Wednesday, 9 November 2011

How Forgiving Are You?

The basic building block of any romance novel is – first the conflict, then the happy ever after. In other words, the pain before the gain. We take great pleasure in torturing our characters, making them sweat blood and tears for their happy ending. After all, the higher the stakes, the more emotionally satisfying letting them find their happiness will be.

In pursuit of this goal and in interacting with writers of other genres, I've come across a broad spectrum of “manoeuvrability” within books. There are the very obvious no-nos like infidelity (even though some writers have successfully tackled this subject), physical abuse and even sometimes emotional abuse (not to be confused with blackmail plots). There are also the secret babies which some people feel strongly about i.e. why the heroine almost always decides to keep the baby a secret. I know a particular reviewer who absolutely detests marriages of convenience and another who won't touch a revenge book.

But I’m more interested in the subjects that straddle the line and what you're willing to tolerate in any book. Nobody likes an ass-y hero. But what if your hero is behaving like an ass for a reason? What if your heroine is a complete bitch but is hiding a sensitive heart? In my latest new-to-me author, Nalini Singh's books, the male characters literally rip apart anyone who dares to harm their mates.

So, does a hero’s raised voice make you flinch? Does the sight of a heroine’s tears make you want to close the book? I must admit I read a book once where the heroine did nothing but cry from beginning to end and although the story was engaging enough, I had to "take a break" every time she let the waterworks loose because it was such a downer for me. On the other hand, I've read a historical where the heroine was being particularly hysterical and the hero slaps her back to her senses. Funnily, that didn't make me flinch because she needed that slap!

So, while the phrase "it's all in the execution" plays a part here, I'm curious to know, how much room will you give or forgive the characters in a book, and at what point do you write them off completely? Will you allow a heroine to slap a hero but absolutely detest a hero who shakes a heroine by the shoulders to make her see sense?



  1. I can tolerate a lot. It depends entirely on the characters and how well the author has managed to communicate their motivation. Some are more difficult than others. Example, I have a hero who is afraid of his anger. So, of course, he must lose his temper and lose it with the heroine. I have to decide how far to take that without him being an A-hole to her. But he HAS to lose it because that's his character. And holding back on him because of I'm afraid of him being unsympathetic wouldn't be being true to his character.

    But I DO have pet peeves - the crying heroine (I don't mind tears but not ALL the time). The kick-ass heroine who is TOO kick-ass. Heroes I tend to forgive a lot but there's never any excuse for cruelty to the heroine without sufficient motivation. :-)

  2. What a fabulous example, Jackie! And very succinctly put. I'm also with you on forgiving heroes a lot but I guess it the "how far can you go" that interests me.

    Heh, yes, the crying thing was very off-putting, although I'm discovering heroes who tear up have a special place in my heart ;)

  3. I can handle a few tears here and there. Outright bawling puts me right off. Fighting tears I love, even if one or two sneak out and are battled back.

    Shrill, argumentative, and jumping to the wrong conclusions for retarded reasons will make me put down a book. Well, if I'm honest, it may make me put it through a wood chipper.

    I did put a book in time-out overnight on the back deck once because the author paid awesome attention to all the police procedure stuff in the book, and did not a scrap of research about her Sculptor Hero who was celebrated by the whole art world... for his realistic depictions of woodland critters. I'm an art girl. I'm an art history fanatic. I know that artists perfected realistic rendering of animals and people *thousands* of years ago. It's something every fine arts student is expected to be able to do... And not something that would set the art world ablaze. It's skill and a skill that can be taught to pretty much anyone who can hold a pencil or scrape a blob of clay. It's silly to get bent out of shape over, I know, but so much attention was paid to how police do this, or that, and then the artist is famous for sculpting Pottery Barn knick-knacks -- irritated the life out of me. A little research goes a long way, and ignoring something that plays a big role in your story... well it's insulting to people who do whatever it is you ignored. (I did eventually finish the book. It was about 2 years ago, but just thinking about it sets my teeth on edge now! I'm obviously insane.)

  4. Lol, Amalie, no you’re not insane. I get monumentally ticked off about slack research too. I once read a book where the hero (American) was in London for a few days. The writer had him “eating tea and crumpets and staring out of his window at downtown London". My jaw dropped to floor! As a Londoner, I was so offended by this it took me a long time to finish that book!

  5. I can tolerate anything as long as it's romantic - but I don't see how infidelity could be romantic however well the book was written.


  6. For me, like jackie, it's all in the execution. The farther the hero goes (as long as it's motivated well), the harder he has to grovel in the end and I think that makes it worth it for me. No wonder I love Alpha heroes and Presents so much.
    But the catch is motivation. More than once, I've stopped reading a book because all the hero did was being mean to the heroine without any cause.

  7. I think examples come from everyday life. People often seem to act like an ass, but very rarely we will know the full reason, and unless that reason is a really good one and made obvious at some point, we just figure, "okay, that person's just an ass." Which is why books are so very nice. Because we can expect that if a hero has done something particularily cruel or the heroine has acted like a nasty b-otch, then there WILL be a darn good explanation for it--and if not, then the book is a definite wall-banger. Beacuse no one likes it when characters are weepy and mean and ass-ish without a darn good reason. I've read some books where I literally screamed at the lead characters, "Oh get over yourself already!" and others where I was so sucked in I flinched when the very bad things happened, but could not put down the book because I HAD to see what happened next to fix the situation. I think it all depends on how much time the author has spent building up that motivation and if it's a match to the angsty plot stuff. And that's my long-winded 2 cents as I head back to NaNo-ing. Hope you are doing well, Maya!

  8. I’m loving this discussion and different points of view, ladies. I guess it comes down to motivation and execution, doesn't it, really?

    Suz, I agree about infidelity and don't think I can ever tackle it successfully myself.

  9. Sri, I guess that’s why I’m a Presents girl too. I love seeing the larger-than-life alpha hero (and the ever–increasing alpha heroine) get the chop at the knees they deserve, lol. Makes for such a happy ending, doesn't it?

  10. Kate! So glad Blogger finally let you in. I’ve missed you so much! I was nodding all through your comment. There’s ALWAYS a story behind a story. And in my example up above where the hero slapped the heroine, it was towards the end of the book where she'd "bratted" herself through most of the book. In this instance, she nearly killed herself trying to point-score and thoroughly deserved that slap, lol.

    Although I hardly ever stop reading a book (unless it’s completely atrocious), I tend to lean towards the "five-chapters-rule" after which I'm either invested or I’ll start another book. I admit I get impatient with readers who want everything resolved in chapter 1!

    The very best of luck with Na-No. I cannot WAIT to read your ms when it’s done!

  11. I always finish a book. Always. I guess I just figure the author worked hard on it, and I spent my money on it... so I'm going to read the thing if it kills me. ;)
    I'm with Jackie. I can tolerate most things as long as the motivation's there. What I absolutely can't stand is a flat character. I know you know what I'm talking about... when the hero or heroine doesn't ever really grow or change internally... they just change their minds for the convenience of the story. You know what I mean? Drives me nuts. *whispers* I skim those books. : )

  12. I feel guilty when I don’t finish a book so I tell myself I’m “letting it breathe” for a while and move on to the next one, lol. I never skim though because I’m always anxious I’m missing something important (even in the most boring of books).