**I mean it.***
**Well, okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.***
I like subtlety. My very favourite historical romance in all the world – The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett, that I first read at the tender age of 15 – was chock full of it. I liked the way nothing was ever semaphored in large, friendly letters, merely hinted at. Whispered. I liked the way that sometimes I had to go and re-read parts just to see if what I thought happened, actually did happen. Or that I’d missed something that I should have picked up on. I liked how you had to pay attention to the most seemingly innocuous conversation because it might contain some clue to a character’s emotional state or to their past. Or how even the way they were standing was some hint as to their deeper emotions. I liked the way there was ALWAYS a subtext going on and how half the fun was guessing what exactly the subtext was. And I liked the way you hardly ever got the hero’s POV because it kept him mysterious.
But most of all, I really liked how my best friend and I used to argue for hours about questions the answers to which were never clearly answered – what really happened to his father? What was it with his mother? Was the boy who died really his son or the son of his enemy? Was he really in love with the woman in book 2? And what exactly was the nature of his relationship with the Turkish prince in book 4?
In fact, those questions and many others, kept a whole web discussion forum going for years and probably still does. But that’s beside the point. I loved the subtlety of it and I read and re-read those books over and over again, just to see if could pick up any more bits and pieces of information that I’d missed the first ten times I read it.
I loved that subtlety SO much that I swore, as a writer, I would never hit my readers over the head with conflict (actually, I didn’t really know what conflict was back then but you know what I mean), that I’d dole out little bits of information like cheese before mice, leading the reader into the story but perhaps never revealing anything too much till later. If at all. I’d give them little puzzles so they would be fascinated about my characters motivations and perhaps go and re-read bits so they could maybe pick up on something they’d missed. And I’d also keep my hero very mysterious and not give him a lot of POV so no one would know quite what he was doing or why until right at the end. Oh yes and I’d torture him lots too because there’s nothing like a tortured hero.
And I bet you can guess how well that worked out when it came to writing category romance.
I blame Dorothy Dunnett and Francis Crawford of Lymond completely for my inability to get to grips with category romance. And I have to repeat to myself daily what worked for six 500 page books published in the 60s will not work for one 50k book published in 2010.
So, no to subtlety. No to little reader puzzles. No to carefully hinted at emotional states. No to mysterious motivations. No to limited hero POV. No to roundabout dialogue where the characters talk about everything but the thing they actually need to talk about. Oh and BIG nos to torturing your hero with opium addiction (seriously!).
Yes to have that conflict in the first chapter. Yes to being absolutely clear as to the motivations of your characters. Yes to the reader knowing more than the characters do NOT the other way around.
Still, I suppose if Dorothy Dunnett had actually written on the first page ‘Francis Crawford had always secretly feared he was the secret lovechild of his mother’s affair with her husband’s father’ then I’m sure there would not have been six books to write.*
Anyway, that’s my excuse as to why this category romance lark is so damn difficult for me and I’m sticking to it. 🙂 And you’ll be pleased to know that I have actually broken the habit of a lifetime and in the latest couple of WIPS, got out my conflict stick to beat the reader over the head with it. 🙂
So, question for the day – have there been any particular book/books that have had an influence on you as a writer?
*Note: okay, so that’s kind of a spoiler. Sorry. But it’s only part of the conflict not all of it. Or is it? You’ll have read it to find out. And you may come to an entirely different conclusion. 🙂