Monday, July 25

What I love in a book...and what I don't

There are things in romantic fiction that will make me turn page after page, reading as quickly as I can and then whining because the book ends too soon. In no particular order, some of these things are:

  • Humor. Not slapstick or stupid or even usually overt. Just the kind that makes you snort surprised laughter then look around and see if anyone heard you. Nora Roberts is classic at this. So are Robyn Carr, Muriel Jensen, Kristan Higgins, Julie James, and a huge et cetera. When I find an author who can do this well, I will read her forever.
  • Emotion. Not contrived. Not in every scene. Just delicious. Heartwarming. The kind I think about and go back and read again and again. When I read paper books, I dog-ear the page where it happens.
  • A turn of phrase that makes me back up and read it again because it delights me so much. I think we all write these sometimes, when in a perfect moment on a lucky day, the words will just fall in line and lie in wait to charm a reader. If you try too hard, the phrase twists and has bumps in it, but when you have that lucky moment, it's...sublime.
  • Flawed heroes and heroines. Mary Balogh's Survivors' Club series is as good as it gets with these, but I also just like heroines with two left feet and heroes who are scared of snakes--even garter snakes. 
  • Ensemble casts that I want to sit on the front porch with after sundown. We can watch lightening bugs and slap mosquitoes and laugh together in the sweet night air.
  • Good writing.
  • Smartness.

Then there's the other side of the proverbial coin. I always give at least one chapter and try for three before giving up, but there is the occasional "did she really write that?" thing that will make me give it up within the first few paragraphs.

  • Bratty heroine.
  • Hero who's surprised when a woman doesn't lust after him because, of course, they all do.
  • Un-flawed heroes and heroines. I can't put myself in the shoes of a heroine who is perfect, nor could I ever make happy or be happy with a hero who was, and when I read a book, in the heroine's shoes is where I want to be.
  • Poor editing. Typos exist. Grammar errors exist. Personally, I have an ongoing war with the apostrophe in its...or it's. But if the errors persist, and if they are consistently things we should have all learned in elementary school--your and you're, for instance, or the whole lay and lie circus, after a little while I can't read them anymore.
  • Stereotypes. Bad cops who eat doughnuts. Waitresses who smack their gum and flirt with men while ignoring the women said men are with. People from small towns who use poor grammar and have bad teeth simply because they are people from small towns. People from large cities who are rude and condescending simply because they are people from large cities. People from rural areas who are stupid. We're not--not that I would ever take that personally.
  • Inaccuracies that should have been caught. I have no doubt I've done some of these myself. I hope my own readers aren't as picky as I was when I was unable to get past an author referring to Indiana University (IU) as The University of Indiana throughout a book she placed there. 
  • A grudge that's been held since first grade even though in their heart of hearts they've always loved only each other.
  • Villains with no redeeming qualities. Because, honestly, if the ex-husband was that much of a creep, why did she love him in the first place?
What makes you read through to the end and sigh in sorrow when a book is over? And what makes you sigh in sorrow because you just wasted some money and a half hour you can never get back on a book you can't bear to read?

Have a great week!

Liz


After finishing this post, I happened onto another post about much the same thing. I thought it was interesting, so am including the link to Bad Menagerie here

20 comments:

  1. Ah, yes, Mary Balogh's Survivors Club. Loved that series. And Kristen Higgins is one of my faves, particularly as I've been privileged to meet her several times and she's delightful! I agree with your lists and can't think of anything more to add other than disliking the "too stupid to live" characters, or those arguments that could be easily settled with a discussion. Or the conflict that could be resolved by taking a common sense action. Otherwise, you've nailed the coin toss!

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  2. Being a writer has made me such a picky reader, and the really good books stand out to me. What makes me speed read through to the end and sigh when it's over? Emotion and realistic characters. Make me care. If you can make me cry, I’m yours.

    What makes me slam the book closed or want to hurl it across the room? Oooh, so many things. lol In no particular order…The hero who’s what I call the “alpha jerk.” Aka he treats the heroine like crap and she fawns all over him and takes it because he’s gorgeous or rich or whathaveyou. Too-stupid-to-live characters. And plot devices. Aka where the characters do something that makes no sense to the current storyline, they have no reason for doing it, but it creates conflict. Oh, and misunderstandings.

    I can handle poor grammar and/or typos up to a point. I’m guilty of missing things. I don’t expect people to be perfect. But if an author can’t be bothered to make sure the really simple things are correct, and it's happening over and over, then I’m out, because then it’s just sloppy.

    Gee, Liz. Sorry you asked?! lol Seriously, great topic.

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    1. No, I'm not sorry--I loved your answers! One thing you mentioned: when characters do something that doesn't make sense to the storyline. That's true and I don't like it, either, but I've sure seen writers who are able to pull it off. I think maybe they're better than me. :-)

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  3. Great blog, Liz--I love your lists and I agree wholeheartedly! Reading is so much harder now that I'm doing fiction editing almost exclusively, so when I do get lost in a story, it's a win.

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    1. I'll bet it is harder. I don't know an editor reads anything!

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  4. Liz, I like to be snagged by the first line of the book, hooked and intrigued. If you can get me with that first line, I'll probably read on through just about anything. Like you, I love humor--witty and understated. Most of my characters are flawed because, well, so are we.

    Once I pick up a book, I will finish it 95% of the time even if I'm not enjoying it. I've committed and, darn it, I'm gonna see it through. But incomprehensible plot lines make me suffer and long pointless descriptions are the most likely thing to make me throw the book at the wall.

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    1. Oh, I love great first lines! And I USED to finish, like you said, probably 95% of what I started, but now I'm at the "life's too short" stage, and I honestly don't. Even books I love, I occasionally find longer than the stories call for (I blame publishers for that) and will skip chunks out of the middle.

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  5. On point, Liz! I like books with humor too. And books that tell a story well. I usually read every book I start because I feel I learn from bad as well as the good and I appreciate the good more. In book club, the bad ones always have the best discussions. lol

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    1. Oh, they do, don't they? The good discussions, I mean. And I feel bad because I DON'T finish so many books anymore, like I'm not giving other authors a fair chance. In my own defense, I don't talk about those books, either. (Though I probably would in a book club.)

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  6. humor is a must have for me, so is emotion...great post, Liz!

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  7. I love to be on that roller coaster of emotions. It doesn't matter what genre I'd reading. The thing that reaaaally irritates me is predictability. If it's not new and surprising I feel like I've wasted my precious reading time.

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    1. I agree with you in theory, Sandy, but in reality I like nothing better than a comfort read, when I can almost guess what pages certain things will happen on. I still want the people to be different, but the events? Not so much. Isn't it great how different everyone is?

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  8. I love humor in a book! Sophie Kinsella is excellent. I haven't read her Shopoholic series because I couldn't relate. I've Got Your Number had me rolling.

    And for what I don't like, when the conflict depends on lack of communication--when the two characters--usually in a romance--would resolve their conflict, if they actually talked to each other instead of assuming they *know* what the other one wants or how they will react.

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    1. I'm with you there. I think Sophie Kinsella's funny. The only ones I've read have been Shopoholic ones, which, like you said, I couldn't relate to. I'd like to read something else.

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  9. I loved this post Liz!! I like unexpected humor in a book - that one liner that you didn't see coming and cracked you up. I love it when a presumed jerk does or says something that makes me feel that there's hope for him yet. Or when little gems of wisdom are inserted that cause me to pause and reflect. If an author brings me to tears, well now that's talent right there. I don't like it when there are too many obstacles keeping a romance from happening. At some point I'm like alright already.

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    1. Oh, Laurie, you most blessed of readers! Telling writers what you want to read and feel is such a help.

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  10. Humor is the thing I need to see. If the characters are deadly serious all the time, I get bored. On the other hand, if the jokes are forced or just plain dumb (and not in a funny way) then I will close that book and move on. I get hooked by a character I can care about or a plot that surprises me, too. You nailed it with your lists!

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    1. Thank you! Humor definitely draws readers in, doesn't it?

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