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Monday, July 29, 2013

Romance Trend that Psychologically Distances Readers...
And How to Avoid It

So I'm reading this book that I got for free on Amazon. (Love me some freebies.) Totally into it. The romance is great...chemistry is so good between the heroine and the lead. Tension is ramping up....will they get together, won't they get together?

And then the insurmountable black moment....only it comes in the middle of the book.

Say what?

Yep. Basically, the guy and girl SPLIT and GO THEIR SEPARATE WAYS.

Usually, we're in the female's POV for the duration of the separation (in YA and NA, we are almost solely in the female's POV). And we have to read chapter after chapter after chapter of her trying to "move on."

I think authors are overdoing this. I got so frustrated with the book I was reading, I zoomed forward on my Kindle app just until I saw the lead guy's name again. FINALLY...he was back on the page and a part of the story world. was like 1/3 of the book was a complete waste of time.

When this happens, I usually skim the chapters without the romantic lead out of professional curiosity. As a result, you can save your precious time with this brief synopsis:

--The heroine tries to move on, but can't stop thinking about the lead. 
--She tries a new location, new job, new school, new boyfriend.
--Every guy will forever remind her of him. 
--Every place/song/dog/supermarket will remind her of him.
--She longs for some contact, and whatever contact she gets is ambivalent or upsetting.
--She is in the mother of all holding patterns.

We know by the backcover copy that heroine and the lead end up together. The chapters after the awful midway moment are just torture to slog through. Especially if we picked up a romance to read about---dumdumdumdum---a romance!

I've seen this in historicals, contemporaries, YA, and NA,'s a bad trend.

I'm not saying that back things don't happen to couples to split them up. But we can push the reader
through this faster, with the illusion that the girl has tried to move on, etc, rather than make them throw our books down our of frustration or skim. (Because once I start skimming an author, it's the kiss of death for future sales.)

One book that did this exceptionally well was New Moon. When Edward makes the decision to leave Bella, Stephenie Meyer did the most amazing thing to pass time in Bella's POV...each page had the name of one month centered on it. So just four or five page turns later, we're almost a half-year into the separation. Still totally engaged.

So if this is the plot of your novel, what can you do?

1) Leave some ambiguity about the nature of the relationship. 

There need to be loose ends all over the place. This was one thing most all authors did. It alerted me to the fact that things weren't concluded, but unfortunately for them, this was my cue to start skimming.

2) Pass the time creatively.

We might not all be able to do what Meyer did in New Moon. But think outside the lines. Sometimes, this can be done with one sentence. A good example comes from the Bible:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. Luke 2:52

Literary frugality as its finest: Luke didn't waste time on every little thing that happened to tween Jesus because adult Jesus was much more interesting to read about. (Click to tweet!) We can learn a lesson from this. It's sometimes more useful to show the lessons your heroine learns while going solo or "moving on" after she's already established in her new life.

3) You can start en media res (in the middle of things) AGAIN.

Let the reader see how your heroine is functioning months later, sans man. We can see her character development, and know if she's "stuck" or maturing, once we're reestablished in the story world. We don't have to live through the daily angst of her not receiving phone calls or wondering if he "still thinks about her."

Let's Analyze

Have you read a book like what I'm talking about? Did you finish it? Put it down? Skim? What other suggestions do you have to help writers push through the largely uninteresting "heroine growth" section?