Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I learned last night that Rachmaninoff does not work as writing background music. It's wonderful for working me into a specific mood, but I can't write while listening to it because I'll just sit and listen (or, oddly, choreograph mental ballets to go with it).

And also, while I'm tracking processes and patterns, I'm seeing that I tend to have an on-again, off-again pattern. If I make a lot of progress one night, the next night I won't get as much done, no matter how long I sit at the computer.

I'm now officially past the three-quarters mark of my original word count goal, but I may not be three-quarters of the way through the book because I don't know how long the book will be. Right now, I'm in the middle of a scene that came out of nowhere. I didn't see it coming, and I think it's going to be crucial. So that's one more thing on my list of stuff that has to happen before the end. I have figured out most of the masked ball costumes, though. I think. For all I know, when I get there, people will show up in stuff that totally surprises me. I'm almost starting to feel like these people exist in some parallel universe, and they've chosen me as the conduit between universes to tell their story. When I'm stuck, it could be because it hasn't happened yet for them to tell me about it. (And lest anyone feel the need to remind me that it's fiction or call in the nice boys with the pretty white jackets with really long sleeves, I'm not being serious about that and I'm not hearing voices from a parallel universe telling me to do stuff.)

I don't really have another pet peeve from my judging reading, just a kind of nagging disappointment that I'm trying to analyze. I'm finding that the books I'm reading don't give me the feeling of falling in love, and isn't that what a romance novel is supposed to be all about? I may be kind of cynical and practical when it comes to real-life relationships, but in fiction, I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm getting books that are telling me the characters are falling in love, but I'm not feeling it.

I really want to love the book I'm reading now. It's dealing with a setting and situation that have become rather unfashionable in publishing these days, so that alone makes me want it to succeed. I like the characters. I love that it doesn't fall into the Strong! Instant! Attraction! pattern that I get so very tired of in romance. Instead, the characters have so much going on in their lives that they barely notice each other at first, and the awareness builds slowly. I'm a huge fan of the slow build, and this looked like it might be one to build really slowly until the tension becomes almost unbearable. By midway through the book, the characters had each decided that the other was nice and they'd mentally acknowledged the other person's attractiveness, but with no more thought or emotion than I put into my "hot, not, not, maybe, not, hot, depends on the personality" assessment of other patrons when I'm killing time in line at the post office. And then suddenly they're ripping each other's clothes off (the characters, not the post office patrons) and saying they love each other, and I check to make sure I don't have a defective book that's missing a few chapters because I've got a bad case of emotional whiplash.

What happened to the falling in love part, the stuff that comes before you're admitting your true feelings to each other, that dizzy, scary, exciting phase when you're intensely aware of the other person but not sure how he feels about you and are terrified that he doesn't feel the same way? I'm not saying that sex in books is bad, but I'm afraid that too many writers use it as an emotional shortcut, like they're saying, "See, they're making love, so that shows you they're in love!"

Romance does have some structural constraints to it, such as the need for romantic conflict beyond just that "does he feel the same way?" issue, which is one of the reasons I migrated over to chick lit as a reader and as a writer. There you can deal with the "falling" part of being in love without it being part of the main story conflict, and there's no requirement for a sex scene at any specific point within the book, so the relationships have a chance to develop more organically instead of meeting genre expectations. But even chick lit has been disappointing me lately because too many I've read have fallen into the pattern of "they both realize their true feelings, they head straight to the bedroom, the end." Come on, you're skipping the fun part of a story and a challenging part of the relationship, that scary, wonderful, exciting transition from the heady highs of the "falling" part to dealing with how it's going to go when you realize it might really be happening.

Psychologists refer to this phase as limerence. It's the stage of the crush, the infatuation, the "falling" part of falling in love that happens on the way to love. It isn't love in and of itself. It's not a phase that can or should be sustained indefinitely. It's all emotional and superficial and far too often unrequited. But let's face it, it's fun. It's the heady stage of mingled excitement, euphoria and uncertainty before you're sure of how the other person really feels about you. There are even people who can't get into real relationships because they get such a high out of this phase and move on to the next crush instead of facing the transition of limerence to love. That transition itself is a scary, rocky one as the initial high fades and you start to see that other person for who he really is instead of the ideal of your crush. Talk about story material! But I'm not seeing it in too many places, very, very seldom in books. I've read LiveJournal entries from ordinary people talking about their lives who capture and convey that feeling better than most books I've read.

I know that it's very, incredibly hard to write -- probably even harder than it is to deal with it in real life -- but that's what I'm missing from the books I've been reading.

And now I have something else to be paranoid about in my own writing because I have no idea how well I'm doing in that respect. I suspect that, much like in my real life, I'm great at dealing with crushes and terrible at translating that into a growing and developing relationship.

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