During the recent “Black Friday” sales I purchased a stack of Claire Thompson’s books. I’d seen her work rating highly on a number of lists but was wary because one of the first BDSM books I read was a m/f slave book of hers, which I hated with a passion. But then again, now there aren't many m/f books I like, so that's possibly more my problem than Claire's. I hate beautiful, perfect heroines....
As I’m a fast reader, I churned through the new books pretty quickly because they are easy reads. In a way this is unfair to the author as quirks in their style of writing and “voice” become even more apparent as do repetitive phrasings, words (nether hole – shudder) and themes.
One of things I did notice about Claire's books is that too often she builds to a climax like a kiss or a fuck and then before it actually happens, wham, bam she ends the chapter. You turn the page expecting to see the event and the time has suddenly shifted forward to the next day or even the next week and you may or may not get a description of what happened as a recall. (Golden Boy and Golden Man were filled with those.) So what should have been a “show” instead becomes pretty much a “tell”.
Another problem Claire had, and one that is shared by a number of writers: a lot of her characters’ narratives are big “tells” about how they feel about something. It’s sometimes as if they’re on a therapist’s couch. In a BDSM setting this can be appropriate as a sub is supposed to explore how he feels and relate this to the Dom (Jane Davitt's "Bound and Determined" does this very well). Mind you the Dom often doesn’t get this opportunity, so maybe that’s something to ponder (Syd McGinley's Dr Fell would agree with me on that one).
This is true of many other writers not just Claire, so it got me thinking about other things I feel many writers get wrong. (So the rest of this blog is really a general rant.)
For example, is this ability many heroes have to articulate and discuss the reasons they do things realistic? In my experience, while women still retain a lot of the ancient “gatherer” mentality in which the females had to consider and evaluate every berry, mushroom and vegetable they foraged and teach others, males in general still are the “hunters” who act first often without thinking, and it is only later at the pub, when they relax with their mates and have a few beers under their belt that they have the time or the inclination to discuss and boast about why they did whatever they did. Nowadays, sportsmen exhibit the same behavioural pattern.
In my experience, outside the pub, males rarely sit down time and time again and have meaningful heart to hearts.
Another beef in books? Switching to another character’s POV and giving a complete rehash of a scene we’ve just had without it adding much new. While I don’t dislike this dual POV aspect of the same situation, we have to learn something different, because if an author has established the character properly and the reader has learnt how they tick, we should have worked out what would be going on in their head without being told based on what they say and do. It’s only when they do something unexpected or out of character this “explanation” is needed when we switch POV.
Another thing I find is that too often, to get from point A to point B in an emotional arc, the characters merely make a decision to change their ways, do it and then explain why they did it to the other character. Sometimes in just a couple of paragraphs.
Authors, please don't rush the good bits.
Next conflict. The absence of decent conflict can be a death knell. Here's a good post from Alex Voinov on the subject: Five Things Burn Notice Teaches About Writing
It’s a well established dictum that all stories require conflict. This can be externally produced, the result of internal issues in a character, differences between characters, their lifestyles, their pasts. It can even be in the form of embarrassment and frustration. The whole point of romances is seeing how characters resolve and get beyond these conflicts. Preferably this requires a character to change their way of behaving, to learn lessons, to grow.
In many books, the conflict is in the initial situation ie the setup. This is often shown in the blurb. It is how the characters resolve this which makes a book memorable and different. Too often though, the resolution is too easy. Characters don’t have to change to overcome things. Either the conflict is made to be a non issue or if they do change it just seems to be a case of “Oh, I see the error of my ways, I’m going to change” end of story.
Finally, guys have to talk like guys. Get rid of the soppy, sentimental dialogue. Man 'em up Dude.
Because I’m trying to discover their secret, I do tend to be analytical and possibly overly critical when I read now. This possibly isn’t fair to some authors, but I need to discover what it is in their writing that I don’t like to ensure I don’t fall into the same traps and what I do like serves as an inspiration and a reminder to me of what I should be striving for.
Finally, don't make your male characters TGTBT (Too Good To Be True) that's nearly as bad as females being (Too Silly To Live).
Given the popularity of some author's books though, obviously female readers like this. A lesson I have to remember.....