Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Wait...

To be a member of DWT it comes with a required reading list. At least that’s what Maureen told me when she mentioned the idea at RWA.

She said… “You have read Laura Kinsale’s The Shadow and The Star?”

I said no, I wasn’t really into Kinsale back then.

And she said … “Oh… it’s required that you do or you can’t talk competently about historical romances.”

Did you all know that Maureen had such a mean streak? Of course I’m kidding and paraphrasing but she told me about this book and I had to read it. It was amazing. On my RITA scale I would give it an 8. I had some problems with the suspense element at the end. Totally unnecessary in my point of view. But I digress…

What I was reminded about these “old school” romances is they allowed for build up. You spent time with the heroine. You spent time with the hero. Before anything really developed between them. You got to know who they were, what their story was. It added to the conflict because you had a sense of history about them as people.

Pulling this off is hard because you have to make that time spent with them apart still interesting. I think Kinsale accomplished this. However, I just read another historical by a new favorite author and sadly, I think she fails. She’s really trying to build the hero and the heroine independently, but I find I’m bored with the entire preface. Let’s get to the chase already.

I know this is a product of our times. We want everything instantly. Romance now. Sex now. Action now, now now. No waiting. Authors have a lot of pressure to make it happen and make it happen fast. But on the flipside of being bored by the wait I read a contemporary recently, again from a favorite author, and there is nothing that holds this couple together. It is entirely in the moment. And the only thing I know about either of them is some vague sense of a past and that they find each other attractive. When they finally come together… I’m like who cares.

So we wait… and we’re bored. Or we leap right in, but we get no sense of what led them to the conflict they must have in order for it to be a successful romance. Which is it?

As writers/ readers what do you like? A sloooow build up, or BAM action on the first page?


Molly O'Keefe said...

That's hilarious because we werejust joking that Sinead and I talked about Kinsale for about eight years before Maureen finally read one. And I agree the suspence stuff at the end...WTF? But despite that, the book is still my favorite romance of all time. Romance.

Kinsale, the old Judith McNaught's, SEP and even Cruise - they all did the slow wait, the big long sizzle and I think it comes down to character. You can do the big long build up if you are doling out pieces of your character like they are mysteries. Samuel in The Shadow and The Star is the best hero ever and it's not due to any reveal - we know his big secret, what's interesting is watching him unravel all the pieces of himself he'd created because of the secret. But this is so damn hard and it's why the creme de le creme of the industry are the only people you can think of that do it.

I think that revealing character through big action is exciting and a hell of a lot easier than reealing character through tiny bits of action. So as readers we like it and as writers we're glad to have a reason to plot.

Alli said...

Action, for sure. I like being dumped in the middle and then the pieces unravelling throughout the story. I like not knowing a character's secrets or traits straight up - I prefer to guess along the way and then find out if I am right about their motivations, etc. So I guess it's a little like a reverse sizzle. :-)

Maureen McGowan said...

LMAO While I do have a mean streak ;-) I have no memory of this conversation. ;-)
I must've been excited by the fact I had, as Molly says in her comment, finally seen the light about Kinsale and why Molly and Sinead were go gaga about her.

Maureen McGowan said...

I'm trying to think of my answer now, and I think for me it depends.

If I'm not tossed into the action, then the writing had better be excellent. If it isn't the story that's keeping the pages turning, then it has to be excellent writing. I think that's why Kinsale, and SEP and Crusie pull it off (have yet to read a McNaught -- Maureen braces to be hit by Molly and Sinead) while other writers bore us if they don't dive into the action.

It needs to be mysterious, or lyrical, or funny, or something to hold my interest if there are chapters doing nothing by develop character at the start.

Kimber Chin said...

I like the hero and heroine to meet right away, there to be some conflict, oh, and unanswered questions, but it doesn't have to be big action.

I'm a historical romance freak (my preferred genre to read) but Kinsale never really did it for me. But then, I was reading them as a reader at that time, not a writer.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Samuel by far was probably one of the best "broken" heroes I've ever read. He was broken. He didn't really understand all that was broken about him - which was fascinating.

And I wasn't left with... Yeah he's fixed now! at the end. Which a person that broken wouldn't be.

I could go on for hours about that book!

So Maureen... for all your tyranny... thank you!

Anonymous said...

But have you read "Sweet, Savage Love?" LOL!

I noticed some category romances I've picked up lately mention the "c" word (the hero's) on the very first page, and is talked about on every other page. I think if that body part is mentioned so fast and so often, the author should give it a first name. :)

That's just TMI right off the bat.

Eileen said...

C words on the first page? That's really diving into the action.

I have to admit, I've become an action action action girl. Also, I'm a prologue hater. I know. I know. I have one book that starts with a prologue. I regret it. I should have woven that stuff into the book. I just didn't have the skill yet.

Maureen McGowan said...

"c" words on the first page is diving into the action... but you've been reading Blazes, right, Kathy?

Sinead M said...

For me, it's the story. A story that revolves around character mystery and the reveal surrounding it, builds slowly, whereas, a story that's plot driven with a lot of action cannot afford the slow build.
those old amazing historicals were all character driven, they could afford the slow build, because the fascination with Samuel dragged us along and kept us enthralled.
Same with Prince of Midnight(my fav Kinsale)

But you need unforgettable characters to pull it off.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I was thinking about this long slow build-up, vs right in the action and television. The Wire and Mad Men vs. True Blood or even Dexter - and they're two very different animals. I think it comes down to what Maureen wrote - for the long slow build - we have to feel like we're in very good hands. Like the wait will be rewarded - The Wire did that even though it took five episodes before the through-plots started to show up.
And those shows, much like the books are so rare because they are so hard to write - it takes the freaking MAd Men PhD writers to do it -- and I think while all those books and shows are critically accalimed, they're not raking in the big bucks - particularly off the bat.

On a side note - I can't stop watching The Fringe. Is it Joshua Jackson? Maybe. The crazy father. Sure. The x-files-ness of it all - probably. Either way - I like that show.

Eileen said...

Ooh. We're watching Fringe, too. It's got to be the characters because the story lines irritate me a little. :-)

Molly O'Keefe said...

Eileen! yes - those story lines like last night Peter goes to old Lt from the Wire with that Atari looking piece of equipment and says "this tech isn't from here and if we don't stay on this aliens will come and take over our bodies."

It's like connecting points A and Z without worry about the pesky points in the middle.

But it's worth it for that beginning scene of her coming out of the windshield hours after the

Molly O'Keefe said...

Hey - maybe Sinead is having a baby!!!!

Maureen McGowan said...

I was thinking the same thing Molly... Hey, if she's born today, she'll have the same b-day as my older sister. Trying to decide if that's good or bad. ;-)

Terresa said...

A slow build up. Anticipation is everything.

Laura Kinsale said...

I think it's because I'm interested in my characters. I'm not so interested in the plot (does it show?? ;))

I think there are different types of writers (plot vs char) and different types of readers in the same vein.

Of course when you hit both, then you have a real blockbuster, but it's hard hard hard.

Well, I'm not exactly profound this morning but interesting topic. I would not like to think of my sort of approach as out-dated. Hope not.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Wow - I'm a bit a flutter.

Laura I would not say your approach is out dated at all - it's something I wish our genre had more of. The problem is the amount of skill required to pull it off.

I're pretty good at this writing stuff....

But I like your point about the types readers -

Stephanie Doyle said...

Laura - if you ever check these comments again please know I did NOT mean to call you "old school". And I agree with Molly. I miss the days when character ruled in romance.

When you talk about Degas or Manet - you don't expect them to talk back. But it was really terrific to have your insight.

And thanks again for a book and a character that is still with me.


Sinead M said...

Laura, your heroes are amazing, no one, writing today, writes better heroes.
There is nothing outdated about your stories, or your characters.

Laura Kinsale said...

Hehe no worries!

Three weeks ago is old school these days.

I've been around a little longer than that.

But I froze myself at 35 (with sunscreen!)

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