Thursday, March 19, 2009

GuestEssay: Minisinoo Puts Us In The Know

The Romance Iconoclast Gets Brutally Honest
(or, Things that make me laugh)


So, in my semi-flu-ridden state and without much of a brain for anything all that serious, I've spent the last week combing LJ and archives for romance and Teh PrOn. Guilty pleasure, sure, but the problem is that so much of it is just, well, bad, and bad in predictable, repeating ways. Certain things one sees over and over. In the reading, I came up with a little list of things that throw me out of a story even with a character I love. Most of these I've complained about before elsewhere (and in more detail). They all might occur in gen stories too, but I see them especially in (bad) romance and smut, either het OR slash.

All served up with a side dish of snark ... (Being sniffly makes me impatient so beware.)

1.) 99-gajillion adjectives used for a single character in a single scene drives me up a wall. Instead of "Fred," we have "the tall boy," "the young soldier," "the young man" ... etc., ad nauseum. I mean, how many people are we talking about here? Sometimes it seems like an army of men, not a single one. (Of course, some women might like an army of men ...) It's pretty much standard writing-workshop advice, but it bears repeating -- stick to the character's name. Just the name, and maybe ONE additional substitutional descriptor. With use, the name becomes transparent ... and one's writing isn't awkward and ungainly and damn hard to make heads or tails of who's doing what.

2.) Unless a character is looking in a mirror or other reflective surface she won't describe her "long, flowing locks." It gets even weirder when the narrator describes him/herself in exceptionally flattering terms. I read one story that had the narrating character "laying his angelic hand and cheek against the glass." My immediate thought, "Man, he's an arrogant twit, isn't he?" LOL! I don't think that was what the author was trying to convey. Unless he really IS an arrogant twit, he won't be thinking of his hand and cheek as "angelic."

3.) Don't switch POV (point-of-view) in the same scene, much less the same damn paragraph. Pick a head and stay in it. It's bloody confusing to figure out whose thoughts we're hearing now when the author bounces around between heads like a mad ping-pong ball. There are 3 primary POVs to choose from: first, third, and omniscient. Third and omniscient are not the same thing. (I'm ignoring things like second and very distant third.) It really isn't necessary to show every event or exchange from two characters' POV. It's not. Stop it. Just stop it. Pick one.

4.) Purple prose makes be gag. All those effusive adjectives and adverbs -- ICK. Use a better verb or noun. Attaching a bunch of adjectives to a verb or noun doesn't strengthen it, it weakens it. I've said it before and will say it again, "Jesus wept," is a hundred times more powerful than, "Jesus threw himself on the ground kicking and screaming." Even if one's writing style is more generous, there is a big difference between poetry-prose and PURPLE prose.

5.) Stilted dialogue drives me bonkers. Writers really need to read some of this stuff aloud. The easiest way to catch bad/stilted dialogue is to HEAR it. Would real people SAY that stuff or does it just sound hysterical and overwrought?

6.) "I love you" gets old really fast. Repeating it over and over with minor variation does not constitute romantic dialogue. Try letting the characters have an actual conversation about a topic of mutual interest that's not their undying love for each other. :p

7.) Descriptions of acts that are physically or biologically impossible make my head hurt. THINK about what the characters are doing. If somebody is holding something in one hand, s/he can't grab the other character by the shoulderS. Why? One hand is holding something! Or if it's small enough to hold and grip a shoulder, it'll still be with only some fingers. THINK, think, think. I can't count the number of descriptions of sex or even just embraces that flat LOST me in trying to figure out how the hell the people were physically doing that. Some of what I've read in the last week would tax a contortionist.

8.) Purple prose as dialogue tags is, if possible, even worse than purple prose in narrative. "'Please come back,' he entreated her hopelessly, his green orbs glittering with unshed tears." *gag* SAID is a perfectly good word. Really. It is. Learn to love it.

9.) Eyes should never be described as "orbs" anyway unless hanging out of their sockets. (There's a romantic image for you ...) Eyes in a person's face are not ORBS. An orb is a 3D sphere. Even an iris would only be a circle and most people's eyes are almond-shaped to a greater or lesser degree. You can describe eyes as deep-set, bulging, slanted, sad (if slanted down), or as 'cat eyes,' etc. But not ORBS. Please. Seeing that in a story makes me want to spork my own "orbs" out.

10.) Related to that, lose the extreme descriptions of people's eyes and hair. "Sapphire" and "emerald" eyes sound silly -- or like Japanese anime. For one thing, both blue and green eyes come in a wide variety of shades but grass green eyes are uncommon. Most green-eyed people have eyes ranging from jade-yellow to blue-green to a very pale spring-leaf shade. For some pictures of various green eyes, see The Green Eye Project. REAL green eyes are actually quite beautiful in their variety. But very, very, VERY few of them could be described as "emerald."(*)

Same thing with hair. Extremely pretty people can have very normal coloring. I passed a young lady in the stairwell just today with medium brown hair and medium brown eyes, but an exceptionally pretty face. These extreme color descriptions aren't romantic. They're ridiculous and they make the reader (well, at least THIS reader) laugh.

(*) Yeah, yeah, I'm thinking about green eyes in particular because I just wrote a scene with Cedric thinking about green eyes, and Harry's green eyes and how odd they are. But he damn sure doesn't called them 'emerald.' (g)

Minisinoo is a noted author in the X-Men, Harry Potter and Twilight fandoms. She has more experience in her little pinky than a newbie like these blogsters running this circus here and we fall at her feet when she speaks ;D.


  1. "Some of what I've read in the last week would tax a contortionist."

    HA-HAH. So, I was just talking with an author (a certain vowel-less idiot, we'll say) about this. Like car sex - ALWAYS difficult. Kissing requires forethought - let alone getting anything else going - especially since Edward is always over six feet tall. Note: tall men and cars aren't busom buddies. And hot tub sex - it cannot be long and langorous (cuz all the girly fluids wash away!) so, yeah...

    And the bit about the orbs make me laugh.

    What REALLY makes me laugh, though, is the descriptions that people come up with for sex parts. Just hilarious. Talk of "rods" and "being sheethed in her core" just...omg...

  2. re: number 3

    Sometimes going back to cover the same events from another person's perspective is really interesting and adds to the story, especially if a person's actions are confusing through the other person's eyes. However, it gets really old in a story when EVERYTHING is covered twice.

    re: number 5

    This is a pet-peeve of mine. Especially when the author doesn't use contractions in dialogue. People speak in contractions. Even Edward, Carlisle and all the other old vamps. Maybe the brothers could get away with no contractions, but everyone who has been living in the real world can't.

    re: number 7

    If Bella is 5'4" (5'5"?) and Edward is over 6 feet there is no way that he can put his mouth anywhere near her chest while they Unless they're bending at really awkward angles. You know? Don't even get me started on this about Alice and Jasper. The height difference is even worse!

    re: number 9

    OH GOD...thank you. it needed to be said. I do have a question though. Does Edward ever call her eyes orbs in the books? I mean, where does this come from?

    Okay...that's it I guess. I love Twilight fanfic. I really do, but I am becoming even more...heh...discerning as I read more of it. This post hit on pretty much everything that annoys me, so thanks.

  3. i giggled and agreed through most of this, but most especially numbers 8 and 9. i always cringe/grimace when i read ridiculous descriptions of edward (or bella_. 'the glittering orbs' have bcome such a twilight fic cliche.... awesome article!

  4. Heh. Glad you all enjoyed. This post was actually sorta old, but I shipped it to Smellyia and she bravely posted it. As half was inspired by reading Twilight fanfic, and half by reading (some frighteningly bad) Harry/Cedric and Cedric/Hermione, I figured it at least HALF fit. LOL!

    And trust me the "orbs" is NOT unique to Twilight. I don't know WHO the hell started that (probably genre Romance publishing, actually), but it's just GODAWFUL! I've been known to CLOSE a story when I hit that. I just can't go on.


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