Friday, April 19, 2013

Things that bug me in Romance novels: advice for self-published authors on Kindle

As a teen, I was a kind of geeky, straight A student, with an active imagination.  (As opposed to today, where I’m… yeah… exactly the same.)  Bookworm-y tendencies manifested themselves in a variety of ways for a high school girl.  There’s watching Dirty Dancing six million times.  There’s passionately debating episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer online.  And there’s reading every romance novel in the local library.  Truthfully, none of these addictions have left me, but romance novels are definitely the deepest. 

Over the years, I’ve developed a list of small and mostly nitpicky things that I like and don’t like in my romance novels.  They aren’t against the rules of the genre or necessary for me to enjoy a book.  They’re just little personal stuff that bug me or that I look for in my favorite stories.

1)      I don’t like it when the hero/heroine sleeps with someone else during the course of the story.  It just feels wrong to me.  I’ve seen this is lots of different books, from Material Girl by Julia London to Dance on the Wind by Mary Jo Putney.  (And I liked those examples overall.  I still have both books on my shelf.)  But why did the hero and/or heroine need to have sex with someone besides their love interest?  What did it add to the story?
2)      I don’t like it when the heroine has no role in the finale.  That’s not to say she has to be judo-chopping the villain or kidnapped in some hostage-deal, but she’s got to have a part to play.  For example, I’m very fond of Linda Howard’s books.  (My favorite being After the Night.  Or White Lies.  Or Heart of Fire.  Yeah, probably Heart of Fire.  I enjoyed Ben Lewis immensely.)  But the heroine in Open Season spends the climax of the book hiding at a hotel.  Granted, it probably made sense from a “realistic” POV, but where’s the fun realistic? 

3)      I don’t like first person narration.  I feel like I’m only getting half the story if I can’t get into other character’s heads.  I thought the Mockingjay, the third book of the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, was severely limited by the fact that Katniss was away from the action for long stretches or time.  (SPOILER !!!!!!!! Mostly, though, the book upset me because Finnick died.  WTF was that about?  Seriously, he was my favorite character, damn it.  END SPOILER!!!!!!!!!!!!)  Anyway, not many romances have first person narration, but, when I come across one, I tend to put that book back on the shelf.

On the other hands, there are oodles of small things that amp up my liking of a book.  I’m pretty eager to enjoy a book, especially when I’ve paid good money for it.  But, sometimes there will be some little thing that makes a story even more delightful for me.
1)       I like big casts.  I’m not saying that I want to take notes in order to keep everyone straight, but I like it when there are a lot of people interacting.  I think it creates more complex stories and relationships.  The way the characters in JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books all live together and have to deal with each other’s quirks makes the series interesting to me.  Another example would be Nora Roberts’ Montana Sky, where she writes three sisters, their love interest, and various other characters on the ranch.  Everything just comes to life. 

2)       I like it when the characters do what I would do in their place.  Sometimes, this means jumping off the paddle boat when you’re kidnapped, such as in Once a Princess by Johanna Lindsey.  Sometimes, it’s just the character saying obvious thing.   I remember reading Tempest in Time by Eugenia Riley, where the heroine is sent back in time to the pre-Civil War South and insists on challenging everything she sees.  A small example was when the annoying plantation men started complaining about malaria, she’s like, “Idiots, malaria comes from mosquitos.  How can you not know that?”  I started laughing, because if it was me, I’d probably have said the same thing.

3)      I like it when the heroes aren’t perfect.  Sure being rich, handsome, and well-adjusted is great for the happily-ever-after part of the story.  But, it’s a heck of a lot more enjoyable for me to watch the hero’s process of getting there.  I don’t want him to always be right or popular.  I like it when the guy’s kind of a mess.  Zarek is Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dance with the Devil is a good example.  He’s a sweet guy underneath the bitterness and snark and everybody-wanting-him-dead parts.  It just takes three hundred pages for the heroine to help him figure it out.  If he’s already doin’ fine, what’s the point of the story?
Personal taste plays into so much and this is some of the things that I notice when I’m reading a romance novel.  None of this stuff will make-or-break an entire book for me.  They’re just the details that can turn the experience into something extra special or detract from the overall story.
- Cassandra Gannon


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