to treat them as if they hadn't become the scandals of society that they made themselves.

Uh... what?

I think that editors shouldn't encourage writers to make their characters so unlikeable. Or if they do, they should insist that the characters GROW during a story (anyone heard of "character arcs"?), and become better people, happier people, because of their efforts to improve themselves. (We're talking romance here, which always has a HEA.)

To make things worse in this book there are three very explicit (and too-long) sex scenes. It seems every romance has to have these, no matter how badly they fit the pacing, no matter how mechanically things are presented, no matter that they have little place (as written) in the book they inhabit.

I'm not against sex scenes. I'm not even against explicit sex scenes. But they, like any other scene, must have a purpose in the book. They must move the plot forward. Otherwise it's merely cheap porn. (And I have nothing against good porn.)

So 90% of everything is crap. This makes finding a good book, or even discovering that rare great book, so exhilarating. In the meantime, I encourage authors to make their books the best they can. I encourage editors to help their authors improve their craft and the stories they tell.

Questions: What situations do you hate to find in books? What do you rejoice in seeing? What makes a book a keeper?

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