Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Busting Writer's Myths and Misconceptions

No introduction to this is needed--this is what it is. There are a lot of platitudes about writing which are just plain wrong.

1) It's a myth that many writers drink alcohol, or need to drink alcohol.
This is a misconception that many health-conscious writers have adopted in recent years. Calling the necessity for alcohol a myth is just plain wrong. It's very helpful to drink yourself blind and writers like Hemingway proved it. It can loosen you up so you don't think everything you're writing is utter drek. If you suffer from that serious psychological block modern pundits call "an internal critic" then you need to start drinking--heavily. I guarantee it will cure this disease. In fact, I believe this illness, which is of recent origin, is due entirely to the belief that writers drinking is, and always was, just a myth. It is not and was not.

2) Persistence is key to getting published.
Not exactly. Athough you do need persistence. Persistence by itself will not get you published if you continue writing crap year after year. There is no calendar on agent's and editor's desks keeping track of the number of years you have annoyed them in your persistent efforts to get published and after some set number of years they will leap up and exclaim, "NOW! We will publish her NOW!" What matters is that you have to improve enough to write something of publishable quality. This may take years, and I'm sorry. I'm in the same boat, however, I'm being persistent and I'm working on improving until I can write the manuscript editors will HAVE to publish.

And don't whine that your manuscript is just as good as published author X's manuscript because something is wrong otherwise it would be published. Okay, now it is possible that what is wrong is that you've submitted it to people who honestly just don't get it, a la Stephen King. But on the other hand, if you've submitted it to everyone, including your best friend's dog, and everyone has rejected it, then move on to the next manuscript. Each new manuscript you write will, hopefully, be better than the last. If it isn't, then you aren't trying.

Persistence is necessary so you'll keep writing, taking classes, and eating those rejections like chocolate chip cookies, but what is key is improving. You can never be too good (although you can be too thin).

3) Everything cycles back.
Misunderstanding. No, it does not. Genres change over time. New, hot ones like paranormal or erotica will mature--which means the editors will become more selective over time as demand flattens out--but old genres do not come back in their original form. It's more like reincarnation. Your soul may come back, but the second time around you may be a cockroach instead of a human. A better example is the gothic genre. Originally, gothics were often written in 1st person from the heroine's point of view. She was a virgin. There was no s-e-x, although there was plenty of romance. There was a mystery. Those were some of the original elements. This genre has morphed into one where it may or may not be written in first person and may include the hero's point of view, as well. The heroine's virginity is unimportant and assumed to have gone missing well before the story begins. There is s-e-x-ual tension and actual s-e-x. There's still a mystery.

See? It's changed. So if you're writing some genre that's suddenly gone dry, e.g. classic Regency romances where there is no explicit s-e-x, then fine, but don't cry when you can't sell it--ever. Five year ago, yes. Today, no. There are still romances set in the Regency, but the sensuality has increased dramatically and explicitly. And this is not going to cycle back to the days when there was no explicit sex. Times change and you should read Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again and try to understand what he is saying if you think you can hang on to an old-style manuscript and publish it at some time in the future. You really can't go home again. Time moves forward, not backward.

My advice to you is to read more recent works and see how you can adapt what you like to write to what is currently being sold. I hate to say this because this pains me and I'm one of those stuck in the past who needs to update herself and her work, but there it is. You have to move with the times. Preferably ahead of the times like...well, like Stephen King who basically started a whole new trend.

4) Get nice critique partners.
No. Get mean, nasty critique partners. They will stiffen your backbone and prepare you for what you are facing when you submit to agents and editors. In addition, a nice critique partner won't tell you if your plot or characters stink-on-ice. A nasty one will. Okay, it would be nice if she or he was kind when they were telling you that your characters stink-on-ice, but let's face it, do you want to improve? Do you want to learn how to write something publishable? Do you want to get published?

The worst thing you can do when faced with a harsh critique is whine, "but that's my style of writing". If your mean, nasty critique partner says she couldn't read past the first page because your writing was so melodramatic or overly flowery, or she just didn't understand what the heck you were trying to say, you have to think about that. She's probably doing you a favor, but you may not be ready to accept it yet.

Think of those harsh words as an impetus for you to do better: "I'll show that b^tch!"
That's the attitude you want. Show 'em you can do it and do it better than anyone thought possible.

5) Revising can be done right after you finish your manuscript.
There are some people who actually revise as they go along and never really do a good solid front-to-back (or my revision style: back-to-front) revision. They are some weird sub-species of writer I'm not even going to talk about. I'm talking about the rest of us who actually have to revise because the first draft is just that: a draft. Something to get our characters and plot down on paper so we can work with it.

Don't revise when you finish your manuscript. You won't have a clear head. You have to cleanse your palette by writing another manuscript and when you're finished with that one, go back and revise the first. This actually has several benefits.

A) It forces you back a step so you can be more objective and do a better job editing.

B) The second manuscript will actually improve your writing skills so when you go back to the first one, you can apply what you've learned.

C) When you start submitting that first manuscript, you can edit the second one and when Ms. Agent or Mr. Editor says: The first manuscript isn't quite right for us, do you have anything else? You can say: You betcha and here it is!

Time is your friend. Use it.

6) The artistic integrity of your manuscript is more important than anything else.
Is it more important than getting published? That's for you to decide. However, if you're like me and you started writing manuscripts without much emphasis on sensuality, and your agent and the editors she has contacted say you need to increase the level of sensuality, you have a decision. Do you sacrifice a small bit of artistic integrity and increase the sensuality because that's today's world, or do you cling to your vision? Personally, I'm working with my agent and bringing the sensuality up a notch. I may think Barbara Michaels is the cat's meow and nobody could do romance better, but that's not today's market and you have to write something that is at least partially if not squarely in line with what readers are reading. Today. Not yesterday.

The other important factor to consider is that your editor, assuming you attract one, has to actually market your work. If you cannot fit within any genre they are able to market, your sales will suffer. If your sales suffer, you may well be a one book wonder because other editors will see you as an unmarketable writer. So you are better off trying to fit into a genre which can be marketed, because editors will be much happier to acquire you. Unless you're the next Stephen King, in which case you can begin a new trend. I have to say, though, that the odds of you being the next Stephen King are pretty long, although I suppose not entirely impossible. I'd just be really, really wary of believing you can start a new trend. In fact, I don't think even King thought he was creating a new trend when he did so. He just wrote a darned good book.

That's really all you need to do. Persist with your writing until you've written a darned good book.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

CRAFT: Theme -- Why?

Themes...hmm, well, themes aren't what you see listed as themes all over the place such as paranormal or cowboy for romance novel "themes". Themes are the underlying idea the author is trying to convey. It's not easy to define, and no, sorry, there isn't a master list of themes any more than there is a master list of ideas humans can have. Sometimes the author may not even be really aware of what idea is driving them or underpins their story, but the smart writers try to identify the major theme in their work and strive to make sure the story and every scene in the story supports and enhances the theme.

Themes are the difference between a fluffy novel that you enjoy and promptly forget the next day, and novels which resonate with the reader long after they have finished it. Sure, you can "get away" with not developing a theme, but you're missing the main method we have to write something with depth, something that will live long after we have turned to dust.

I've avoided tackling themes because they really are hard. They hard to identify and they're one more crafty-thing we have to think about when writing our stories, which can already be a daunting task even without trying to work out themes. But it is truly worth the effort.

For me, the theme underpining much of my own work is the importance and responsibility of individual freedom--the more Society tries to control and restrain individual freedom, the more hostile the environment is to innovation and progress, however, individual freedom does not mean behaving badly or attempting to destroy the Society in which one lives. It is a delicate balance but an important one. I firmly believe in responsible, individual freedom.

One note: it is important to differentiate between themes and subjects. A subject is what something is about, like Dickens writing about child labor, while a theme is what the author thinks about it, i.e. that child labor is shameful and ought to be eliminated. That's why it can be so hard to precisely articulate a theme, because it is the what the author feels and thinks about a specific issue, not just the issue itself.

If you can identify the subject and then state what the author thinks about it, you've got a theme. Another tipoff is the word "that". You'll notice I used the word "that" when I finally described the theme: Dickens often wrote stories showing that child labor is shameful and ought to be eliminated.

So, in my continuing efforts to improve my own writing, I'm going to explore themes.
First, let's talk about what are not themes.

Romance, Mystery, Suspense, Science Fiction, Chick Lit, Paranormal, Mainstream: These are genres, not themes.

Cowboys, vampires, fairies, elves, werewolves, hidden baby, reunion, plump heroines, Irish, Regency, Scottish, Sweet, Historical, Time-travel: These are all "handles" for types of romance novels, created so readers can find the stories containing the situations and/or characters they like best.

Now that you know what are not themes, lets look at some themes. The interesting thing about themes is that not all readers will agree on exactly what idea, or theme, the author had in mind when they wrote the book. That's why English majors can write doctoral theses endlessly on the same novel(s) and they can all be right, because different people will digest the really big themes in slightly different ways, and as I pointed out earlier, the theme is what the writer thinks about the subject, which makes it subjective.

Readers can more easily articulate the subject, e.g. the plight of the Colonists before 1776, but the theme is whether the writer thinks the Colonists were a bunch of cry-babies who would have been better off under British rule, or if the writer believes the Colonists did the right thing by breaking away from the idiotic tyranny of the Empire. It's the slant or position taken that differentiates the theme from everything else. Yet another reason it is so hard to write any kind of guidance about themes or give a list to anyone. That said, I'm going to take the plunge and give two examples.

We'll start with Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Rand was obsessed with a lot of things, but after reading this particular book and having it resonate deeply, I, personally, decided that to me, one of the themes in this book concerns the tyranny of the mediocre. The main characters in this book are basically what you might consider over-achievers who, if allowed to do so, could provide the world with products that would improve everyone's lives. However, instead of being given the freedom to expand their business, create new products, and generally improve mankind's lot, the other petty, mediocre characters held them back and placed obstacles in their path. Every scene in this book built upon this theme of brilliant, innovative ideas being held up or destroyed by people who didn't want anyone else to get ahead. In the end, however, innovation succeeds and is its own reward.

If you want to know why this theme resonates with me, I can give you one real-life example of the theme in action. My grandmother was working in a factory during WWII. Taking great pride in her work, she did as good a job as she could. After her first week in the factory, her co-workers "met her" in the lunch room and told her if she didn't slow down they would break her arms because she was making the rest of them look bad. Tyranny of the mediocre. That's one theme and one interpretation of that theme.

As you can see, it is easier to identify a theme if it has some meaning in your life. If an author's theme does not have any particular meaning to a reader, they will most likely be unable to identify it clearly. That's why I think it's so hard for young people to get a handle on themes in the literature they are forced to read in school, because they have limited life experience.

However, being unable to articulate a theme is actually quite alright. At a minimum, if you can give the reader a good story, they will love it despite not "getting" the underlying theme. They may not even be aware that they are missing what is under the surface.

The thing is, even if the reader doesn't consciously "get" the theme, by making sure your story has a consistent theme underpining it, your story will be stronger and more memorable. It will lend the story an internal consistency and skeleton which, although unseen, will give it legs and carry it where "weaker" stories can't go. Chances are good, your characters and your story will be the ones the readers will remember.

Let me give you another example of a strong theme. Again, this is how I understand the theme. Your mileage, as they say, may differ. Do you remember the Charles Bronson Death Wish movies? Now there is a strong theme. When Society's justice system fails, you must take justice into your own hands. In stating that, I consciously avoided the use of the word revenge even though I desperately wanted to say: Revenge is sweet. Although Bronson's character suffers mightily in meting out justice in an unjust society, there is an underlying message that this is necessary to bring order to Society, even if it does not ultimately bring the hero happiness. It's difficult, actually, to say whether the hero is at least satisfied at the end--although as a viewer of the movie, I'd have to say the audience is expected to be satisfied when order and justice prevail. I'm certainly satisfied.

Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy has been analyzed ad nauseum, but the themes in it that resonate with me are those of duty and self-sacrifice. That it is important to do the right thing even if it means you may die trying. Frodo must carry the ring and try to destroy it, even if it means his personal destruction. Star Trek fans may recognize this same theme in Spock's memorable statement: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Sometimes, self-sacrifice is necessary.

I realize I've really only talked about two themes, but as you can see, they are as varied and numerous as the stars and just as difficult to describe. You may completely disagree with me on even just the two I've mentioned, and that's okay, because that's the power of Themes: personal interpretation.

This brings me to one more tip about Themes: at some point, and usually at several points, your characters should and probably will state your theme, just as Mr. Spock did.

Gertrude Stein's Three Lives contained a story about Melanctha who stated a theme, if not the theme, in no uncertain terms. You have to know what you've got, when you've got it. I read that story 30 years ago and still remember it. I still recall that line from it, being repeated by Melanctha several times, because although she said she knew what she had when she had it, she still lost it. Think of the power of that writing if I can remember it 30 years later without having opened the book again since school days.

Identifying your theme and ensuring that your character's state it gives your readers the keys to the kingdom. It will make them catch their breath and remember not only that specific line from your book, but your entire book. It is what will catch at them years later and may even influence the way they see the world. It is the power of storytelling.

Don't ignore the power. Take hold of it and use it.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Writer's Miscellany

For followers of my blog, I apologize for my recent silence. I've been thinking.

I may have mentioned that my agent indicated she planned to send me a revision letter--and she did. I've been pondering it and writing in general, hence my silence.

The letter was for a manuscript that managed to snag two agents but no editors, more's the pity. So, instead of a revision letter, my agent and I had a long talk about what could be changed to make it more saleable to editors.

The night of our talk, I just felt numb and afraid I couldn't make the manuscript as good as it needed to be. Oh, let me make a few things clear: I had already primed myself with a "can-do" attitude because I wanted to make this work, so that wasn't the entire problem. The things we discussed were all things that will make the book better (well, I'm not sure about the s-e-x scene stuff, but I put that in the category of "do you want to make a sale or not?" so I'm not going to fret over it). What I wasn't sure--and am still not sure--about was whether my skills will be good enough to do what must be done.

When I hung up the phone with her, I was also unable to figure out how to implement the changes. I had a strong, self-destructive urge to stick a metaphorical stake through the heart of the book and rip out all the "sparkle" (witty interchanges between the hero and heroine) to make it darker and more realistic, two of the things suggested for the revisions. Sort of: Okay, if they want it darker and more realistic, G-D-it, I'm make it freakin' darker and more realistic. All their witty conversations--gone. Bing, bang, gone.

This self-destructive mood lasted about two days. Then, I could sit back and try to think about ways of making it more realistic without destroying the sparkle--which was the foundation of my love for the story and the two main characters. Without the wry conversations between the hero and heroine, it would be just a blah, plodding book to me.

So...I finally sat back and tore a few sheets off the hotel notepad next to the phone (yes, I've also been on travel the entire week--another excuse for my silence, other than just being stunned and depressed--oh, and they lost my luggage. And I was exhausted from the time change, and it didn't help when they delivered my luggage at midnight but anyway...). I labeled one sheet Charlotte (my heroine) and the other sheet Nathaniel (my hero) and I sat down to really crystalize why they acted the way they did and how I could bring out the pathos in Charlotte's position more. Make it all more realistic. Previously, for the sake of staying "light" I glossed over a lot of the details of her rather dismal circumstances. I decided this was a mistake, because even in a comedy, you need a few "Oh, no..." moments and dead bodies aren't enough.

After working an hour or so and developing ideas, my plane was late coming home so instead of arriving around 3pm, I got home MUCH later in the middle of the night, oh...sorry, I digress. Anyway, so, I developed a few more ideas and felt a little better and less bent-on-destruction of the manuscript. Then, yesterday I went to a writing seminar featuring Stephanie Bond ( who I highly recommend and she further stimulated my meager brain cells so now I'm firing on maybe 3 out of 4 cylinders and am actually thinking of starting to tackle this revision thing. I'd like to finish the revisions before I meet with my agent at the end of July, so that's my target.

What decisions did I come to and could they help you?
There were four main things I want to tackle immediately. You might want to consider them, too, because they are mistakes a lot of authors--even published ones--make.

First, you have to start with the main character of your story because that's the one the readers will bond with. I started mine with a scene including the hero--which was good--but not good enough. The scene was a card game where the hero's uncle wins an heiress. The problem is, the uncle is already married. Okay, that's beside the point, but you see how I drifted off toward the uncle there? That's where I'm going wrong...although it is an important point to remember.

Here are the things to consider and where I failed the first time. It's where I plan on not failing this time.
1) Could I cut the first scene at White's club because it doesn't include the heroine? This was not a requested revision, but I wanted to make sure I had a reason for each scene in the book. I considered cutting it but decided "no" because:
  • It's a short prologue and I'm going to make it shorter - hopefully less than 1.5 pages
  • It includes the hero
  • It's necessary to set up the heroine's situation without later going into backstory or making her issues seem less important or more contrived
  • It reveals something about both the hero, Nathaniel, and the Archers who are going to be Charlotte's guardians.
One of the hero's problems is that he's titled, rich, young, and handsome, and women are falling all over themselves to trap him into marriage. He's sick of it. Since this fact is one of the reasons he is at the all-male club, White's, I have to put that right up front. I should start with this. It will lay out his situation from the beginning--he is at White's to get away from women (and to relax with his uncle).

If you look at all the really great books, the first sentence often covers the main character's situation and/or conflict. That's change 1 for me.

2) Chapter 1 introduces Charlotte. While Charlotte reveals to her new guardians that she's been shifted from one family to the next, I didn't follow through with her asking how she happened to come to have the Archers as her guardians. She doesn't know they won her in a card game. Part of her problem is that everyone treats her like a leper, although on the surface, she ought to be very popular since she's an heiress. But she gets shifted from one family to the next and it hurts. Deep down, it really hurts, and as a result, all she wants is to get control of her inheritance and leave England. She has dreams of becoming an explorer in Egypt--anything to get away from her misery.

In Chapter 1, I need her to ask the Archers how it is they are now her guardians. They aren't going to give her a direct answer--the Archers have a bit of the con artist about them and are as cagey as heck, and they wouldn't dream of hurting her by telling her they won her in a card game--but the point is, I need to have her ask--to betray this deep hurt and sense of not belonging anywhere.

My agent and Stephanie Bond made the point that even in a comedy, you need a little pain. It's the contrast that gives the story depth.

3) Delete the kidnapping sub-plot. Sigh. I did the inexperienced author's mistake of throwing in everything except the kitchen sink as far as the plot. I had too much going on. Okay, so I never have sagging middles (goody for me) however I also don't have enough depth to the main plotlines, which are the romance and the murder mystery. I needed to focus on those two strands and develop them more thoroughly.

Interestingly, when I used the word "delete" my agent almost panicked. She said, "No, no, not delete--save it and use it in another book." My guess is that she was also very fond of that plotline--it opened the door to a lot of chuckly scenes and situations, so okay, when I used the word "delete" I meant remove it from this book. I'll keep it maybe, someday, use the subplot in another book. It really was sort of funny and that's why I threw it in.

I was trying to do what Stephanie Bond suggested: i.e. show your main character in a variety of environments because people act differently in different situations and by seeing this, it lends reality and depth to the characters. However, while this was a lofty goal, I was trying to do this via an entire subplot and that didn't work. I need to show Charlotte interacting in other venues, just in the normal plotlines so I can focus and develop those.

Focus on your main plot and perhaps a subplot--don't include so many subplots or make your plot so complex that you don't have time to develop the characters and follow through with the main plot itself.

4) Make sure you develop your characters and plots--give them depth. This sort of repeats part of what I said in point three. Show the main character (in my case, Charlotte) in a variety of situations so we can see the different facets of her personality and make her real. Develop the mystery plot more and show how solving the mystery brings Charlotte and Nathaniel together.

Although my manuscript did solve the mystery and bring Charlotte and Nathaniel together, I did not go into this much or show how it was really affecting them. I left a lot up to the reader's imagination. This isn't always bad, but in my case, I left out too much. Part of that was because I had too much going on. And I'm not a big fan on introspection because it's too tempting and too easy to get bogged down in a lot of belly-button gazing.

Summarizing this point would look an awful lot like the summary to point three, so I'll just say: Focus on and explore how your characters develop and how the plot affects them. That's the point of the story, after all.

That's good for starters. Now I just need to buckle down and make this manuscript something no editor can resist.

Easy, right?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Pet Peeves in Novels

As a treat to myself because I've successfully completed the work week (even though, technically, I'm still on duty this weekend), and because I'm trying to avoid housework, I'm going to give myself the treat of a mini-rant.

The following is a list of the things I really, really hate when I come upon them in a novel. Some of them will cause me to stop reading the novel. When this happens, I may, or may not, go back to reading the novel. Sometimes, I won't even buy another book by the author.

I'm not saying authors should avoid doing these things, because all readers have their own list of pet peeves and if you put all the lists together, you wouldn't be able to write anything. You've got to write the story you've got to write, period. However, some of these things may just be poor writing technique, which can always be improved. I've noticed that big-time authors (Tess Gerritsen, Lindsay Davis, Sue Grafton, Dick Francis, etc) don't seem to make these mistakes, so I have to assume that there is a higher level we as writers can attain. Or at least try to attain.

So here is my list. Feel free to add your own comments and items...
  1. She glared at him, her emerald eyes flashing, her rich fiery-red tresses streaming out behind her like a living thing, glowing in the darkness... This hits several of my hot buttons. I may have mentioned how I'm just tired of characters with green eyes and red hair, and I'm particularly tired of eyes described in similies to jewels and rocks... His obsidian eyes raked over her, lingering on the neckline of her dress which had slipped fractionally, revealing her large, ripe breasts, rising and falling rapidly as she tried to control her anger... I don't know what it is, but if I read about another pair of "obsidian" or "emerald" eyes, I'm going to scream. Surprisingly, I have less problems with granite. Anyway, I'm not here to psycho-analyze myself--so that's number 1.
  2. Women acting like fools. I don't mean what you think I mean. I'm actually okay with the woman creeping down the dark basement steps with a flashlight and no gun or cell phone, knowing that a mad-dog killer is on the loose and having heard the sound of breaking glass in the cellar. I'm okay with that because I'm hoping that either: a) she's about to die horribly; b) it's going to be exciting; c) the mad-dog killer's about to die in an inventive way; or d) it's a trick and it's really the cat knocking over a jar of preserves.

    What I mean by "acting like fools" are those absolutely humiliating scenes the authors contrive to have the hero walk in on the heroine where she's doing something "cute"/stupid/humiliating. Here are just a few examples:

    The heroine decides to go skinny dipping on the hero's property. This is particularly aggregious in a historical romance. I mean, come on!

    The heroine decides to burst out into song and dance somewhere other than her own house (or better yet, bedroom/shower), like in the middle of a field, garden, or woods on the hero's property.

    The heroine decides to take a bath in the hero's bathtub, when he's supposedly not home, or when she's like...some kind of a worker like a maid in the hero's house.

    The heroine is in the shower and she screams because a cockroach (or something similar) falls on her head and the hero comes running from the guest shower or bedroom, or whatever. Of course, he's probably naked, too, for whatever reason. Sheesh.

    The hero and heroine decide to wrestle in the nude. Honestly, I read that in a book and I was like, o-kay I guess we're just a little hard-up for an inventive s-e-x scene, now, aren't we?

    The heroine performs a little song-and-dance strip-tease routine for the hero (yeah, that's right, like in that movie...).
    I actually have to leave the room or skip over it....
  3. Emotional manipulation by the author to make you like the heroine or hero. The most horrendous are the animals. I am so sick (gag) of stories where in the opening scene, the hero or heroine is saving an animal of some sort. Paticularly a wild animal. Paticularly if the author has that person caring for a wild animal on their own, because most states in the U.S. have laws about that--you're supposed to take the critter to a wildlife rehabilitiation specialist--and this really steams me if the author has someone like a vet (who should know better) patch up the wild critter and give it back to the people who brought it in for care! That vet should lose their license and be hit over the head with a brick a few times. Okay, it's hard for me not to launch into a really long rant over this, but suffice to say, the proper thing for a vet under these circumstances to do would be to do what they can to stabilize the critter and then call the appropriate authorities who will contact a licensed wildlife rehabber, who will then do what is necessary. Under no circumstances would or should the critter go back to the nice, caring individuals who brought it to the vet. Give the people a gold star and let them go on their way.

    And if the hero or heroine are not licensed wildlife rehabbers than I don't want to read about them picking up and taking care of injured wild critters, because for one thing it's irresponsible. (Do you have any idea how many fawns/deer starve to death or get diseases or illnesses because some fool decided they knew what they were doing and were going to care for them? That they even had a clue about the dietary requirements?) Like I said, don't get me started.

    Of course, that's just one example. The other examples of emotional manipulation is the poor heroine who has to take some horrible job as a companion/governness/mistress because the poor heroine has to earn money to take care of poor old granny and/or lots of young brothers and sisters, and let's not forget the cute little brother or sister who has some kind of physical or mental problem. This is generally more of a historical-type situation. I actually don't mind the companion/governness/mistress part--I actually like stories like MISTRESS OF MELYN (I can't spell the title, but I like it) but there is no family, no sickly younger sibling involved. It's those appendages that make me feel like the writer is looking for a short-cut to make their hero/heroine look sympathetic.

    I actually like quite unpleasant heroines/heros. I like characters with flaws. I don't like being manipulated, however, into liking a character based on "poor little me - I'm trying to take care of all these relations..." That just ain't gonna happen.
  4. Anger management: If your hero and heroine fight from page 1 through page 389, one or both need to be in anger management. If I read about one more heroine who stamps her foot and glares at the hero after he makes some innocuous statement, I'll...well...maybe I need anger management. For some reason, hero's don't tend to do the foot-stamping/glaring stuff so much, for which I'm eternally grateful.

That's four biggies. I have more, but it really is getting late and I've got to at least pretend to do some housecleaning today.

What are your pet-peeves?

(I have an ulterior motive--I'm paranoid I'll do something really, really stupid in my own books...)