Sunday, February 06, 2005

Don't mess with children or animals...

I was reading a book last night, a historical from a well-known author. Well, I say reading. I mean I read half and skimmed the rest.

What was wrong?

Well, we all know that the greater the barriers character have to overcome, the greater the the satisfaction when they reap their reward. There must be suffering on the way to those Good Things, or the Good Things don't seem so wonderful.

This is true. Up to a point.

As romance writers, we've learned that there are some places the reader won't follow you to. If you're going to kill a child off in your story, or murder off pets, you'd better be sure you've gripped your reader good and hard beforehand, or they'll put the book down, disgusted and upset.

But in the book (not a romance, I hasten to add) I was reading, it wasn't that the villain was a kitten-murderer that turned me off, (he was also deformed, ugly, bitter and greedy. Whoa there. Enough already) it was the saga of suffering the heroine went through to reach her Good Things.

There is such a thing as too much. This story went on heaping physical suffering on to mental suffering onto emotional suffering... until the story seemed to be a chronicle of how low a character can be driven.

There are some things that no amount of Good Things at the end can erase. It wasn't uplifting or satisfying to reach the end and see the characters receive their reward - it was gruelling.

So if your heroine has already been through hell and you're about to put her in hospital, too, please, please think again. Do the Good Things measure up to the ordeal? Or are you trying to take a short cut to reader sympathy?


At 1:49 pm, Blogger Trace said...

I agree, Anna. There comes a point sometimes where it just isn't worth it to continue reading, even. That has happened to me a few times. I come away just feeling disturbed and unsettled. If I want to feel that way,I'll read a horror novel :)

At 8:47 pm, Blogger Kate Allan said...

Maybe you were in the wrong mood to read that kind of book?

At 8:57 pm, Blogger Anna Lucia said...

Hmm, maybe, Kate. Although to be honest I don't think I'm ever in the mood to read a book like that. And don't get me wrong - it wasn't just gruelling historical accuracy, I'm all for that! It was the escalating trials and tribulations of the heroine which didn't seem to serve any purpose except to make her (and me!) feel miserable. No ultimate reward was worth that sacrifice.

But then again, perhaps there are ultimate rewards worth sacrifices of that magnitude, if the rewards are selfless? In this case, the heroine's Good Things were her true love, and an immense fortune. If the Good Things had been about saving multitudes of others, perhaps I could have dealt with it better? Hmmm. Must think about that.

But I'm with Trace on this one. :-)

At 6:47 am, Blogger Manda said...

I don't much like the novels that jump right into the depravities of the main enemy. They follow the enemy around writing about the disgusting things that he's doing, and watching him grow in a strange, unrealistic obsession/hatred with the heroin/hero. It's much more interesting to have a novel reveal the enemy through what other people find out about them and have better, more realistic motives.

A P.S Pet Peeve: Under no circumstances should you leave the hero to write about other goingsons for over fifty pages. When you get back to what the hero is doing, can you even remember why you like them?

At 11:43 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anna --

Too much of anything is not a good thing. Constantly being crushed under wheels of misfortune does not endear. You need reversals in fortune, a roller coaster ride rather than one long descent. Throwing rocks, watching the heroine struggle is great, but you have to feel she is actually achieving something.

The inner stakes have to be high as do the public stakes. Perhaps the author felt the personal stakes were not high enough and tried to up the public stakes too much. Sympathy comes from creating characters the reader can identify with. Too many problems is the same as too few.

Perhaps the book was written as therapy for the writer's own problems?



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