Jeanne: Torturing Your Characters

Depositphotos_11087992_s-2019Lately I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in romance–the physical torturing of characters–the heroines, in particular.

This may have always been the case and I just hadn’t noticed, but I don’t like it. I don’t like it because:

 

a) my imagination is vivid enough that it’s very unpleasant to read

b) Much like our bodies are constructed from what we eat, I think our psyches are constructed from what we ingest in the form of entertainment and

c) It’s lazy writing.

In my books, my characters undergo a fair amount of psychological torture (and some random, cartoonish physical torture if Satan’s feeling especially cranky) but I draw the line at detailed depictions of physical torture.

As I said, I just don’t like to read this kind of stuff. I also don’t watch movies with graphic violence. I saw the move Seven years ago and it took me weeks to stop flashing on the various gory scenes.

I’m a big fan of Dick Francis’s novels, especially the ones set in the world of horse racing, but one almost universal component of his books is that at some point the hero gets tortured. I always skipped those parts.

Where the lazy writing comes in is that physical torture is a one-size-fits-all device. Unless your character has some kind of neurological impairment, bamboo under her fingernails will affect her in pretty much the same way it affects anyone. There’s no individualization there.

Psychological torture, on the other hand, requires knowing your character’s worst fear and then putting them into situations that force them to confront that fear until they eventually grow beyond it and become a stronger, better person.

No matter how many times you take a baseball bat to someone’s kneecap, they’re not going to grow into someone who can just walk that off. There’s no growth potential there.

There are also a “damsel in distress” feeling to plots that are constructed strictly around the heroine’s physical fears. I want to see her grow as a human being, not turn into some impervious superwoman.

What’s a lot more fun, to me, is to put them in situations where they have to make a choice between what legendary writing teacher Mary Buckham calls “suck and suckier.” Where they are forced to confront their inner demons to triumph.

What about you? What’s your poison?

Jilly: Mind Candy–The Witterlist

Sadly it looks as though things are going to get worse before they get better in the world at large, and chances are many people will be spending more time at home over the coming weeks and months.

If that means you’re likely to spend quality time with Netflix, or if you’re just interested in hearing an intelligent, enthusiastic analysis of what makes a story work (or not), you might enjoy BBC Radio 5 Live’s The Witterlist.

5 Live is primarily a news and sport radio station, but every Friday afternoon movie reviewer Mark Kermode joins host Simon Mayo to discuss the week’s new releases. I rarely go to the cinema and I don’t often stream movies, but I love The Witterlist because Mark Kermode is such fun to listen to. He’s honest without being sarcastic, or jaded, or blasé. He clearly loves not just movies, but story, and the insights he offers make me smile, they make me care, and then they make me think.

Here’s an example from last month: the most recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. I don’t often enjoy movie adaptations of classic books, and Emma is probably my least favorite Austen—the heroine is so entitled she makes me grit my teeth till my jaw hurts—but Mark Kermode makes me want to watch this film. He makes me want to go back and read the book, which I haven’t done in years. Here’s a quote:

Emma the source text is like a Beatles’ song. You can play it in a number of ways. You can play it fast, you can play it slow, you can play it upbeat, you can play it swing, you can pay it skiffle, you can play it rock, but it’s still the same song. You can emphasize different melodies and countermelodies because the thing itself is so sturdily constructed.

The whole Emma review is around nine minutes long. You can find it here.

The Witterlist home page, with a list of reviews and all kinds of other fun, interesting links is here.

I hope you enjoy it.

Stay warm and safe, and here’s hoping things improve soon.

Do you have any mind candy recommendations to keep folks engaged and uplifted while we wrestle with real life? All suggestions gratefully received 🙂 .

Jeanne: Putting the Meta in Metaphor

cartoon concepts and ideas setA few years ago, on my personal blog, I proposed a metaphor:

Happiness slid from her face like a fried egg from a Teflon skillet.

I went on to assert:

…the narrator has to be a housewife or a chef, because if, for example, a cop, or a dentist, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company says something like this, it just doesn’t work. (Unless he’s the CEO of Farberware.)

But Christo, another blogger, took issue with that statement, commenting:

…I have to disagree with you on the Teflon one – I think it works for no matter who you say it about – why does it specifically have to be a cook or a housewife or even more linear someone that works for Teflon?

To which I responded, via email: Continue reading

Michille: Write Your Novel in a Year

TypewriterAs so many people say, or in this case after I googled ‘write your novel in a year’, so many web pages say it. I’ve discussed Writers Write and Anthony Ehlers series called Write Your Novel in a Year. The blog very kindly consolidated all 52 posts here. I have Chuck Wendig’s infographicon my bulletin board (if you don’t like foul language, skip this one). And I’ve tried the NaNo method (although I knew I wouldn’t write an entire novel in a month). I don’t read these because I think any one of them will be the magic bullet, but I do regularly find motivation to keep writing. Here are some of the new ones I found: Continue reading

Jilly: Impressed and Inspired

This week I read the opening pages of a terrific story by a new-to-me author. Sadly I can’t offer you a recommendation because the pages were a contest entry. I don’t even know the author’s name yet, though I’ll be checking the contest website when the finalists are announced.

I try to judge at least one writing contest per year—mostly because in the past I’ve received super-useful feedback on my own entries, but also because I learn a lot. It typically takes me four to six hours per entry to read the pages, decide on the scores, and write the comments. Many entries are by writers still in the process of learning the basics, but I’ve never read one totally without merit. The challenge is to identify and acknowledge the writer’s strengths, isolate the areas that require work, and make constructive, actionable suggestions without rewriting. It’s hard to do well but even if the pages aren’t my cup of tea it never feels like a thankless task. Whether or not the entrant appreciates my efforts, I get valuable food for thought and most of my insights are applicable to my own writing.

This contest is the first time ever I finished an entry in under an hour. Almost immediately I started reading for pleasure. Then I sipped my coffee and mentally wrote the rest of the book. After that I got to work, which mainly required a heartfelt but most un-judge-like squee. And then I set to thinking about what had made my reading experience so good.

Continue reading

Jeanne: Too Many Buts, Not Enough Therefores

I recently read a book that didn’t quite work for me.

The writing was strong and the author did a masterful job of pulling all the diverse plot threads together, but something about the story somehow missed. It took me a couple of days of analyzing it to put my finger on the problem: too many buts, not enough therefores.

If you’re not a long-time follower of this blog, that phrase may not make sense to you. (It may not make sense even if you are.)

Let me explain.

The single greatest “Aha!” moment during my time in McDaniel’s Romance Writing Program was hearing Trey Parker and Matt Stone talking about “but and therefore.” Here’s a short (2:14) video of the two men explaining this rule to a classroom of students at NYU.

Here’s an even shorter recap: When you lay out the arc of your plot, the individual events should connect to each other via “but” or “therefore.” Like this: Continue reading

Jilly: Tell Me More!

Do you like your romance novels to be tightly focused, or do you prefer a wider, more complete view of the main characters and their lives?

I read a book last weekend that was passed to me by a friend of a friend. It was a romance, by an author I hadn’t read before, in a subgenre I don’t normally read. I’ve been on a fantasy/urban fantasy/steampunk kick for the last few years, with excursions into historical, paranormal and suspense. This was a contemporary romance with dashes of suspense and adventure.

My friend has high standards, so I was confident the book would be well-written. It was, but I found it enjoyable and frustrating in equal measure. The heroine and the hero were engaging, complex characters. They both had strong personalities, interesting careers, strong goals and challenging backstories. The setting was exotic and spectacular. The conflict was a little iffy, but both characters faced tough external obstacles and had to overcome some level of internal conflict in order to earn their Happy Ever After.

Sounds good, right?

What drove me nuts Continue reading