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Top 10 Ways to Lose Me as a Reader

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Once upon a time, I finished every book I started. Then, I realized that my time is more precious than that. And once I drop an author mid-book, with very few exceptions, I don’t usually pick them back up again. But here are some ways to lose me as a reader of romance.

I’m focusing specifically on romance since that’s mostly what I write and a lot of what I read. Also, these are in no particular order. I hate them all equally.

10.) Awkward Dialogue.  If dialogue is consistently clunky, stilted unrealistic, or otherwise unfortunate, I’ll tap out. I know that sounds picky, but I read to escape into other worlds. But I can’t fully immerse myself in a story if the dialogue is bad.

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I did a dialogue presentation at my local writers group last summer and then uploaded it as a series of blog posts. If you’re interested in listening to me rant, you can find part one here.

9.) Too Stupid to Live (TSTL) Characters. This is a special breed of character. They’re especially prevalent in paranormal romance and romantic suspense, and even more frustrating, 99 times out of 100, the character is female. This is the character who proclaims herself to be strong, independent and self-sufficient. She can take care of herself, goddamn it. She’s also the target of a coven of angry witches/a pack of werewolves/a nest of vampires/a collection of mafia assassins/crooked cops or all of the above. The hero inevitably warns her that she shouldn’t leave the safe house/meet up with that sketchy sounding dude who says he’s got info on the real killer/go to Taco Bell. Our TSTL character does all of those things. Why? Because she needs to prove that she’s all kinds of independent, doesn’t need a man, etc. She doesn’t need a man. However, she does need is a fucking brain. Just because that advice came from a dude doesn’t mean that it’s categorically bad. Inevitably, the heroine goes out and does something dangerous because she’s got something to prove. And equally inevitably, she ends up needing the hero to rescue her. Prove your independence and ability to care for yourself some other way, and quit making stupid fucking choices.

Sometimes, characters take risks and go out in the middle of a witch-vamp-shifter-hitman-dirty cop-covered minefield. But it’s because the situation calls for it. If they don’t risk themselves something even worse could happen. But not to make a damn point.

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8.) Alphaholes. Why?!  Why are these bag-of-dicks characters still a thing?! WHY are these “men” considered romance hero material?! Let’s looks at the alphaphole checklist: Bitter and jaded about women and love? Check. Misogynistic? Check. Self-absorbed and mostly concerned about matters of the dick? Check. Tortured past? Check. Manipulative as fuck? Check. Considers heroine his property which voids her ability to speak to other men ever, wear clothing/have occupation/hobbies/thoughts he doesn’t approve of? Check. Check. Check. And super check.

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7.) Character Inconsistency. Now, I’m not saying that characters shouldn’t grow and change during the course of a story. That’s expected. Desirable, even. The thing I have a big old problem with is when a character is established in the beginning of a story begins acting utterly completely opposite to what’s been demonstrated as their personality. Certainly, there are things that will cause a person to react in a way that’s a little out of the norm. But when the characters personalities are like pendulums, swinging wildly out of control, from one extreme to the other, with absolutely no discernable reason for the seeming multiple personalities, I’ve gotta put that book down and back away.

I think I just had a bit of an epiphany as to why that happens, and if you’re still reading my rantiness, I’m about to share. I think that sometimes, the characters and the plot an author comes up with don’t mesh as well as the writer anticipated they would. And in an attempt to keep the plot going in the direction the author wants to, the characters are forced to react to each other/the environment/story events in a way that keeps their idea for the plot on track. The problem is, those characters are behaving in a way that’s utterly inconsistent with what’s already been written. The characters are basically being sacrificed for in order to adhere to the plot.

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6.) Same Freaking Characters – Somewhat Different Plot. I think all writers have certain character types that they gravitate toward, and that’s cool. I know I do. I like writing academics or creative types – I have a lot of those. I’ve also written the occasional therapist, cop, sportsball player, carpenter, knight, barista, accountant, musician – oh, I guess that’s a creative type, DNR officer, business person, vampire hunter, priest, doctor, detective, god, librarian, costume director, well, you get the idea. There’s a lot of variety here. And I think their personalities are all pretty varied, too.

Now, I’m not talking about series here,  but sometimes, it seems like authors get in ruts where all they write are characters who are billionaires. Or military or former military characters. Or professors. Or writers. Or some form or current or former law enforcement. Or a cowboys. Or fashion designers. Or psychics. Or librarians. Again, I’m not talking series. But just the same kinds of characters popping up over and over.

The same can be said of character types, too. All the guys are alpha and cocky. All the women are kickass, take no shit types. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but if those are the only characters an author’s writing they can get a little stale after a while. Women are strong in myriad ways. Strength doesn’t always have to be about badassery.

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5.) Misandry Disguised as Feminism.  And while I’m on the subject of strong women, I want to touch on feminism in romance for a minute. I fucking love seeing (and writing) feminist characters–both female and male (and gender nonconforming) in my fiction. But here’s something I don’t love. I don’t love when authors confuse or conflate feminism with misandry.  While a feminist can certainly be a misandrist, they’re not always one and the same.  There are some writers who consistently write female protagonists who constantly bitch about men who are lazy, stupid, juvenile, selfish, worthless, pretty to look at–but that’s about it. The characters in the books I’m thinking of aren’t talking about a specific man for whom these things might be true. These are sweeping generalizations leveled at all men, including the love interest. Sorry, but I’m not buying that HEA. Misandry  is no better than misogyny, and I’m not here for any of it.

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4.) Head Hopping. Head hopping makes me stabby. So. Very. Stabby. Pick a point of view and stay there for the scene. Or better yet, the chapter. If you’re switching mid-scene, you’d better have a damn good reason. If you’re writing a romance I want to know what the main characters are thinking in their separate scenes. If it’s important to know about his BFF’s feels, s/he can tell us, out loud with dialogue. Same for parents, taxi drivers, random relatives, coworkers, etc.

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3.) Character Expectation vs. Reality. This falls under show don’t tell, and you see it most often with either character self description or description by the love interests. Often a character’s description of their love interest has no basis in reality. Like take Christian Grey’s description of Ana – brilliant, amazing, remarkable. NOPE. Sorry, Christian. There’s nothing in the text to support those descriptors. Ana is as boring, and honestly, not the brightest. I suppose you could say she’s remarkably weak-willed, but that’s about it.

Then there are the characters who self-describe as strong, independent women who love their jobs/hobbies/whatever and wouldn’t give them up for anything because whatever it is, is intrinsic to who they are as people. But, as soon as there’s interest from a man, all those things that were important to them? The very core of their personality? Gone. For the rest of the story, there’s no indication those traits were ever there.

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2.) Mostly Telling–Very Little Showing. When I was working as an acquisitions editor, I’d see a lot of manuscripts that relied on “telling” as their predominant narrative form. Don’t tell me that the airlock malfunctioned and everyone on the ship was terrified of getting sucked into the cold vacuum of space. Show me their fear – their cold sweat, the dude in the corner hyperventilating, burning up precious oxygen, and the woman who knocks him unconscious for the good of the many. Show me the tiny crack in the heavy tempered glass window, getting bigger and spiderwebbing faster and faster as it spreads across the surface making that ominous little tink-tink-tink-tink sound. Show me what’s happening so I can feel it.

This is an issue in all genres of fiction, but I find it especially problematic in romance. The author is asking the reader to take a journey with them–the journey of watching this couple (or grouping if it’s a ménage or poly novel) overcome their obstacles and fall in love. In order to do that effectively, the author needs to show us what the characters are feeling and experiencing. Don’t tell me he was more nervous than he’d ever been. Tell me that there were so many butterflies careening through his stomach, it lurched and for a second, he was afraid he was going to vomit as she answered the door.

It’s all in the details–and this goes for sweet romance as well as erotic. If the reader doesn’t see and understand what the character is feeling, there won’t be any connection with the characters. Don’t tell. Be like this little demon spawn and show.

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1.) Including Plot Elements Simply Because They’re Popular. This is when an author shoehorns in random things that really have nothing to do with the plot and don’t fit the characters at all. They just seem to be included in an attempt to boost sales. (Now, this may not be the case at all, but that’s how the stories read.) Examples of things I’ve see included in stories where they didn’t seem to belong and didn’t work at all with the narrative/plot/characters. Navy SEALS, over the top tragic backstories, BDSM, motorcycle clubs, stereotypical gay best friend, a stalker, sex clubs/dungeons, etc.

There are plenty of books where any of these elements work perfectly fine sometimes even together (just not all of them at once, please). But like anything else, any element included in hopes of boosting sales/popularity/visibility must be in tune with the characters and the rest of the plot.

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Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ lists to find out what makes them ditch books and authors. Jess, Kris, Gwen, and Deelylah.

Top 10 Things I Avoid

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I think we all have things we avoid in life–at least, as much as we’re able. Here are a few of mine.

10.) Clowns. (I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory. They’re creepy AF.)

9.)  Wet paper. (I don’t know why, but it makes me gag.)

8.)  Large warehouse stores like Home Depot, Best Buy and Ikea.  (They stress me right out.)

7.)  Fluorescent lights. (They make me twitchy and give me headaches.)

6.)  Aspartame. (It gives me migraines.)

5.)   Cilantro. (Because it tastes like soap.)

4.)  Spicy food. (Because I have baby mouth.)

3.)  People who use others to try to get ahead in life.

2.)  People who refuse to take responsibility for their own actions (or inaction).

1.)  People whose version of the truth changes depending on who they’re talking to and what they want from that person.

So…what do you try to avoid? Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ posts to see what they avoid. Jess, Kellie, Deelylah, Torrance, Gwen, and Kris.

Top 10 Ways to Hook Me as a Reader

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It’s time for another Top 10 List!

Okay, so like most people, the best way to hook me as a reader is by writing a good book. And when I say a good book, I  mean the premise and the actual writing, too–some books are strictly a one or the other kind of thing. I want the whole package. Because I’m demanding. And picky. And a limited amount of time available to read. That’s why I usually read the first few pages to see if the author’s voice and I are going to get along.

I’m not sure these are actually in any kind of order, cover art aside, they’re all pretty crucial.

10.) Okay, so I’m going to start out here by being utterly shallow. I love a good cover. I’m not saying it’s crucial, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t play into whether or not I was attracted enough to a book to pick it up.  I mean, there are books I’ve loved whose covers I hate, and I secretly think to myself that it deserved a better cover.

9.) I want to see as little telling as possible. Show me what’s happening in the story, don’t tell me. What does her anger look like? How does it affect her and the other people in the scene. Do her fists clench? Does her scalp pickle? Does her face get sweaty? Does her eye twitch? What are her her specific thoughts?  I don’t want to read, She was so angry she was ready to scream. I want to read, Rage-fueled lava flooded her veins, and her hand tightened into a fist. If that horrible orange man got any closer to her, she’d punch straight through his saggy, fleshy throat. 

8.) I need me some character growth. I don’t want to read about static characters–I want evolution. I don’t want to read the story of a person falling in love and being  the same person they were when the story started. Everyone we interact with, every experience we have, changes us it some way. It makes us look at things differently. Even if it’s something as mundane as standing behind a hipster at a coffee shop. Fucking hipsters. But damn, that really is a cute plaid. Maybe I don’t hate plaid as much as I thought. The same is true for characters. No, they might not discover a latent appreciation for plaid, but if they fall in love, they’re going to change in other ways. Well, I suppose they could fall in love with a hipster and plaid.

7.) I need the story to be believable. I don’t care if the book is about a race of land-dwelling purple squids who time travel through portals in stairwells of municipal buildings. Does the plot of  a story about land-dwelling, time traveling squids make enough sense with enough familiarity that I’m willing to suspend disbelief in the laws of reality, possibly physics, and known biology of aquatic animals? If yes, good for you, writer. You’ve got yourself another sale.

6.) I need you to make me care about these people–or land-dwelling, time traveling squids. Can I identify with these people? With these squids? With their struggles? Are the squids holding up some kind of mirror to me that I see at least some portion of myself or someone I love amongst their tentacles and ink? Or something relatable in the life of this washed up actor or soldier suffering from PTSD?

5.) I also need you to not bore me. So, let’s talk conflict–is it helping to drive the plot? I’m talking both internal and external, here, but I’ll be honest, I’m far more moved by internal conflict. We all experience it–it’s a regular state of being for many of us. So, what do the characters what that they can’t have? What’s thwarting them? What’s keeping them apart? What’s at stake? Are the stakes high enough. That doesn’t mean that the stakes in every book need to be at the level of world-ending nuclear annihilation. However, whatever the conflict is in your character’s life needs to feel like it is. So that boy who desperately wants the lead in the school musical so his mother will finally be proud of him, being cast as an ensemble member is going to crush him. That conflict can be just as interesting, if not more so, than the fear of world-ending nuclear annihilation.

4.) Chemistry – it’s not just for high school teachers and meth labs. This goes back a bit to showing vs. telling, but I need to see the chemistry between characters. This goes for all characters, but it’s especially true of romance. I need to see how they affect each other. It’s not enough to know that each of the pair finds the other the hottest person in the history of ever. Finding each other attractive doesn’t equal chemistry. Characters who sex with one another also doesn’t equal chemistry. Show the reader specifically what makes the characters personalities spark when they’re together. When that’s absent, secondary characters commenting on the chemistry between the main couple doesn’t make it true, it just makes it author intrusion.

3.) Please don’t give me a story where the plot just happens to the characters. Those kinds of stories seem to grab the protagonist like a riptide and drag them farther and farther from shore and instead of acting on the plot–making choices that change the course of the story, the character is constantly stuck in reaction mode, trying to deal with whatever the plot is throwing at her, but not making any moves of her own to affect the storyline. Even if the character make some stupidass choices, and ultimately makes things worse for themselves, at least they’re victims of a runaway plot.

2.) I’m a sucker for emotional angst. I want to feeeeeeeeeeeel all the feels, and yeah, I usually want to cry about them, too. That’s not to say that I’m looking for melodrama, but I am here for the intense emotion and also the catharsis that comes from experiencing those emotions through the eyes of well-written characters.

1.) I can forgive a lot of writing sins in exchange for awesome dialogue. (Looking at you, Buffy and Firefly.) I love language. I love listening to the way people talk to each other–how we communicate. I’m focusing on English speakers here, because it’s the only language I speak fluently, but we’re all using the same 26 letters. We’re all (mostly) using the same collection of words. We’re all saying many of the same things to one another, but phrasing is everything. Some authors have such a way with dialogue that it not only sounds completely natural, it’s so delightful (and sometimes awful) to the ear that the reader has a visceral response to it. Some people write such great dialogue, you almost want to read it aloud. Well-written dialogue is at its best when it works to reveal the individual characters and their personalities. I read a book recently, and I found myself getting frustrated because while there were all these great lines, all  of the characters were saying them–even when what was being said was completely out of line for those particular character’s personality. That great dialogue lost all its impact.

What are the ways authors hook you as a reader? Share!

Be sure to check out the other bloggers’ Top 10 posts! Deelylah, Jess, Gwen, Kellie, and Kris.

Top 10 Things I’m Proud Of

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Okay, I’m gonna be honest here, as relatively easy as top ten posts should be to write, this one is hard mostly because of the same old thing–as women, we’re conditioned not to think too highly of ourselves. Where even saying “thank you” when someone compliments us is seen as bragging.

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So, I’m just gonna go ahead and try to go ahead and write this list without feeling weird about it. Or maybe feel weird about it and write it anyway.

10.) I haven’t missed a single scheduled blog post since January of 2014. That’s 300andsome posts.

9.) I finally learned to knit cables–it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I was afraid it would be. In fact, cables are a lot of fun!

8.)  I’m proud of myself for journaling daily with both a writing journal and a bullet journal. It’s helping me stay focused. And dare I say it? Organized.

7.)  Asking for help isn’t something I’m terribly good at, however, sometimes I really need it. I’m proud of myself when I can bring myself to do it.

6.)  I’m trying to make time for self-care. This is another thing that isn’t a hundred percent, but I’m proud of myself when I manage it.

5.) I’m getting better at standing up for myself. It’s not a hundred percent or anything, but considering I used to be the world’s biggest doormat, this is huge.

4.) I’m proud of myself for taking the plunge into self-publishing. I had become deeply disillusioned and unhappy writing for small presses. It was incredibly scary–even with my wonderful friends and colleagues to offer advice and assistance. But I did it. I wrote the book I desperately wanted to write by pushing past the barriers of negative self talk and the negativity of another person. That book found a home with people who seem to love it as much as I do. I’m proud of myself for jumping off that cliff, because let me tell you, the water’s fine.

3.) I’m proud of the time I spent doing daycare–18 years. Yes, some days, it drove me batshit crazy, but ultimately, I had a hand in raising 3 brilliant, kind, creative, passionate young women. For 12 years per kid, I was the second mama, the other parent for the two single moms, the room-mom for them at school, the homework tutor, and the tooth reaper. Today, I’m still their other mama and also their friend and confidant. They’ve all taken very different paths in life, but I truly couldn’t be prouder of them.

2.) I’m proud that my husband and I are coming up on our 28th wedding anniversary in June. (Remember, people – child bride…) I’m proud because we’ve worked hard at our marriage–some days when neither of us particularly want to–because we love each other and we’re committed to making our relationship work. And I’m proud that

1.) I’m so damn proud of my kids. Again, there were times they drove me batshit crazy (yes, there’s a theme, here) and to be honest, sometimes, they still do. But my god, I’m proud of them. They’re both wildly different people, but they’re both wildly creative, incredibly compassionate, kind and conscientious. They’re hilariously funny, brilliant and they’re both joys and challenges to parent. But I’m incredibly proud that they’re secure enough in our love for them that they’re both comfortable being exactly who they are.

Okay, so that’s it for my top ten list. Be sure to check out Gwen, Torrance, Paige, Kris, Deelylah, and Jess‘ lists, too.

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