Friday, February 17, 2006

It's hard to write good books

Operation Anti-Cheez-It Butt had a mixed start. I went for a walk, and I ate no Cheez-Its (because there were none in the house), but I also probably ate bigger meals than normal, and I'm not sure if the reduction in snacking was enough to balance out the bigger meals. Today I'm thinking of doing a bit of ballet exercise, but as the temperature today is about 40 degrees colder than it was yesterday, it may be hard to make myself get out from under the blanket. Cold temperatures also make me long for hot comfort food type things. It may take superhuman restraint not to bake brownies this weekend because we're in for a possible freezing rain event, and that just begs for baking and eating brownies with hot cocoa. You do have to love Texas, going from 85 degrees one day to freezing rain the next.

I'm in the middle of reading through the book, and I'm in that state I know I get into with every book, but it still bugs me, and getting that nasty review at this time didn't help. It's the "I like some of this book, but basically, it sucks" state. I'm pretty sure it's not true and it's just anxiety talking, but still, I can't help but worry that this is the book that is so bad my agent will dump me and my editor will hate me. I have to remind myself that it's already sold, so it's not like I'll get a rejection, even if they do hate it. They'll just make me rewrite it.

See, I do need the chocolate.

Trying to judge books for the Rita award at this time doesn't help because I'm afraid I'm applying my hypercritical view of my own writing to other people's books. Then again, some of them might deserve it. Yep, you guessed it, it's time for more pet peeves!

I like sorting things and creating neat categories for filing stuff, but I can't quite decide where to file this particular rant. In general, it has something to do with the popularity of marriage of convenience plots in romance novels, particularly historical romances, and the way characters respond, but mostly it comes back to the good old Too Stupid to Live situation.

Marriage of convenience plots are popular because in some respects, it's historically accurate. The idea of marrying purely for love is a relatively recent one. There may be some historical revisionism at work in the fiction version because we'd like to believe all those people ended up falling in love. There's also the possibility that when you're dealing with all the pitfalls of modern dating and trying to find someone to marry for love, sometimes the idea of just finding someone for practical reasons and then falling in love sounds pretty good (especially given the kind of men you tend to find in these books). As an aside, there was actually a recent study that found that marriages based on more practical matters tend to last longer than marriages based purely on love. I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that the initial passion is bound to fade with time, giving the impression that the relationship is diminishing, while if you start with a practical basis and then fall in love, you feel like the relationship is improving.

Anyway, there are some pitfalls to how this plot can be handled. I already ranted about the "too bad he'll never love me be because we didn't marry for love" idiocy. Diana Peterfreund in her blog a week or so ago ranted about another pitfall, the heroine who is desperate to marry to achieve whatever goal (often avoiding starvation and staying off the streets), who's willing to marry just about anyone, but who then suddenly declares she'll only marry for love when a perfectly suitable man offers to marry her. I'm currently reading a variation on that, where the penniless orphan from a good family who has no real prospects and will need to find a husband or starve meets a rich, handsome, nice, good with kids and animals nobleman who falls madly in love with her at first sight, and she then declares that she can't marry him. No real reason, just "because" (mostly because the book would have been over in chapter two if she'd said, "okay," but you do kind of need more than that). The first half of the book is him wooing her constantly while she continues to insist that she won't marry him. She finally gets a reason in the second half, when the villain -- someone she knows is the villain and knows is out to destroy the hero -- tells her something awful about the hero, she believes it and starts using that as her reason for not wanting to marry the hero. Because, of course, you should always believe what the evil guy says about the person he wants to destroy, even if it contradicts what you've observed about that person.

The sad thing is, this book received great reviews (I looked it up because there were some plot elements in it that I thought would have people up in arms, but they haven't been mentioned at all). I guess maybe I'm out of step with the genre. I also did start to see why people become jaded about raving Amazon reviews because I recognized a lot of reviewers' names there, so I know that friends of the author were posting glowing reviews, while the ones that seemed more honest were fairly scathing.

What this really goes to show me is how very hard it is to write a great book. It's so easy to go down the wrong path, make characters do things just to further the plot, use bad stereotypes to create characters, make your characters act like idiots, etc. I seem to be grading against an ideal rather than on a curve. I'm not sure my own books would hold up to the kind of standards I'm setting. I think I'm also starting to see what elements readers must respond to. In the one I'm currently reading where I want to strangle the heroine, the hero is, quite honestly, to die for. I adore him. I wonder if readers love him so much that they're willing to put up with a lot of other stuff just to spend time with him, and they love seeing him happy at the end enough that it blurs everything else in the book, leaving them with a positive impression.

And now back to reading my book through while realizing how much it sucks.

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