Monthly Archives: March 2013

Confessions of a Romance Writer: I hate the fake identity trope

i would be done with him too bc that castle is swingin

I don’t want to speak for future Lily here, but the Lily of today can pretty definitively say at least one romance trope exists that she will not use: the false identity.

I can’t stand stories where the major conflict revolves around someone pretending to be someone or something they are not. On the one hand: yes, good job other writers for showing how destructive and counterproductive that behavior is. On the other hand: it is a scenario that makes me extremely uncomfortable, so I don’t find those stories entertaining, and since I don’t suffer from any need to hide my personality or try to be what someone else wants me to be, I don’t need the lessons they contain.

I cannot imagine writing a story that revolved around that.

Let me clarify: if a pretense is used by a character as a quick means to an end, and comes back to bite them, but is then moved past and an actual conflict follows it, I can let them go as both a reader and a writer. Even I have been known to just nod and smile rather than expound upon my actual thoughts in order to avoid a fight, only to get accused of hypocrisy when I disagree later because the person I didn’t disagree with took my silence for assent–social pretense IS part of human nature. What I am talking about as intolerable is when the only conflict in a story is the collision of pretense and reality.

This revelation came to me recently via my Amazon recommendations. I do try to look at those, partly as research (what kind of title and cover catch my eye and make me look at the premise) and partly because, hey, I am as much a romance reader as I am a romance writer, and maybe some of those “also bought” recommendations will be from people with similar tastes and turn me on to a new writer I will love. So I flipped through them and looked at probably five or six of the books. And in at least three cases, the main premise was hero/heroine pretends to be someone else and gets caught up in a romance/marriage with their true love, which is then threatened by the truth about their identity/station/past. In every single case I got that shudder of distaste up my back and flipped right on past.

That was the only premise, at least of the ones I encountered that day, that I rejected out of hand. I just found it notable that I was reacting so strongly to one story element.

What’s funny is that I’ve actually written this premise–What You Will–but I think the difference is in timeline. WYW takes place over the course of one evening. Even though a deception is the main conflict, it is resolved quickly. One of my favorite plays is The Misakes of a Night, or, She Stoops to Conquer, which also takes place over the course of one night. And now that I think on it, I can find at least a few examples of books I like that use this plot (Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss, An Arranged Marriage and An Unwilling Bride both by Jo Beverley). But in all cases the hero/heroine was something better than what they were pretending to be, so maybe the problem I have is just with deceptions to make you appear better than you are. If you can be worse and still make someone love you, hey, you know that’s legit. But when you’re hiding something that diminishes you, then it really might be a dealbreaker, and that is…immoral.

I don’t think immoral is too strong a word, not for how I feel about it. I believe quite passionately in the idea of only surrounding yourself with people who like and accept you for who you are. I have been repudiated by enough people over the years to know that I am better off just being myself and knowing those who choose me really choose me, not some fiction of who I am, and giving everyone else fair warning and no judgment for passing on me. Aside, though, from the ease of relationships (if not life) lived by that rule, is the actual moral context. One of the most nuanced definitions I have ever heard of what rape is comes from The Honest Courtesan blog, essentially that rape is taking sex by force or deception when it would not have been given otherwise. So a man who doesn’t pay a prostitute his promised fee or a man who says “I’ll marry you after” but doesn’t is as much a rapist as someone who jumps a woman in a park–even if the act is not violent, the violation of her consent is. By that contextualization, a man who pretends to be virtuous and respectable but is in fact a degenerate rake (one of the book premises I rejected) is on some pretty perilous moral ground if he convinces a lady to fall in love with him and marry him without revealing his past. This isn’t to say that people can’t change, but…you should acknowledge where you have been. If the conflict had been a battle to get him accepted back into society now that he’s reformed, it would have been okay–since the conflict was, she wants to leave him when she learns the truth, it wasn’t.

I am really not sure why this one particular type of conflict is so problematic for me, except that it represents for me one of those intolerably “foreign” points of view and decision-making processes that happen when my little INTJ brain is asked to understand someone…else. Probably and ESFP or something. And “intolerable” is, I believe, the correct word. I literally cannot tolerate being in the mind of someone like that.

What about y’all? Are there any plot types or character types or other romance tropes you just can’t stand to read? And not just that you’re tired of, but that you feel this visceral, (meta?)physical rejection of?

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Filed under Confessions, Reflections on Romance

Moar Research?

I think I figured out what the problem is on my scene. It’s that the escalation takes place at, during, because of a high-stakes card game. And I know almost nothing about how games were actually played 200 years ago (or now, but especially not 200 years ago).

Sigh. Yet more research that I was not expecting to have to do. First it was the London docks (which it turns out I didn’t even need, once I tossed one of the subplot villains). Then it was women in business at the time. Then it was fashions and fabrics of the year. Then it was the Season, and how it related to the calender year of this year. Then it was regiments and battles in the Napoleonic war. Now types of card games played and specific plays for them? And all of it–all of it–for minor background texture or backstory, because I am just that much of a nerd and a stickler, and I know that if the information is out there I can’t not find it in order to makde the most realistic and plausible setting for the story.

At least this will be information that definitely comes up again in future books, unlike some of it (at least as far as I can see). Still, being that I am just so ready to be DONE with this one, I pretty much feel like a meme right now.

how dismal indeed

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“It’s Like You’re Always Stuck in Second Gear”

So…yeah. This novel. I finished the Christmas novel and got it off to beta readers (who are all loving it and having only the kind of minor tweaks that will elevate it from good to great!) and went back to trying to finish the book that basically got put on hold this time last year when I took my current job and suddenly I had no more free time until…pretty much November, when I switched to the Christmas story. Right. So. This novel. It’s giving me fits.

I actually got a couple bridge scenes between Huge Event A and Huge Event B that together culminate in The Most Desirous Outcome out of the way with no drama. I don’t know what had gotten me stuck on them before. Maybe it was knowing that I had no idea how to approach this scene (Huge Event B, AKA the true climax of the novel).

I…seriously. I have no idea how to write this scene. I have three or four different versions of it sketched out from the various iterations of this plot point that has been connected to, goodness, maybe three different stories I was brainstorming over the past five years? And the thing about all of those scene sketches is that they start right at the point of decision for the hero. In my sketches it would be “this is what’s happening. Go!” and just jump into his reaction.

I have been excited to write this scene since I realized it was the perfect pivot for this particular storyline, the perfect way to force the hero to act. It had not occurred to me that I would have no idea how to stage it…that once I got to this point, I would be utterly at a loss as to how to present the situation.

What I am thinking about doing is going back to the old rhetorical technique you learn about in high school called en medias re–that is, beginning in the midst of the action. Maybe the reason all those scene sketches started with no ramp-up to that moment is that there is no good way to ramp up.

The problem I am having, basically, is that if there is a ramp-up it needs to be tense. Fraught. Basically an escalation from worry into anxiety into paranoia. And I have no ideas, no words, no vision, for what happens during that escalation. Not in specifics. “The bets get higher and the taunts get harsher.”  Not much to go on, you know?  But the problem I have with he idea of just jumping in where shit hits the fan is, it would sort of come out of nowhere. I think this particular moment NEEDS that introduction via escalation in order to have the proper tension. OR I can have the hero walk up at the precise moment everything goes wrong, but that is just one giant coincidence. So either he is there waiting his turn until something happens that he can’t hold his tongue, or his presence causes the blow-up.

So I am stuck. I might try the EMR just to see IF it works, or if maybe seeing exactly where my hero and the other players on page are at that moment helps me see where he–and the rest of them–have been.

I have 10 days to write the end of this book and rewrite the first third of it (revising to the current and hopefully final iteration of the plot) if I want to stay on my Schedule O’ Dreams for 2013. This delay? NOT HELPING MY ANXIETIES.

Muse, you better be puking your last for the week right now. Haul your lazy arse out of that gutter and come help me figure this shit out!

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Transitioning

I recently decided to get back into running after a year’s hiatus (I used to keep in at least desultory condition by running after work, until I started the current job last March). I also decided to try out minimalist shoes instead of the more traditional cushioned running shoes, which have never fully satisfied me as a runner.

The owner of the store I went to was a big cheerleader for minimalist shoes (I should add that he did not bring them up, I went in and asked about them) and offered me some pointers or advice about transitioning. First, he made sure I understood that running in these shoes would use slightly different muscles. I should be prepared and willing to do a lot of walking while I built up my stamina, and I should expect muscle development on the anterior of my calves and some pain in my heels the first few times.

I loved the feel of the shoes on my test run in the store, so I went for it. I walked the dog in them a couple days, and today was my first real run. Oh, dear god, what have I gotten myself into?

First let me state, I am fairly sure I will love these shoes once I get used to them.

Second, let me observe that this “transitioning” concept is no joke. I felt this run in a way I have not felt a run in years.

Observations:

Minimalist shoes are RUNNING shoes, not jogging shoes. There is no complacent stride. I had to pick my feet up and flick them forward in order to hit the ground in the way that was most comfortable to me (which is how I tend to run–let my body find its own stature and rhythm, it knows best for me how I need to move). The most painful gait of all the ones I tried was the sort of shuffling jog that happens if I get tired. No more! That pace is stricken from my repertoir. I guess if I can’t run then I will walk.

My legs hurt the way they used to hurt during the first couple weeeks of the soccer season–along the bottom back of my calves, just above my Achilles tendon. That was the area of my leg I felt working the most. Actually, running in these was very similar to running warm-up laps in cleats. I wondered if the man at the store had ever played a cleat sport or if he was strictly a runner; if the latter, that might by why he felt the build-up more in the front of his legs.

I felt my posture differently. I haven’t quite yet found the right way to hold my body, but what I used to do was definitely not right. Tonight the sorest parts of me are my arches and the backs of my calves and my back.

When my inner beast finally took over, she loved–LOVED–what it felt like to run like this.

I am both excited and trepidatious to try it again tomorrow. It will hurt. It will not be the auto-pilot exercise that jogging has been for me for years now. It will be inefficient, and I will run parts of the trail just to keep from having to walk any more. I will save the neon pink alterntive laces as a reward for finishing the transition…whenever that happens.

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On Stripping DRM

I hate DRM. It’s like gun control–it’s stupid and short-sighted and all it does is punish people who play by the rules. Do you think pirates give a shit about copyright? No. That’s why they are called pirates. Do you think they are going to let a little thing like breakable encoding get in their way? No. That’s the digital equivalent of storming a ship and bringing her to heel.

I can’t pretend like I am any kind of programmer or capable of stripping DRM without tools someone else made to help me do it. But if I have paid for a file and need to use it for my own personal use in a format which it was not “meant” for, I’m not going to buy the thing a second time in the format I need. Sorry. You have my money, and I own this material for any personal use I see fit.

Today was the first day I’ve had to strip DRM off a file. I had purchased an Adobe epub because it was the only format available at the time I bought the book (which has since been added to Amazon for Kindle, which is what I use). Remember, piracy happens because the product is not available in the format needed by the consumer at a price they consider reasonable. Trust me, I would rather have been able to purchase the file I wanted rather than spend an hour of my Sunday downloading the tools to break DRM and then figuring out how to do it, but lacking that option, by God I was not going to let some publishing corporation with a stick up its arse get the better of me. In a way they have, time is money, etc., but my time wasted is not the same as more of my money given to them if I had just bought it a second time on Kindle and be halfway through the damn thing by now. THAT’S NOT THE POINT.

The point is, again, first-hand this time, the only thing DRM does is upset legitimate, paying customers. I am just glad to be computer savvy enough that I can get my file hacked instead of being resigned to a double-purchase and getting taken advantage of by my ignorance of formatting or unwillingness to break any rules.

That emotional and moral calibration is worth considering to anyone working for or as a publisher. As a writer, I want to get paid for my work, absolutely. But I don’t want my customers to feel exploited, cheated, bamboozled, strongarmed, or in any other way ripped off. I want them to pay me because they like my work enough to pay for it in order that I will write more for them to enjoy. I don’t want them to resent paying me, ever, and especially not because I forced them to by the same book twice because they needed to convert their copy to a new format.

So the moral of the story is: pirates > DRM proponents. At least there is a certain honesty to the pirates that seems…lacking from people who want to fuck me as a consumer every way they can simply because they can.

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Filed under Digital Revolution, Publishing, Rants and Storms

The Only Compliment a Romance Writer Needs

Got feedback from another beta reader, someone who does not normally read romance but knows me personally and thus reads mine. She agreed with my executive decision to cut the out-and-out sex scene, citing its lack of necessity to the plot or their relationship, which had pre-marriage moments of passion that were (well) short of sex. Her confession: “Still, those parts of the story were just titillating enough to make me very eager to see my husband come home from his business trip!” 

Well. Hot damn. That is the best and only compliment I could hope to receive about my romance writing. My work here is done, folks.

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Filed under Reflections on Romance, What People Think, Writing

Search Term Gold

Dear interwebz user looking for “lily white ginger sex,”

I apologize profusely for not possessing what you were so diligently searching for. It seems weird to me, too, that this would be the case. Alas for us both.

Thank you for the inspiration.

Sincerely,

Lily

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