Tag Archives: tropes

Gothic Dreams

I had gothic dreams last night. Most likely the product of working on the finale of my novel. Not that it’s gothic at all… For those of you aren’t familiar with gothic romance, it’s all dark and stormy nights, tons of angst, and heroines who are too stupid to live. Literally. I’m not familiar with the early beginnings of the genre, but think Jane Eyre, the author Barbara Cartland, or for that matter, much of the Victorian novels. Brooding heroes any sane woman would look at, slip into the powder room, and climb out the window to get away from.

But none of the girls in these books seem to have the sense God gave a goose. I never read many gothics, and the ones I did read were because there was nothing else. Or, in the case of Barbara Michaels, because I knew her work as Elizabeth Peters and wanted to see… Bleah, no. Looking back as an adult and an author, Barbara Cartland is impressive because she may be the most prolific writer, ever. I’m not sure how many were published, but a quick search taught me that she had 160 manuscripts unpublished at the time of her death at the ripe age of 99. I may not have been fond of her books, but I aspire to that kind of production level.

I’m straying from my intended topic. I did have one, really. The plots of these books were mostly very similar and easy to predict. A girl, or rarely, a spinster on the shelf at the shocking old age of say, twenty, was thrust by unforeseen circumstances from her home and into the cold cruel world. This didn’t bother the younger-reader-me much, I could see even back then that you had to work for a living, and if your parents both died, you were on your own. It seemed logical that governesses would be in demand. Some of the more modern books left me puzzled, since in them the heroine haring off across Europe thousands of miles from home making her living as an art restorer or some such seemed a lot more improbable.

It was the next part of the plot that always left me internally screaming at the fictional idiots. They never seemed to check up on where they were going. I could be wrong, but a major element in most gothics, almost a character in its own right, was the house/castle. If a house, it had to be huge, mostly empty, with miles of disused corridors. Whichever it was, it had to be falling into ruins. I mean, you would think a kindly villager would take our girl by the elbow and firmly turn her around to put her on the train. “Yer t he fourth one this month. That Baron, he’s not right in the head. C’mon ducks, here you go” and she’d be spared a lot of trauma.

Of course, we the readers know she has nothing to fear. This is where the glittery hoo-ha originates, after all, with the *ahem* notorious totally-not-a-serial-killer man suddenly being put on the paths of angels by one look at our daffy-brained heroine. But it’s not love at first sight, oh no. He will likely growl at her, verbally abuse her, and that’s if he deigns to show up at all when she does. Also, what is with the number of time he’s her employer, or worse, guardian, but romancing her is still on the table as a viable option? Most of these books are set in eras when that was beginning to be frowned on. I have to wonder about some people’s fetishes. Nothing wrong with having kinks, that’s just not mine. Makes me want to hit the girl in the book upside the head with the family Bible.

The remainder of the plot usually involves some sort of madness, because you totes expect to find some crazy relative locked up in an old ruin like that. There may be a ghost, or in the more modern versions, the mad relative dressed up in sheets like one. There’s probably a plot moppet in the form of the adorable and very traumatized child from the Brooding Hero’s first marriage. There is always rain, and none of that gentle spring stuff, either, this is driven and cold and will half drown you and of course our Daffy-brained heroine goes out in it.

Finally, the half-dead heroine, saved by the hero, accepts his offer of marriage, the sun comes out, and she settles down to make a happy home in the ruin. Me, I’m left gaping like a fish thinking “Run, dammit! Run away!” But no…

That’s not precisely what I was dreaming, which was more a muddled dark and rainy night at the edge of the sea, a coffin-like box strapped to rocks there, and a mad doctor torturing a pale faced girl who refused to give up the names of the Resistance even as he was closing the lid on her. You can see why I called it gothic. Horrifying, at the least. I woke up gasping and tangled in blankets, and lay there thinking about the appeal of the gothic novel.

Why do readers like that emotion storm? The emotions invoked by reading, or music, are no less real than ones brought on by actual events, they are just less powerful. Even when I was younger I didn’t care for angst, but I did enjoy other emotions invoked by reading. We all know that book hangover, after finishing a really compelling story that has made you laugh, and cry, and wind up in triumph on a high note. Perhaps this is what the gothic readers were in search of. A heroine worse off than they were, in some exotic setting, who they knew would wind up with a happily ever after. I prefer my characters with more spunk and less wet-noodle aspect, is all. Which is why I gravitated to science fiction, in the end.

 

 

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Quitting Time

It’s not that I’m quitting reading, oh, no. What I did was learn how to put a bad book down instead of letting it suck part of my life away.

 

Yeah, there have been books that painful…

Only, sometimes it’s not that the book is painfully bad. Sometimes it’s me, not them. That’s a horrible line for a break-up, but it’s true in this case. I’m not always in the right place to read and appreciate a book, and I have learned that attempting to force myself to read a book usually winds up with me disliking the book. It took me several attempts to read Huckleberry Finn, and Anne of Green Gables. I knew I was supposed to like them, but I was young and for whatever reason couldn’t break into the story.. and then when I did, I liked the books. I went on to read everything LM Montgomery had ever written and to realize how much like Anne I was as a girl.

I’m a mood reader. When I’m in a mood, I want a certain flavor of book, and trying to read outside that, even if it’s a book I’m supposed to read for a good reason (like, say, to review on this blog) is usually a bad idea. So I’ve learned to put books down if I’m not in the mood, and not judge them unfairly. The books I intend to review I pick up again later, but if it’s just a random novel that caught my eye I’m likely to not give it another look.

Like I talked about last week, I just don’t have enough time to give some of it to an unworthy book. Sarah Hoyt wrote about things that throw readers out of books in this post, explaining why she doesn’t like certain books:

Well, ten percent or so are unexplained.  I just don’t get into them.  No, I have no clue why.  Why do you like some dishes and not others?  Why do your tastes vary with season and mood?  I don’t know.

However, for the other 40% I’ve found that there are broad categories of errors, from the massive to the small that just lead me to fling the book against the wall (virtually, since they’re on kindle.)  And I thought I’d post them here, for the benefit (eh) of those of you working the word vines.  I mean, whether you’re going traditional or indie, you REALLY should not pop your reader out. Read the rest… 

The Titanic in snow

With some books, you can just tell things are about to go horribly, horribly wrong…

I think for me, the two biggest things that make it quitting time are boring, and bad characters. If I don’t care about a character, but the pace is fast, I may keep reading. Even if I like a character, if the book is rambling on for pages about how they are dressed and nothing is happening, then I’m likely to wander off to check facebook, read a blog, draw a doodle.. and when I come back, I’ve forgotten that I was reading that book and start on something else. Even on the Kindle, where in theory you open back up to the page you were reading, I’ll come out of the book to browse my library. The First Reader has had a recent problem with his Fire, in that it wants to always open to the very end of MH: Sinners, instead of the book he was trying to read. Makes it hard for him to keep on that book.

Which brings me to another point. My quitting time is not his quitting time is not your quitting time. My resident curmudgeon is much more critical of his reading material than I am. He’s also super-sensitive to certain tropes that make him prickle up like a porcupine, and about as happy as one (I’m sure porcupines are sometimes happy. Why is it that hedgehogs are always pictured cute and cheerful, while porkies are bad-tempered? They need a new PR rep) when he encounters it in a book. I’ve pointed out that I’m sure most of the time the authors weren’t trying to be tropariffic, but it doesn’t matter. He’s quit, and on to another book.

As a writer, I try to keep some of this in mind. Putting the reader hat on, I know that if I bore my readers, they’re out. I know that my most specific negative reviews on my books have been from readers objecting to my writing a positive male character, or from a male POV. I’m not going to quit including men in my books who are strong, competent types that love well and work hard for their families (inspired, by the way, by my husband and father, and uncles and cousins, and…) so I’m going to ignore those readers while I’m writing. Because if that is their quitting time in a book, there are plenty out there with men being denigrated or relegated to the shrinking pansy role. I just don’t want to write it, personally.

Now to flip it around. Sometimes a book does get better. It can be worth doing a bit of slogging, to find a buried treasure waiting. So how to decide that this book, this time, is the time to keep digging? Personally, I rely on word of mouth. Also, because I’m an author and part of a community of other authors, I rely on my personal knowledge of that person. If I trust them to tell a worthwhile story, I’ll keep reading through the rough parts. I did this with the original unedited version of Mackey Chandler’s April, and was rewarded with a great series I’ve enjoyed ever since. He’s taken care of the editing since then, so if you haven’t tried it, go check it out. Does it still have flaws? Sure, but those are philosophical and important only to me. And I have the ability to ignore elements in a book, up to a certain level, before it hits a wall. If you’re a devout Evangelical Christian, there are elements in April that will set your teeth on edge, namely the portrayal of churches. For me, I could see the extrapolation from Westboro Baptist, and it didn’t bother me (except that I really don’t believe there’s that much connectivity outside the Catholic Church, certainly not among the Baptist sets. But that’s because I grew up in them).

Where do you decide it’s quitting time? What books have you pushed through a tough reading spot on, and then been rewarded by?

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Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, reading, WRITING: ART