So, I’ve been doing a lot of reading during my extended hiatus. A LOT OF READING. I’m sort of embarrassed to admit how many books I’ve read (just shy of triple digits) in the four months since I decided to take a break not just from social media but from writing as well.
Oh. Hadn’t I mentioned that last part?
Right. Well, sometime around the beginning of August, I also gave myself permission not to write. At all. Because life has been . . . hmmm, let’s just say this hiatus was a much-needed respite from the fire hose of guilt and pressure that is “I should be writing.” While not actually getting any worthwhile writing done.
My creative well was so depleted that if you threw a stone into the maw, two and a half days later you’d hear a faint echoing “plink” as it hit bedrock.
So I quit. Temporarily.
Instead, I’ve been devouring books, mostly romances, like they’re chips — if I liked chips, which I don’t particularly, so maybe more like they’re cheese (mmm, lovely melty cheese) — and as soon as I finish one I dig into another. Immediately. Pausing only to give it a rating and quick note in my “have read” spreadsheet. And while they’ve all sort of run together, which was my intent with this approach, I can’t help but have noticed a few things. A few oh-so-very-petty, yet irritating, things.
Mind you, there are major, significant world event type things irritating me too [understatement]. But since I don’t want this to become a political blog, I am instead going to vent about trivial, insignificant, petty things. In books.
All this steam has got to go somewhere. Think of it as an Airing of Grievances a few weeks early. Festivus!
I feel the need to pause here to say I LOVE the romance genre, completely and unapologetically, in all its permutations. I love writing it and I love reading it. The romance genre has saved my sanity, or at least my emotional wellbeing, more than a few times over the years. Especially the past two years. Do not make the mistake of thinking this post is dissing the genre. I will fight you.
That said, onward to the petty complaints referenced in the post title.
Like tuxedos. Specifically in romance. You know that scene, where the woman is all eager to undress her suave and ridiculously wealthy tuxedo-wearing date and in her excitement her fingers fumble with his belt. Or maybe he deftly unbuckles his own belt.
That’s the sound of me getting thrown out of the story. Because tuxedo pants don’t have a belt. They just don’t. They don’t even have belt loops. If the handsome sexy competent man in your story is wearing a belt with his tuxedo, and roughly half of them are lately, I’m sitting here wondering whether he got it on clearance at Skeeter’s Suit-Mart. It sure as hell isn’t Armani or Tom Ford, and certainly not Kiton or Brioni.
Writers, please stop doing this. It’s embarrassing.
Does Idris wear a belt with his tuxedo? No. No, he does not.
Speaking of clothing and removing it, what is the deal with all the wrap dresses? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wrap dress for sale in a store, let alone actually seen anyone wearing one. This has become so inexplicably prevalent, I asked my adult daughter, since she and her friends DO all wear dresses, whether any of them actually wore that style. She said no, not that she’s noticed. She doesn’t like them, herself. And then she said, “Can she really be a heroine if she’s going about in wrap dresses?” Exactly. Who the hell wears clothes that are likely to fall off with the next deep breath?
To me, this has become shorthand for lazy writing. I get it, you want your hero to be able to give one little tug of a belt (again with the belts) and have the woman’s dress suddenly fall to the floor, so you put her in a wrap dress. Come on. Might as well put her in a bathrobe. If your guy is half the man you’ve written him to be, he can handle some buttons or a zipper. Perhaps even a cowl-neck.
Why do so many writers use the word ground when they mean floor? If someone removes an article of clothing and tosses/drops/throws it on the ground, I’m wondering when exactly they left the building. Or if someone slides their back down the wall, usually in despair, and hits the ground instead of the floor . . . wait, was that an outside wall? Are we now dealing with skin abrasions from brick or stucco?
I mean, really. Descriptive words matter.
But dialog and actions matter more. You can’t just tell the reader that a character is smart or funny or controlling . . . and then never have them say or do anything remotely smart or funny or controlling. Suspension of disbelief isn’t an absolute, no matter how much we wish it were.
For instance, if your character is super-intelligent, I don’t expect them to do stupid knee-jerk stuff that most people outgrow in middle school. I also expect your thirty-something character to have a level of emotional maturity beyond that of a teenager. Like using common sense instead of making highly unlikely assumptions. And maybe once in a while, when it really matters, asking the obvious questions and waiting for an answer.
Likewise, if your character is an alpha control freak running a multi-billion-dollar company, I expect them to spend at least some time, y’know, running that company. Having meetings, evaluating reports, taking phone calls, sending texts or emails. Managing even a small company is a ton of work. At a minimum, your alpha control freak should occasionally spend a few minutes at least thinking about it.
Side note: It’s perfectly fine to write a billionaire character who is laid back and content to have someone else run their empire while they jet off somewhere with their new love interest. Just don’t tell me that character is an alpha control freak.
Side, side note: If your billionaire does jet off to somewhere in a private plane, and it’s a plane big enough to travel vast distances without re-fueling, it probably has two pilots, not one. And if you opt to describe logistics (maybe don’t?), that big old plane can’t land just anywhere, definitely not on some tiny private island that doesn’t have a decent sized airport/runway and some way to re-fuel.
Hey, I did warn you this was going to be petty. Petty, petty, petty.
As for being funny . . . sigh. Look, humour is hard. It’s subjective, yes, but it’s also extremely difficult to pull off in writing, especially in a novel-length work. It’s painfully obvious when you try to be funny and it falls flat. The best comedic writers I know are also more intelligent than most. Not everyone can do it. I sure as hell couldn’t.
But it seems everyone is trying these days, as apparently “romantic comedy” is the hot new trend. Well, one of them. It’s not enough to write a few jokes as part of a meet cute in the first chapter and then have the rest of your RomCom be nothing but soul-destroying angst. Not that there’s anything wrong with soul-destroying angst. But it’s not comedy. Defining it as such just makes you look bad.
This trend has gotten so out of control that, after reading way too many RomComs that simply aren’t, I don’t even want to risk anything with that label. It’s cringe-worthy.
Speaking of false advertising . . . DUETS. Fucking cliffhanger duets. For those unaware, a duet is one story, split in half at a cliffhanger moment, and then sold as two books. For basically twice the price. It’s not a continuing series with the same characters. It’s not connected stories with different characters set in the same world. Both of those are fine. A duet is ONE STORY split into TWO BOOKS.
This is such a rage-inducingly-bad idea, I’m not even sure I can write about it without losing my temper. Suffice to say, there are some very talented writers doing this and I really wish they’d knock it the fuck off. Because I’d love to read their work but refuse to support this trend.
Whoops. That last complaint wasn’t quite as petty as the others, was it? Maybe I should stop before I come up with other not-so-petty writerly complaints. Or before I work my way up to world events.
In other news, I’ve slowed down the mad reading dash through my electronic TBR pile (only 12 books in November!) and am gradually, somewhat tentatively, getting back into writing my own fiction. After all, a hiatus eventually needs to come to an end or it is not, by definition, a hiatus.
I’ll be trying not to make any of the extremely petty mistakes listed in this post. I’m quite confident I’ll make others — just as petty, if not more so — and that one day someone will tell me all about them. As they should.
Anyone else have grievances they’d like to air? We’re celebrating Festivus all month over here.