dotsandlines: (ATLA: OBJECTION!)
[personal profile] dotsandlines
Finished the book that I didn't like.

I know what I learned today! I learned that I could write a better romance novel than ONE person on earth, if I tried to!

Ye gods.

"Jade orbs", I think. I think he un-ironically used the phrase "jade orbs", or "emerald", or "sapphire", or somesuch. And "alabaster skin", multiple times.

But here's the crux of the problem, and the larger What I Learned Today.

This book that I won't name has two narrators, a man and a woman. They swap off chapters for most of the book, then meet and fall in love and the book melts into Third Person Omniscient for the rest of the book.

The male narrator's chapters are mostly OK. The author seemed more at home in this plotline, and there are a lot of things going on. The character has feelings about the side characters and the things going on in his environment. He has plans, they get derailed sometimes, he realizes he's sometimes an ass and learns things.

The female narrator's chapters consist of whining, sighing that she hates her life, whining some more, and as noted in the last entry, omniscient breasts syndrome. She has a few flickers of life here and there, but no outside interests in life - just her job, the male lead, and whining.

After the two narrators meet, most of the book is spent describing how thin and pale the female lead is. This is supposed to stand in for their love story. Now, there are a couple of good moments. I'm one of those readers who checks my proverbial watch every time an author uses [fill in generic Good Physical Trait Here] to indicate "these people are in love", and would rather see the effects that they have on the narrator. Ya know, flights of fancy, shortness of breath, adorable flustering. Fun stuff. - This book does that a time or two in the male narrator's head, and that made me believe that these two sock puppets had a thing going.

When the book is in the female character's head during the love story subplot, it... describes how thin and pale she is. From her POV. And she sighs and flutters some, for no apparent reason. There is no reason cited or suggested why she falls in love with him (conversely, he falls in love with her because she's thin and pale). She never says or thinks anything about him that she likes, except that the guys she already knows are icky compared to him (why? dunno!) His eye color is mentioned a few times, assumedly to stand in for "I think she thinks he's sexy, but OMG NO HOMO EW EW EW EW."

Which all means that the author has no goddamn clue how to write a female character, and thus, has no business doing so.

Time out.

I'm not complaining that the female lead is thin and pale. Thin and pale it all over the place if you want. But don't name-check these things as the sole character traits of one of your main characters, and don't name-check these things as the sole reason and expression of your other narrator's devotion. OK, she's thin and pale (and blond!) - And?

This is another form of something I've ranted about before: Don't assume that I, the reader/viewer, will react to your characters exactly the way you do. Don't assume that I will think Haruhi's chaotic antics are endearing. Don't assume that I will think $generictrait will make me, the reader, fall in love with the character as much as you obviously have. To simplify it, this book also makes a loooooooot of noise about the fact that the female lead is blond. ZOMG BLOND IS AUTOMATICALLY HOTTTT!, we're supposed to think. She's blond, that means we love her and thus believe the love story!

What if we don't? What if we're into brunettes or redheads? Huh? Or, God forbid, what if we're not into women? Whatcha gonna do now, book?

Oh wait, "did I mention she's blonde and has boobs" is all you've got.

OK then.

Citing a laundry list of physical traits does not sell a romance plot the way you seem to think it does. And this is not a gender-based thing. A laundry list of rippling abs and what-all is not good writing, either.

Game on. Back to not knowing how to write half of the human populace.

This author does not. Why? Because he has no clue what happens in women's heads. Clearly. He seems to be unaware that thoughts happen there much the way that they happen in men's heads. I knew this book was in trouble when it made a drive-by reference to "all women are mysterious, magical and unknowable", and then attempted to write from that POV. Of COURSE you can't get into that POV! You don't even seem to think it's possible for humans (men?) to comprehend!

Rant point 1 and rant point 2 add up like this:

Does not understand that the entire reader base does not automatically drool to the same bell that the author does
Does not understand that women have thoughts and desires the way men do
Fundamental empathy fail.

Empathy includes realizing that not everyone thinks the way you do.

Empathy includes realizing that people who think differently from you are not automatically bad or wrong. (There's also a side character who is attracted to the lead, and is painted as disgusting because she dares to be attracted to him when he's not interested back. Ick.)

Once you get over those hurdles, it can include things like realizing that straight women are actually attracted to men, because of actual reasons, instead of freezing up and shutting down because they don't speak directly to your tastes.

(Obviously, so are gay men and bi people, but that's a bridge too far for this type, so I'm sticking to the heteronormative script.)

(Did I mention that there's a gross gay stereotype in this book, too, just for icing? No? Yeah. There is. There's also a gross sideswipe against lesbians that comes absolutely out of the blue. Charming.)

Here's the thing. Despite all of this ick, the book didn't suck outright. There's a lot to hate there, for me. But the story clicked along OK until the romance turned it all to gray goo, and there were some fun world-building moments. But the take-away for me is:

Don't be a writer if you can't get out of your own head. Your job is to pilot your characters in such a way that the reader believes that they're real. If YOU don't believe that they're real, or don't know how they function on a fundamental level, don't write them. Stick to characters that are literal representations of yourself if that's all you can wrap your head around. Spare us the pain.


What to learn from this.

In my own project, I know that there are some characters - side and major - that I don't quite understand yet. Sometimes it is a "too alien" situation, as with a lively jock-type character who is pretty much unlike me in every possible way. But if I'm going to write this story, it's my job to get inside that person's head and understand - actually understand - how they think. Not to brush off the character and say "welp, jocks are dumb, and I can't possibly understand them". There's an inner life there, and if I don't see it clearly, I'd better keep digging.


In other news, I think I hatched a NaNoWriMo-able idea on the way to work this morning. I'm thinking about jumping back in this year. I'm thinking about jumping back in as a way to force myself out of the house, contradictory as that sounds. Local meetups? Writing in a coffeehouse? Something. I love my husband dearly, but I am going stir-crazy not talking to anyone else outside of work.

People terrify me, and yet I feel like hell if I don't get at least some dose of them. Go figure, huh?

(I do go to a weekly crafting meetup, but there's not much "there" there. The other members have made it abundantly clear that I could never understand their complex psychology with my puny mainstream brain, so I'd better not even try to be their friends. OK then! Can I borrow your scissors? I guess that's that.)

In other other news, fun article despite the Buzzfeedy/Crackedy title:

7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding

#4 (not everyone agrees on everything) and #7 (think about how your non-realistic factors would affect everything) are my favorites. Fun times.

You know, I should remember that I like that kind of stuff, and try something short and speculative sometime.
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