A romance trend I wish would die.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t put books down.

Really, I don’t.

But I did last Friday. It was a romance, and I had almost reached 50% when I gave up on it. The last straw isn’t something I’m going to discuss, since I think it’s specific enough that people might recognize the book, and I just don’t do that.

I will, however share what had me laboring through a few hundred pages for eight freaking hours on a public holiday.

Conflict. See conflict to a writer is supposed to be something that keeps a main character from achieving his/her goal. When it comes to pure romance, it’s about what’s keeping the characters apart. Sometimes, it’s something like either the hero (MMC) or heroine (FMC) being engaged, or them wanting opposite things in life, or one just not possibly imagining that the other could be a suitable spouse/partner/whatever.

With the latter, it’s usually about one or both of the characters being magnificent assholes/bitches. (Think Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give or Sandra Bullock in The Proposal. Or my personal favorite: Harrison Ford in Sabrina.)

Now rule of thumb is that the more hard-assed and untameable the character, the sweeter the happy ending. And time and time again I have seen people simply taking this rule at face value and abusing it. Which often takes the form of the “Happy Ending” being with someone who’s either almost or fully abusive. This is particularly prevalent in the falling for the alpha male trope.

The argument could be made of “what message is this sending to the reader”, but as is very well documented on my blog, I don’t believe in moral preaching in my writing. As such I won’t expect it from others.

I do, however have a major issue with writers abusing that rule for one season and one reason alone:

Suspension of disbelief.

Any fictional story, no matter how realistically written, requires for a reader to suspend disbelief. With romance, this is incredibly important because the reader must want to believe that two characters will be together. Because unlike most other genres, this goal is usually not decided on by the characters. (The opposite, in fact.) It’s all in the reader’s mind.

So if one of the characters in the prospective couple is an asshole (since I mentioned the alpha male, the character will be male. This is the same for female characters too, though), the writer has an additional problem. She/he will have to engage people in the asshole enough for the readers to want him to end up with the FMC. And then, the readers must believe that the FMC would be happy with him. 

This can be done in a variety of ways. First, by showing the reader that there are other sides to him. That there’s more to him than the hard-assed exterior. (And even if there is, nothing excuses him from remaining an ass towards the FMC in the end. I repeat: NOTHING.)

The second (and I admit a preferable way) is for the character to go through a growth arc before the get-together in the end. Note the three movies I mentioned above all have this happening.

But in no shape or form is half-way the place to start with this. If it’s half-way into a romance and I as the reader would reverse over a character if I hypothetically hit him/her with a car, there’s something seriously wrong. And if I get to the end and the character has nothing redeeming him (hot sex doesn’t count), the writer of that book has essentially betrayed the trust required for suspension of disbelief. Because 1) I don’t want the FMC to spend the rest of her life with and asshole because 2) I can’t imagine her life being happy for long because of it.

So please please please, romance authors. Throw us readers a bone. Let us actually like the characters as much as you do?

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Paul Anthony Shortt on Consequences

Hey all! Today I want to welcome Paul Anthony Shortt to my blog! Before we go into that, though, I just want to let you know where I am and what I’m doing. 🙂

First, I’m doing an excerpt swap with Quanie Miller, author of the up coming book It Ain’t Easy Being Jazzy. My excerpt is here. Hers is here. By the way, if you haven’t met Quanie yet, I suggest you check out the writings she’s posted so far. The lady has some kick-ass talent and I’m looking forward to read Jazzy. 

Second, I’m visiting Rebecca to talk about writing a series.

Hope to see you there!

Okay, take it away Paul. Adore the cover, by the way.

Consequences

Today’s guest post is pretty self-explanatory. A good story needs consequences. A character can’t run around, messing with the plans of powerful beings, throwing their own lives into disarray, and expect to get off scott-free.

At the end of Locked Within, Nathan Shepherd has suffered for his actions against the Council of Chains, and his obsession with unexplained murders. One friend of mine describes it as Nathan having “the worst week of his life.” And that’s true.

Or it was, anyway.

In Silent Oath, Nathan has to contend with the demands of his new role. The more he fights to keep people save, the harder he has to work. It’s as if his reward for each heroic act is to be presented with ever more dangerous challenges. He has to learn that it’s not enough to kill a few vampires. He must build something that allows the people of New York to protect themselves. He needs a conclave, a united group of people in the know to stand united against the Council of Chains.

But even that noble goal will have unexpected consequences. Outside conclaves look to Nathan for support. As his reputation grows, amid rumours that he is not just any reborn, but in fact the reincarnation of a legendary hero, he finds that more enemies want to challenge him, which those under his care look to him more and more for guidance.

Nathan must rise to this, and take charge if he is to do any real good.

However, reincarnation is tricky, and Nathan’s memories haven’t finished coming. He has other things to remember; events in past lives that will leave him shaken to his core. His actions, past and present, are leading him, inexorably, to war. For all his determination and strength, Nathan could stand to lose everything he’s built, and he doesn’t yet even remember why.

This is why consequences are so important in a story. As I wrote Silent Oath I thought more about Nathan’s past lives and how centuries of death and rebirth might affect him. What lengths would he go to in order to keep people safe? What if he wanted to have a quiet, peaceful life for a change? Fate has a funny way of dragging heroes back into action, no matter what they may do. This, too, is a consequence. The events that unfold throughout Silent Oath all stem from action or inaction on Nathan’s part. The challenge is for him to not only defeat his new enemies, but come to terms with the way he has changed things in New York, for better and for worse.


Bio: 
A child at heart who turned to writing and roleplaying games when there simply weren’t enough action figures to play out the stories he wanted, Paul Anthony Shortt has been writing all his life. Growing up surrounded by music, film and theatre gave him a deep love of all forms of storytelling, each teaching him something new he could use. When not playing with the people in his head, he enjoys cooking and regular meet-ups with his gaming group.

Paul lives in Ireland with his wife Jen and their dogs, Pepper and Jasper. Their first child, Conor William Henry Shortt, was born on July 11th, 2011. He passed away three days later, but brought love and joy into their lives and those of their friends. The following year, Jen gave birth to twins, Amy and Erica, and is now expecting their fourth child.
Paul’s first novel, Locked Within, was released on November 6th, 2012, by WiDo Publishing. Silent Oath is the second book in this urban fantasy trilogy.

Blurb:
Hope has returned to New York City. Nathan Shepherd leads a small band of dedicated fighters against the Council of Chains and the city’s supernatural masters. But it’s not enough. Because from the shadows of Nathan’s former lives comes an old enemy, one who knows terrible secrets that Nathan has not yet remembered, secrets that could undo everything he has fought for.

Nathan’s only chance to uncover the memories of his previous existence, and to conquer these new forces of evil, lies in Elena DeSantis. A woman he has fought beside in past lifetimes. A woman he has loved.
Together, Nathan and Elena are the only future the city has.

Links:
Twitter: @PAShortt

Others have said: There are Rules

William_Safire_main.jpg

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

William Safire, Great Rules of Writing


And yet, I’m breaking the rules now. And I do it often. VERY. Often. It just works for me, because conciously breaking certain rules change the feel of what has been written.

I am, however, very finicky about what I perceive to be errors. People breaking rules per accident. It just stands out more and degrades the quality.

So… what’s your favorite writing rule to break on purpose?  

A to Z Challenge: World Building

Almost as promised, here’s the post on World Building.

I believe that whether or not you write a form of speculative fiction, you will have to engage in some degree of world building to make your story believable. You might have to create a fictional town. Or disguise a real one (Gotham City, anyone?). Otherwise, you might simply bend the real world rules a little in to make them fit the purposes of the story.

Because of this, I’m going to address two types of world building. Spec fic and non spec fic.

Credit

If you’re not writing spec fic, or only want to gloss over reality a little, you’ll need to put time in to research as much about the location and time of your story as possible. Especially if you don’t live in the location or time that you’re writing about. And the more you research, the better.

BUT remember, you’re looking for a feel for the place/time so that you can write a piece of fiction. You’re not writing a text book. So if you’ve written blocks and blocks of information with minute details of everything, you might have to cut back. It’s sort of similar to what I said about using senses. Characters aren’t going to list the histories/descriptions/cultural impact of every single thing the see and experience. Rather, we the readers want to feel everything through the character. Show the impact of certain things. Show what they mean. Don’t list them and go on and on about minute details.

Special bonus for historical fiction writers: Anachronisms are incredibly annoying, so make damned sure that the things used/referred to by characters existed/happen in the time of your story. NOTHING annoys me more than reading a western where badass gunslingers use the colt peacemaker three years before it existed. And yes. I know when it did or didn’t exist. Other people will too. Keep your dates straight. If you absolutely must bend the dates to suit the story, please remember to make note of it in a foreword or something. That way, you show that you’re not an idiot, and (possibly more importantly) that you don’t think the reader’s an idiot.

Spec fic, on the other hand, sets world building on a whole new level. More often than not, the world of your fantasy/steampunk/sci fi/urban fantasy/dystopian/horror/etc. etc. story will be foreign to your readers. And if your readers can’t place themselves in the world of your story, you already lost the battle.

When it comes to my spec fic stories, I try to know more than what goes into the book. Note: MORE. Not everything. Every single thing doesn’t have to go in. Important things go in. And not always in a clearly outlined way. Let’s say that amongst other things, your world randomly loses gravity. I wouldn’t suggest that you necessarily go into the depths of why, unless it’s important. The same for the cultures that you create. Remember, most spec fic characters already live in the world that you’ve created. So they won’t be explaining things to themselves or others. At least not all the time. There’s a fine balance between enlightening the readers and boring them with too much detail. Make sure that you stay on that line.

Taking the world rules a little further…. Natural laws should exist as natural LAWS. Same with the rules of your magic system. Or your cultural norms, rules and regulations. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES let your characters break any of the above without them being aware of the fact, without an explanation, and without potentially huge (and hugely negative) repercussions. Especially, don’t let them do it to save the day. If you do, you’re undermining the credibility of your own story. These rules should be the frame that keeps everything in your story structured and believable. You can’t ignore them for convenience sake. It will make your story collapse like a house of cards. If the world rules create a problem for the story, you have two options: either rewrite the rules (and revise the whole story to fit them) or go look for a solution that fits and even comes out of the rules. See my P post for more info on that.

On a lighter note, having a fantasy world helps to set the mood of the story, if you use your world right. You have the joy of creating something special and unique. It’s one of the few forms of pure creation. So have a blast!

Look Out for These:

1) In both: Over-telling on the world/time, boring the reader and making everything seem unrealistic. Under-informing the reader, making them wonder how things work.

2) Non-Spec fic: Anachronisms, not knowing enough to get the feel of the time/place right.

3) Spec fic: World rules that are broken.

What do you love/hate about world building in your genre?

A to Z Challenge: Rules and Realism

To me, rules and realism are some of the most important things that I focus on. Particularly the rules, because the realism aspect usually grows organically from the obedience to the rules.


Without the rules, my fantasy world doesn’t make sense. I have to work out why things are possible, make sure that the reader understands and make sure that the rule is carried to its full extent. I.E. Say I had fairies who were vegetarian. The rule is then obviously NO MEAT. Good. One thing done. We also now have a glimpse into the culture.


But now, this begs the question… Do they hunt? Instinctively, my answer will be no… After all, if they’re big on vegetarianism, I don’t think they’ll want to wear fur. Nor do I think they will want to use the fats or bones for anything either. In fact… I think they’d see any part of a dead animal as an abomination. (Maybe vegetarians don’t. Have no idea. I’m just rolling with the fairy culture thing.) That already opens up a myriad of other questions.


Does their taboo about killing things extend to warfare? Will that make them pacifists? If they are, do they have defenses? Can they in fact be pushed to fight back? How far must they be pushed?


All those considerations just from one rule. And if I get those right, I’ve taken another step towards realism. Easy, right?


Not always. Sometimes, there are more subtle cultural norms that are in fact norms, but that might not be hard and fast. Say… equality. Women might be considered equal… to men in their castes. So yes, a culture could consider itself to be egalitarian while they are still just as obsessed with ranks. But what would that mean? Oh… perhaps richer/more powerful girls get to have an education. Perhaps they get to fight in the army. Perhaps there isn’t such a culture of chivalry. On the other hand, the ladies might get a larger measure of respect, because they’re not just seen as baby breeders.


It all depends on other things. History, for one thing. Other rules, for another. Some rules overlap to cause a different outcome to the more obvious one.


That’s why carrying through the rules are so very important. Because if the rules aren’t carried far enough, you might miss a point where they overlap.


The reader might not.


And that will severely limit the realism in the story.


So… how do you approach rules in your writing? Want to write down some interesting examples in your writing and the effect they have? Or point out some things I missed in my examples? I would love to get a glimpse into the way you think about things. Not to mention that it’s fun. ^_^