Monday, January 30, 2006

Too Stupid to Live

Thanks to everyone for all the anti-cold tips. Now I just need a trip to test them out on! (Though I may start with just leaving the house here.) I still have a few sniffles, but I suspect that the current climate conditions are making things ripe for allergies.

Tonight I'll finally get to start my exercise class, as I don't seem to have seen any news reports about yet another disaster on campus. I've washed my good "yoga-like" sweatpants (the instructions said to wear comfortable exercise clothes) and even did a bit of an emergency pedicure, as the class is done barefoot. In this case, "pedicure" simply meant removing the last remnants of old polish from toes that haven't been exposed for months except in the shower or in bed.

I got word over the weekend that one of my workshop ideas has been selected for the RWA national conference this summer. I'll be doing my "Jane Austen: The Mother of All Chick Lit" workshop along with my agent. The Kristin and Shanna show can be highly entertaining. We'll also be doing a workshop together at the Dreamin' in Dallas conference in April.

Speaking of agents, it seems like lots of agents are getting into the blogging game, giving anonymous (or semi-anonymous) insight into the biz. On the "naughty" side there's Miss Snark, who pulls no punches as she explores industry nitwittery. Now on the "nice" side, there's Pub Rants. I've seen theories as to the true identity of Miss Snark, and I had to agree that the writing styles matched (though as it's not anyone I know, I've promptly forgotten who it was). As for the nice agent behind Pub Rants, I have a very, very good idea that I know exactly who it is (she's not really trying to be totally anonymous).

Now for my Writing Pet Peeve of the Day: The Too Stupid to Live (TSTL) character.
This is a favorite complaint among reviewers, readers and anyone who likes to snark about books. I think there's even a web site out there that gives a TSTL award. These are the characters (usually the heroines) who don't behave in a way that any sane, logical person with half a brain would, and who therefore get themselves into all kinds of trouble. You wonder how this person managed to survive to adulthood. When I read a book with this kind of main character, I spend the whole time wanting to smack her silly, and I lose any respect for the hero who's willing to put up with her. The one that triggered this rant has managed within the first few pages of the book to do the kind of thing that most people know is a very, very bad idea, and then do even more stupid things while trying to get out of the situation. Yeah, people really do this thing, but they tend to die while doing so, and I don't want to read a book about them.

The problem is, though, that not everyone agrees on what TSTL means. Yeah, there are the obvious Darwin Award candidate bonehead maneuvers ("Gee, there's a serial killer on the loose and I just heard a suspicious noise coming from the basement. I'd better go down there by myself and check it out without letting anyone else know where I've gone."), but then there are personal quirks. I tend to be calm and logical in a crisis, so I'll groan and label a heroine TSTL if she freaks out and has a hissy fit and is utterly useless. Meanwhile, I'm notoriously independent, to the point I won't ask for help even when I need it (I guess I never got over the toddler "I'll do it myself!" phase). I've caught myself telling store clerks that no, I don't need any help finding anything, even though at that very moment I'm getting frustrated because I can't find something. I tend to write that flaw into my characters at times, so I'm bound to get a few TSTL accusations from people who say, rightly enough, that the characters could have avoided all that trouble if they had just asked for help. I had a friend whose heroine was labeled TSTL by some readers and reviewers for going forward with her long-planned trip to Italy, even after learning on the way to the airport that the hero really did love her, after all, while I would have called the heroine TSTL if she'd stayed behind. If he loved her, he'd still love her after she saw Italy (and airlines and hotels aren't very forgiving financially when you just don't bother to show up).

I guess the way to avoid a real TSTL character is to have those flaws be part of the character while also showing that the character does have a few brains in other areas. And maybe wait until after chapter one before you show a character making a TSTL maneuver. If that's the first impression, the rest of the book could be about her curing cancer and discovering faster-than-light travel and she still couldn't quite get over that TSTL stigma.

Now I'm about to plunge into the end-of-book marathon. I tend to take months to write the first three quarters or so of a book and then write the last 100 pages in about a week. Well, I'm within the last 100 pages, so I can feel the burst of speed building.

No comments: