Tag Archives: an idea more sound in theory than in execution

Romance Novelist Whinge: Problematic Sex Scene Requires Fourth Re-Write

This is another of those posts where I am tempted to just leave it at the title.

In the never-ending novel revision project (never-ending because I am writing it 100 words at a session, and I have like…17,000 words to go), I am up to the first sex scene. And I’m writing it for the fourth time. Which, I dunno, maybe sounds like a lot of fun? It’s not. At all.

See, the first sex scene is basically the inciting incident for the whole rest of the book, so it happens REALLY early on. Like first chapter early. And it isn’t necessarily meant to be a sexy, hot sex scene. But I don’t want it to not be at all sexy, either, because it’s in the part of the book that would be in a sample download, and something that’s too either analytic or bad (in the sense of bad sex, not a bad sex scene, which are not the same thing!) might turn off (heh) readers who are trying out my work for the first time. So, since plot-wise what matters is that the hero and heroine have sex by mistake (it’s complicated), not what kind of sex they have, I would prefer it to be at least moderately good sex and a moderately good sex scene.

Hence writing it four (or more – God forbid) times.

The first time it was waaaaaaaay too long and involved and tender. The second run swung too far in the other direction, and it was just too abrupt and selfish (on the hero’s part) and not fun to read (there was spit involved. It’s funny in a Joe Abercrombie book…not so much a full-on romance). The third time did a better job with pacing and mood, but was still a bit too ornate and also hinged on a revelation I decided the heroine does not make. Or, rather, one she makes but the hero misunderstands – it’s just one more part in their ongoing conversation where one says a thing and the other hears something different.

I’ve got the fourth version started; it’s written up to the end of the heroine’s POV section, and I will be able to use the intercourse section of the third version (also heroine), so I just need the hero’s perspective for the bit in between. I haven’t had a good block of time to sit down and write it, and I will say from experience here, that sex scenes really do read best when they are written pretty much in one go and gotten on the first take. Like, I can’t write this section in 100-word increments and expect to get a workable scene.

Coitus Imaginus Interruptus is the fucking worst.

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Filed under Confessions, Reflections on Romance, Writing

#HIMYM Finale: Now We See the Betrayal Inherent in a True “Twist” Ending

We’ve passed the statute of limitations on spoilers for the finale of How I Met Your Mother, right? I mean it was over a week ago – surely if you were planning to watch it, by now you have. I’m going to assume so, anyway, and spoil the crap out of the ending without bothering to point out my spoilers other than to say: if you don’t want to know how it ended, just stop reading this post.

Or, What the Hell Did I Just Watch?

Perhaps I really mean “What the hell did I watch nine seasons for?”

I was NOT pleased and delighted by the ending of my favorite sitcom. I can’t even say that I was narratively satisfied, because the way the ending came about, for me, did not draw on what had come before but felt like an ending that had been decided on a long time ago and tacked onto the story stubbornly despite the fact that it no longer fit.

See, I always assumed the actual meeting of the mother would be anti-climactic…either that we would literally get nothing beyond Ted walking up to her at the bus stop and saying “Hi, I’m Ted,” or that it would be totally lame in the sense of love at first sight perfectness. I was not going to be let down by that sort of ending, because, by the time the 9 seasons had played out, for me the real story was Robin and Barney. Therefore as long as their wedding was epic and touching and romantic, then Ted’s meeting the mother being an afterthought wasn’t going to matter. It never occurred to me that the show might actually back off Robin and Barney being happy together. Not once. They always made sense to me. They made sense to me from the second or third episode I watched (which was somewhere around episode 8 or 10 in the first season) and continued to make sense through everything that happened after. I believed in the two of them together; I believed in the changes they underwent in order to be/as a result of being together. So for the ending to tear that down in order for Ted to finally, after 25 years of trying, get Robin, was just…infuriating.

The infuriating came from several different angles. First, the logic of it was flawed. Robin *always* matched better with Barney than with Ted – more naturally and more convincingly and more touchingly. I BELIEVED it when they had moments, near misses and changing minds and then finally the decision to actually commit to one another. Ted’s obsession with her never felt like real love; it felt like obsession. Additionally, if the reason Robin & Barney didn’t work was her career and the two of them not choosing to recommit to their relationship, what evidence can we find in the narrative that she and Ted would work ANY better? The entire reason she and Ted didn’t work was wanting different things…even at the end what Robin wanted was closer to what Barney did than what Ted did.

Also, on that whole divorce front…obviously we weren’t given the whole discussion between Robin and Barney, but it seems to me that how the conversation went was “Right now, yes, I would take an exit ramp,” and that led to “Then just take it” rather than the two of them facing and choosing to fix the problems. Call me old-fashioned, but that was a petty and stupid reason for them to divorce. It boiled down to them taking the easy way out rather than putting their relationship first. It was letting fear of failure and being hurt make the decision for them, not an actual failure of the relationship. Aside from whether I think they were still in such emotionally stunted places they could not see that, it would actually make more sense, narratively speaking, to see Robin re-marry Barney when he is all settled down and being a dad and her career is no longer pulling her anywhere but New York than for her to go back to Ted.

I keep bringing up the narrative and implying that it led us to Barney and Robin, not Ted and Robin. This is, for the sake of my writing blog, the heart of the problem. The show created an expectation in the audience that it then betrayed when it changed the ending from the logical conclusion of what had come before to…something else.

Exhibit: the time spent on each narrative (Ted and Robin vs. Barney and Robin) was 3 seasons to 6. No matter how many tidbits the show tossed in about Ted or Robin still maybe having feelings for each other or how many last-second “warning signs” they tried to throw in about her and Barney, the fact is that to spend so much longer building up the red herring story creates a false expectation in the viewer and sets up a betrayal of trust. This ending (the mother dying and Ted going back to Robin for one last try) would have worked and been poignant and heartfelt if it happened at the end of season 1, 2, or 3. Possibly even season 4. Not this far in, when the bulk of the story built a different inevitability.

Exhibit: the narrative structure itself. It makes sense that the story wasn’t really about Ted meeting the mother but about Ted overcoming his obsession with Robin. The whole reason the story of how he met the mother started with him meeting Robin was that he was hung up on Robin for 8 years and therefore couldn’t actually fall in love with someone else until he let go of her – the same way the mother was hung up on the guy who died and couldn’t really fall in love with someone else until she let go of him. The show built that dynamic perfectly, including layering in how Ted’s letting go of Robin was what moved her relationship with Barney forward. Including that part of Barney’s “final play” was telling only Ted of his (fake) intention to propose to someone else, knowing that if Ted told Robin it was tantamount to permission to win her permanently. One of the best moments in the last few episodes was Ted letting Robin go and her floating away from him like his red balloon had. That was the moment. That was the point when he became available to truly love.

Exhibit: the implication of Ted going back to Robin after losing his wife is that the mother and their two children were, as Marshall accused Lily of in their last big fight, “just a consolation prize” when Ted’s first dream (Robin) became impossible. The level of insult to his relationship with the mother was on par with Jacob’s creepy imprinting on Bella’s baby and the implication that his interest in her had always been her ovaries and not her. And if your story is reaching Breaking Dawn levels of dubious sincerity, you’ve pretty much failed as a storyteller.

The “twist” ending the show gave its fans was a betrayal of viewer trust. It felt to me like the creators were clinging to an original ending in defiance of the fact that the characters grew and changed in a way they had not anticipated when they came up with that ending – one of the worst sins new writers commit. Sometimes the characters take you for a ride and you end up in a different place than where you thought you would. And that’s okay. A worse explanation (worse in the sense of more insulting) is that the ending was an intentional “switcheroo.” The reason I find that an even more insulting possibility is because a switch that poorly executed is a parlor trick, a truly juvenile piece of showmanship that fails to hold up against scrutiny. See, a real twist ending isn’t really a twist at all – when you go back and revisit the narrative, the signs and hints are all there. The illusion is that the inevitable ending appeared to be a twist when it really wasn’t. In this case, the anticipated ending had been built too well for the twist to feel natural or inevitable. No, it felt plotted and forced, shoehorned onto a story whose natural outcome was something different, not the sort of twist you walk away delighted by, because in retrospect it seems so clear that you want to kick yourself for not seeing it. That is what the creators missed, that a twist ending has to be built into the fabric of the story. Ted’s obsession was, but the failure of Barney and Robin was not.

So…if they needed to go semi-dark rather than a totally happy ending, the mother still could have died by the time Ted is telling the children the story, and that casts the whole of it into a bittersweet shade of nostalgia. If they wanted to go darker yet, then the wife left Ted and his children pick up on the fact that he is still and always has been in love with Robin (which implies that’s why his wife left him)…and he takes a walk and sadly stares into a window where Barney and Robin are celebrating their 20th anniversary or something.

The consolation of Ted getting Robin in the end did not make up for the tragedy of either the mother dying or Robin and Barney not working, as the Ted/Robin pairing is the lesser for both of them, so to pretend that it’s some happiest ending we should all clap for is ridiculous. All I can say, if this was supposed to be the real narrative, is that when Ted says the second-greatest love story ever was about Maggie, the ultimate girl next door, and her window that closed for the last time with her childhood sweetheart, then first greatest was Marshall and Lily, AKA the only demonstration of actual love in the show.

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Filed under Film, Ramblings, Rants and Storms

On Newsletters, Privacy, and Government Interference

Or, Why I Don’t Have a Newsletter

One of the best-sounding pieces of advice I see about author branding and fan outreach and controlling access to your fans (as opposed to letting a retailer like Amazon control that information) is to have a newsletter. What a great idea! You get a digital mailing list of people who want to know when you have new books out. Bam.

I looked into newsletters. There are free services that you can use to generate them, that will manage/automate the subscribe/unsubscribe stuff for you. Awesome!

I signed up for Mailchimp, eager to put this in place before my Christmas novel comes out, to catch any new readers from the get-go. Then I read the federal regulations on commercial email (AKA spam laws) and promptly deleted my account. The regulations put a burden of disclosure on me that I am unwilling to comply with, and the penalties are too high to be worth taking the chance about.

So what is this onerous restriction? The sender’s business address. Right now that is my house, and that is an absolutely unacceptable piece of information for me to be legally compelled to share for the privilege of sending mass emails to people who want to buy my books and have expressly signed up for notifications about their availability. Now, I could go open a post office box or rent a box from a place like FedEx, and maybe someday I will. When my books are making money enough to run this as a business and not a hobby. Right now, however, that is money I do not have – and even if I did, I do not like being coerced by the government to pay for a service I otherwise do not need.

Now, I am not sure how other writers handle this piece of governmental bullying. My guess is that most do not know the laws and don’t list an address in their message. Maybe some tell themselves it is not a “primarily commercial” communication if they don’t mention buying the new book, merely the information that it has been published. Maybe some assume that the government will never come after them because they are not actual spammers, therefore no one will report them as such for their communications to be scrutinized.

I do not trust the government not to prosecute asinine violations of the law just because they can – and in the current digital spying environment they are harvesting and storing all sorts of emails for who knows how long and for who knows whom to access – or to use things like spam law violations to prosecute an individual they cannot get to another way. Perhaps that sounds paranoid; perhaps it is. But I don’t think so. Just because I think such regulations impede free association and hinder the functioning of the market, and as such are unconstitutional and morally reprehensible, that doesn’t mean I am exempt from the law…and I can see a time in the not-so distant future when merely expressing those opinions will get me on a watch-list and have all my actions put under scrutiny.

So I do not now and will not for the foreseeable future be creating a mailing list. I am attempting to figure out a subscription feed that would send only certain types of posts from this blog (such as the category “official announcement” or even a unique page/post type) so that one could receive updates from this site without having to receive every post, but I have not yet learned enough coding to figure it out. (If anyone out there knows how and wants to trade skill for skill, I can copyedit or line edit a ms for you!)

In the meantime, screw you, anti-spam laws, for restraint of trade via unacceptable demands of an owner/operator’s personal privacy. I’ll take my ball and go home smirking about the fact that this vampire government screwed itself out of whatever taxes I would owe for the sales generated via a newsletter.

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Filed under Housekeeping, Rants and Storms