« Guest Post: Claire Light on How to Put Together a Story
Guest Post: Alaya Johnson: “What My Dad Said” »
Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.
Melina Marchetta is probably Australia’s most popular YA writer and with good reason her books are deeply awesome. I just finished her latest, The Piper’s Son and I think it’s her best book to date. I was up reading it till 3AM and then I couldn’t sleep for another hour because I was weeping too hard. LOVED IT.
- – -
Melina Marchetta is a Sydney writer. She has just released her fifth novel, The Piper’s Son, a sequel to her 2003 novel Saving Francesca which will be published in the US next March. Her website is www.melinamarchetta.com.au.
Please note that this is not a piece about books I don’t like, but about personal taste and what we look for in the novels we choose to read.
When you don’t like a book that everyone is raving about, you feel guilty. You don’t want to be that person who lets hype affect their reading because I hate that person. I want to say to that person, ‘Grow up. You can still be individual and love the same book or film as everyone else.’
I’m only admitting this publicly because he’s dead and I won’t be offending him, but I’m in the minority and didn’t care for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Despite being told that I wasn’t going to be able to put down Dragon Tattoo after page 200, I spent the next 356 pages dying to do just that. But I’d like to think that deep down, me not liking it had nothing to do with the hype or with Stieg Larsson’s writing and had everything to do with personal taste.
It wasn’t until I recently read another crime fiction novel, Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore, that it became clear to me that when it comes to that particular genre, I need a tortured hero, lack of exposition and killer dialogue. As booklovers we choose novels because they have the secret ingredient we need to nourish our personal reading appetite. We reject others because they have the ‘turn off’ ingredient that is made up mostly by our personal idiosyncrasies or context.
Someone close to me is turned off by YA literature, for example. I forgive them because they have pretty good reasoning. Being a teenager was bad enough when they were young and they can’t bear the idea of re-living it again through angst-ridden characters like most of mine.
But the problem with me and those who have rules about what they do and don’t include in their reading material is that we miss out on some great stories and genres. I love it when someone stumbles on my work by pure accident. I love it when I stumble into a genre that I’ve kept away from. Science Fiction is a classic example. I always felt it was a bit over my head and then I read Cordelia’s Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold. I picked it up because I thought it was a romance. I ended up having a mini obsession for every Miles Vorkosigan novel. It was a good introduction to the genre.
But despite that, I still have my list below of what turns me away from reading a novel. Any suggestions to change my mind will be appreciated.
Note: The no-death rule also applies to films. I refuse to watch any more productions of Romeo and Juliet or anything to do with the life of Jesus Christ because we all know what happens at the end. They die.
Does anyone else have any turn-off ingredient? (please don’t mention book titles unless the author is dead).
Posted by Justine at 17:30, 10 March 2010 under Guest post, Ranting, Reading | 32 Comments »
Jo Treggiari Says:
How funny. I just blogged about books I’ll read (and books I won’t) after years of refusing to ever put down an unreadable book. It was a thing with me, I guess to slog ahead, plow through.
I’m not exactly sure what I thought I’d be missing if I didn’t finish it. Or perhaps I thought that every book deserved a chance just by virtue of being published.
However one of the books I mentioned was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I did finish it but only because all my friends raved about it. For the first 150 pages I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the page. I found it almost unutterably boring and the MC did not engage me in the least. I might have wondered if the translation was to blame. My interest perked up a bit with Lisbeth but I don’t really get the appeal. I’ve known lots of tattooed pierced waifs who are computer savvy, and tough. They’re not that unusual.
I sometimes make myself read a much-hyped book because I want to see what all the bother is about. You know that one about Da Vinci and the guy? I regretted it.
The last 3 books I put down unfinished bored me. It’s as simple as that. Could have been character (mostly I believe it was) or plot pacing or story. There are so many wonderful books out there and I just can’t be bothered to read the ones that take too much effort and deliver less.
March 10th, 2010 at 6:37 PM
Present tense, unfortunately. I’m sure I’ve missed out on many fantastic books this way (that being said, I CAN overlook it from time to time – Catherine Jinks’s Pagan Chronicles series is one of my favourite book series of all time, after all, and it’s written in present tense, and is some of the most marvellous writing I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading).
I also detest books where a character’s infidelity is justified by his/her partner being clingy, annoying, or not his/her intellectual equal.
I’m also not a huge fan of the trope where an ‘evil’ character is evil because he/she never got enough love as a child. It’s even worse when an ‘evil’ character’s evil is never explained at all.
Looking back over what I’ve just written, I’ve noticed that it’s a really weird collection of pet peeves.
March 10th, 2010 at 6:39 PM
Ah yes. Sweden is crazy about Stieg Larsson. Am kind of apprehensive about the fact that his books are becoming huge abroad as well. It’s mostly the lack of female characters, I think. I like crime just fine, but I’ve read far too many books about middle-aged detectives with drinking problems.
In all, I enjoy most books unless they are very literary (I’m all about the YA!) or depicts a lot of sexual violence. Which is ironic, as one of my current project has that in it, but I defend myself by claiming that the plot hinges on it!
March 10th, 2010 at 6:42 PM
Books where children are murdered. Henry James’ Jude The Obscure is a no-go for me.
March 10th, 2010 at 7:11 PM
Joe Iriarte Says:
Here’s a recommendation of a book that violates at least one of your rules: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
My own pet peeve: novels where the protagonist commits rape, in order to have something huge to redeem himself for. Odd tense and voice choices is another, though I can look past that if I have to.
March 10th, 2010 at 7:36 PM
Kristin Cashore Says:
Melina, great post! And Justine, I will second that The Piper’s Son is FABULOUS.
I have a terrible, terrible time with books in which the women are around merely to… well, you can probably guess. Be rescued; serve as comedy because they’re so DARN CUTE or so DARN SILLY; serve as the trophy for the successful hero; serve as the object of desire. Basically, serve some purpose that furthers the man’s story– rather than being a person in their own right. I’m also not crazy about middle-aged men and young girls.
I’m one of those who couldn’t put Dragon Tattoo down, but one of my sisters, whose taste I respect immensely, didn’t like it at all.
March 10th, 2010 at 7:37 PM
I can’t remember if I set this to e-mail follow up comments, so, um, ignore this post.
Kate Forsyth Says:
I hate books where nothing happens. I really hate books about balding, fat, middle-aged men agonising over their sex life. I don’t like characters dying, but sometimes it seems entirely necessary. What I love are books that make me forget where I am for a while, because I am so entranced by the created world I feel as if I’m there. I like books that make me laugh, cry, sigh, and raise the hairs on my arm. I like books that have my own pet obsessions in them – books about art and writing, food and love, and wonderful places I wish I had been.
March 10th, 2010 at 7:42 PM
Ronni – I used to think I hated present tense, until I realised that it was only books that didn’t grab me anyway, so I was focusing on something that niggled. But if I’m caught up in a book (e.g. Saving Francesca or Jellicoe Road) then I don’t even notice that it’s present tense.
Another thing that starts a book on the back foot, but only really puts me off if I’m not grabbed in other ways, is Serious Authors who think that they are Above the rules of punctuation, and can therefore ignore the conventions of apostrophes, quote marks, etc. Quote marks in particular – they are there to make the ‘decoding’ part of reading easier, so you can concentrate on character/language/story without haveing to work on separating dialogue from description. So why not just put them in? I can see that sometimes there is a vailid literay reason for leaveing them out, but not always. And even if there is a good reason, and I wouldn’t actually have the author change it … well, anyone who didn’t find reading the last chapter of ‘Ulysses’ to be Really Hard Work has my profound admiration.
There are two things that, while they don’t stop me from reading a book in the first place, can lead me to skipping pages – or even chapters – in a re-read: suffering and/or death, espcially of an animal; and scenes in which the main character does something really embarrassing or stupid. Probably the first time this happened was in Black Beauty – I read the book dozens of times, but the Ginger chapter precisely once. There are plenty of other books I have done this with since. And there are three books by Lois McMaster Bujold that I ALWAYS skip the opening chapters of. In fact, ‘Memroy’ is one of my all-time favourite books … from Chapter 7 onwards. But I just can’t read Chapters 1-6.
March 10th, 2010 at 7:46 PM
Rosa Taylor Says:
Aw, I like books with love triangles (if they’re done right)! I think they can be a really interesting metaphor for the protag. choosing a sort of life style through which partner they choose (like I know Cassie Clare herself has brought up that Clary choosing Jace instead of Simon in the Mortal Instruments series can be seen as her choosing to explore her new life and its adventure over her safe, normal life.) But alas, I digress…
I DON’T like stories where the only plot is the romance. So boring. Romance is awesome, if it’s on the side. But it should NOT be the only thing that’s happening.
March 10th, 2010 at 7:55 PM
What a lovely coincidence that Melina Marchetta was the guest blogger today. I actually just picked up Finnikin of the Rock from the store 2 days ago after reading and absolutely falling in love with Jellicoe Road. Jellicoe Road has become one of my favorite books, only second to The Giver. When I finished the book and everything came together I absolutely had to reread it right then and there, and did just that.
As for things that turn me off in books…hmmm
1) Annoying main characters. I shall not name any names, but one book I read in the past year had a main character who the other main character spent the entire book obsessing over, only to find out in the end that the first main character was uncaring, and annoying. I was just generally bothered by that book after that part.
2) Vampire books. I’m sorry, I read Twilight and liked it and then the hype hit and now most vampire/werewolf/supernatural creature books get on my nerves. Not to say there aren’t great ones out there but…right now I can’t seem to appreciate them.
3) Beautifully written books that just don’t hold my attention no matter how much I feel they should.
4) Books where you have to use a glossary in the back to look up words in an author’s made up language or books where you have to constantly flip back to the map at the front of the book.
March 10th, 2010 at 8:27 PM
Alyson Greene Says:
I’m turned off by books where women are attracted to men simply because they are “dangerous”, “dark”, “mysterious”, or “damaged”.
I’m also not a fan of historical fiction where the protagonist is facing a problem that only applies to society THEN and not NOW. Also, I’m put off by too many references to corsets.
March 10th, 2010 at 9:05 PM
Hmm, I never considered it before, but it’s true that I have some pet peeves that are instant turn-offs for me too. All the best examples of these (that I’ve come across) are all written by writers alive and well and rolling in money, so I can’t cite examples, but my pet peeves are:
1. Terrible writing. I’ve hurled multiple books across the room after page 3 for this offense. I’m not asking for Joanne Harris-level literary perfection from everyone, but books I read have to be written in a style that’s competent, engaging and doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence. D** B**** is the biggest culprit I’ve ever come across as far as atrocious writing that got published goes, but there’s a lot of shockingly bad writing that gets published AND read. 0__0
2. Dumb, useless female characters. I took a Sci-Fi class in college and was shocked at how stupid, 1-dimensional and utterly USELESS the female characters in a lot of SF books are. Granted, most of the ones we read were “classics” from an older generation of SF when the genre really was a “for men, by men” old boys’ club and I’ve read lots of SF novels since that have had excellent, well-fleshed-out female characters, but yeah—SO not a good intro to the genre. 0__0 I’m still scarred by a certain character whose SOLE qualification to come on an intergalactic quest was the fact that she was born lucky. Her sub-amoeba-level IQ, gigantic breasts and constant fawning over the hero were also boons, apparently. Wow.
3. Mary Sues. Sorry, I know this is a touchy subject since a lot of YA fans indulge in Mary Sue fanfics or books as guilty pleasures. But it’s such a turn-off to me. The whole T******* phenomenon proves that Mary Sues sell like hotcakes, but I feel like portraying your sympathetic heroine as completely useless but somehow able to attract “perfect” guys/save nations/defeat evil overlords, etc, by doing more or less nothing is so… cheap. I like heroines who are smart/strong and are able to actually DO something to bring about the positive outcomes, rather than have everything just dropped into their unworthy laps. There also appears to be a correlation between Mary Sue protags and poor writing, plotting, dialogue, etc, which I guess doesn’t help their case.
4. SUPER AWESOME ALPHA-MALE HEROES who have zero flaws, weaknesses or personality and are absolute chick magnets—in fact, everything with a vagina in the book will, at the VERY least, give him the once-over and a suggestive wink. Or, if they don’t, they’re portrayed as complete feminist, stuck-up b*tches who SECRETLY want him oh so bad. -roll eyes- An extremely popular book by an extremely popular author about *cough* diverse deities living in the modern day *cough* stars one such Ultimate Macho Man hero. I think being completely unable to empathize and/or care about this guy made this somewhat interesting book so unreadable for me that I had to stop two-thirds of the way in.
5. Cool, tough, non-feminine women portrayed as b*tches or lesbians. I have no problem with lesbians, but why do readers (and writers) assume that a no-nonsense, tomboyish girl who can hold her own in a fight is always 1) a lesbian, 2) totally unattractive, and 3) mean and angry? Look at those Olympic athletes—they’re buffer than the average cubicle-dwelling man, and they’re beautiful (and many of them appear quite kind and friendly). And most of them are also straight. Yet in fiction, they’re always portrayed as freaks or entirely unsympathetic. Most often, they appear as either a minor antagonist from an East European country who gives the manly hero a *little* trouble (never real trouble—they’re just women after all -roll eyes-) or a female grunt in a fighting squad that will be used solely for cannon fodder and will get no characterization outside of “witty” jibes at her sexual orientation and/or unattractiveness. I figured this was mostly due to men being threatened by women who can take care of themselves, but considering you put these gals in as one of your pet peeves, Melina, it seems some traditionally feminine women dislike cool/tough women too? That makes me so sad. :*( If only American moms would stop brainwashing their daughters to aspire only to grow up to become princesses.
On that note, I’m really curious, Mel—why do you dislike unfeminine female characters? To me, they’re the coolest ones BECAUSE they have that no-nonsense attitude and don’t get sidetracked by various weaknesses or self-doubts, etc, that their male counterparts don’t have. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to write a woman who is as single-mindedly devoted to perfecting her craft as her male rivals, even at the expense of traditionally “feminine” preoccupations and activities. In fact, at that high level, it’s realistic that they wouldn’t have the time or the interest in anything outside of their chosen art. So if it appears that they’re being “portrayed as men” in that sense, I think that just means our society considers mastery of/devotion to a craft as “masculine” attributes, and *that’s* what’s truly chauvinistic.
March 10th, 2010 at 9:14 PM
Pam Adams Says:
Novels where middle aged men end up with much younger women. Especially if middle-aged women aren’t winding up with much younger men.
I recently swore off many of the ‘cozy’ mysteries, as they were getting just too darn cutesy. Also, the protagonist’s need to jump in and solve a crime, even when there is 1)a perfectly adequate police force, and 2)no real need for her (and it is usually a her) to do so was getting really irritating.
March 10th, 2010 at 9:28 PM
Vivi Vega Says:
Cy: In my experience, the unfeminine female is often thrown into a cast of similarly underdeveloped characters (usually men), giving the impression that the author was unwilling or unable to create a complex female character, so s/he decided to slap some huge tits and flowing blond hair onto one of the guys to avoid being accused of writing an all-male cast.
March 11th, 2010 at 12:31 AM
i have a hard time stopping a book once i’ve started it. there’s just something that makes me think, “oh, you’ve gone this far, it might pay off in the end . . .” this includes finishing series that i really have no interest in by the end. i have some weird commitment issues – like with certain mystery series.
as for my pet peeves, i pretty much have two:
1) stories that obviously haven’t done their research. this means historical fiction is REALLY HARD for me to read, but is amazing to me when it’s done correctly. (“Rampant” is an excellent example of this. killer unicorns that have a historical background that MAKES SENSE! a bad example is a certain author who decided to set a series in san francisco and didn’t even get the name of the airport correctly. i mean, how hard is that to figure out? THE TIME IT TAKES WILL PAY OFF.
2) i also am not a fan of just romance. i like twists and turns. i’m a weirdo that likes depressing things now and then, and reads everything that anyone says is triggery. (i just have. to. know.) and i don’t like female characters who are all “i don’t get why he likes me because he’s so perfect and i’m so not!” AND THERE IS NO CHANGE THROUGHOUT THE STORY.
March 11th, 2010 at 12:38 AM
To be fair, the heroine of Before I Fall dies at the *beginning*
March 11th, 2010 at 1:38 AM
The main thing that I can’t stand is a lack of cool female characters. It’s why I read so many female authors as compared to male authors (my bookshelves are so female-centric).
Another turn-off is male characters presented as the hero who seem to actually be stalkery and domineering, with no deconstruction of this. I hate Wuthering Heights solely because I was reliably informed (by which I mean, I read it in a book I’d liked) that Heathcliff was a romantic character. I spent the whole book enraged.
(off topic: I loved The Piper’s Son. When I read that there was a new Melina Marchetta novel and it was sequel to Saving Francesca and starred Thomas and Tara, I may have done a little flaily dance in my living room in front of my long-suffering flatmates)
March 11th, 2010 at 1:41 AM
Lara Morgan Says:
I just cannot bring myself to read books about middle aged white men having middle aged crisis – usually no doubt, written by middle aged men. Even the books that have had gold edged reviews I can’t do it. I start to yawn. I think its a reaction to living in a world where they are the group with most the power and I can’t give a toss about them really.
Also political and sporting identity ‘autobiographies’ ie. books they didn’t write. Ego is a dirty word. Get over yourselves already.
March 11th, 2010 at 1:53 AM
I don’t like YA novels which are trying to be “hip”. It just reminds me of that lame teacher you had who thought he was relating to you so well.
Using teen slang is a big danger for this because it changes so often, but awesome people like Justine pull it off. (not just saying that cos its her blog either)
March 11th, 2010 at 1:57 AM
Harriet – that’s why I qualified what I was saying (and you mention that two of Melina’s books are written in present tense and proved your point, since I didn’t even notice that, and loved them). I think the reason why present tense annoys me so often is that (and this is kind of odd) when I read, I like the feeling that someone is telling me a story. Not the author, but the character (or, if a book is told in the third person, some unnamed narrator). But I like the idea that someone is telling me a story which is already complete, and has already happened. The defining feature of present tense is that it’s meant to give you a sense of immediacy – the very thing I dislike. I DON’T like the idea of the story being something that is happening as I read it.
I’m not quite sure WHY I feel like this, only that I do, but, as you say, I suspect in many cases it’s other things about the stories that bother me, and the present tense is just the most obvious thing to leap out at me.
March 11th, 2010 at 8:41 AM
I recommend nighttrain by judith clarke
March 11th, 2010 at 9:12 AM
Oh man, I just realised that the Dragon Tattoo book which I bashed above for being another one with a middle aged male detective? Actually has a female lead. As I haven’t read much of it I really can’t say much about it… but I do know that later in the series some truly gruesome stuff happens to her, and I’ve heard people criticising it for being used as a REASON for her to be so badass.
Not sure if it’s true, but it does sound a bit… old, doesn’t it?
Other than that… I really don’t enjoy hard sci-fi, space is just not my cup of tea, and predictive love stories aren’t what I set out to read, generally. Fantasy and/or unpredictable love, though? Yes, give me!
March 11th, 2010 at 1:27 PM
I also am not into love triangles or characters dying in the end. I too read the last page first. Also, sad love stories are a no go.
For some reason I can’t stand light/cute/clever novels. I like books that make me feel and these ones don’t. Cozy’s are out, so are certain YA and fantasy novels (there are some REALLY popular ones that left me feeling — eh). I’d rather read about Wallander wandering around, being self-destructive and bleak.
March 11th, 2010 at 2:06 PM
My problem with present tense, as with second person, is both make it harder for me to suspend my disbelief. All this exciting stuff is happening right now, but you’re taking the time to tell me about it? Ditto second person. Stuff is happening to me, but I need you to tell me about it?
It can be overcome, but it’s a hurdle, and one I’m never convinced is actually necessary. It just seems like an author showing off.
March 11th, 2010 at 3:32 PM
Thank you, Justine for inviting me to blog. I didn’t realise how nerve wracking it is to express an opinion on an open forum and I can’t believe you do it almost every day! Very brave indeed. (And thank you for your kind introduction)
I loved all of the comments and will respond to one or two. Firstly about present tense. When I began writing Francesca I reached about Chapter 3 and it wasn’t working because I was writing the story in past tense. So I started again in present tense (only the last chapter is in past). In both Francesca, Jellicoe and Piper’s Son I wanted both the character and the narrator in the same place – not knowing anything beyond the moment.
Jo, we had almost identical feelings about Dragon Tattoo. I felt it could have been in the translation, but it was definitely Bloomkist who did not work for me. With regards to Lisbeth, I perked up a bit when she came into it and liked her because there wasn’t much to dislike, but I do agree that I had come across characters like her before, especially in YA, Fantasy, Crime and Sci Fi. Everyone who spoke about the novel said there had never been a character like her. I think many high brow reviewers have not been exposed to genre reading.
I’m desperate to go back to Memory, Harriet, and read chapters 1 to 6.
Cy, I loved so much of what you had to say, but in response to your question to me, I think I may not have made myself clear about ‘one dimension kick arse heroines with male traits’. I love cool tough women and I don’t see that necessarily as male. I also loved the delightful Ms Cashore’s Katsa who is very kick arse, but still manages to be so female and challenged those “feminine preoccupations and activities”. This came through in her decision making and in her relationship with many of the characters in Graceling and it makes her multi dimensional rather than one dimensional. I suppose it’s more the Angeline Jolie type (when Angelina is making awful movies, that is. Because she makes some great movies) where it’s all guns ablazing and all love them and leave them and all the alpha representation you described in one of your points. I suppose I should not have said “male traits” but “male stereotypes” that appear over and over again in film and books.
On a few points I would have to disagree with you. I would never describe someone who “single mindedly perfects their craft” as being more male than female and I don’t think weakness or self doubt belongs only to the female sex. More than anything, I don’t mind seeing weakness or self doubt on the page or in people. I think it makes them human. It’s why Buffy always worked for me. She was kick arse, but was undeniable female and she kept on choosing the wrong men (especially Riley) but she wasn’t defined by them.
March 11th, 2010 at 4:48 PM
Julie Polk Says:
First, “I haven’t been in [a love triangle] since fourth grade” is one of the best sentences ever.
Dragon Tattoo left me a little cold, too, though it’s been about six months since I read it. I remember feeling like it had been written specifically with the intent of being turned into a movie– not that I think that’s necessarily true, but that’s the impression I had. I guess that in fact there are books written expressly for this purpose (anyone see The Kid Stays in the Picture? Anyone else fall out of their seat when they learned that Mario Puzo was going to write a suburban pastoral until Robert Evans told him to write a book about the mafia that Evans, then head of Paramount, would then turn into a movie? Welcome to how The Godfather came to be – at least, according to Evans). But it bugged me anyway. I like my books to feel like books, not like way stations to something else. And if you ever read The Godfather — well, it’s topnotch storytelling. But you have to overlook some veerrrry clunky prose.
And I agree about the present tense. I’m in the middle of a very popular, shall-remain-nameless book that’s written in the present tense, and I had to slog through the first 150 pages before I felt like I wasn’t being choked by this very narrow perspective. The thing is, I recognized that from page one, it’s a beautifully written book — it’s just that I find the present tense to be a very unnatural, largely stilted voice. Of course there are exceptions (the book I’m reading just turned into a cracker of a plot, so as of last night I was up until 2am reading it, and I’d recommend it for sure), but overall I find present tense tough to take.
And I’m amazed at you guys who read the last page first! I constantly catch myself trying to peek ahead and forcing myself not to. Fascinating.
March 11th, 2010 at 6:02 PM
Melina, thanks for the response! I think I definitely misinterpreted what you had originally said about the unfeminine female characters (phew! I was so jiving with all your other points that I was quite surprised (and sad) when I got to that one. Glad to know it was a misunderstanding!).
Actually, you make a good point about weaknesses, etc, being part of what makes a character three-dimensional and interesting. Much of my griping about Mary Sues and SUPER AWESOME ALPHA-MALES is that they either don’t have flaws or are so flawed that you’ve got nothing to root for in them (i.e. they’re both one-dimensional type charas). I have no problem with my cool, tough ladies having 3D, realistic doubts/weaknesses/etc in general–I was actually thinking specifically of the types of self-doubts that women are kind of naturally bombarded with in our society. “You’re a girl, so you’re not as strong. You’re a girl, so you’re too soft-hearted to excel on a brutal battlefield.” Etc. And while many would argued that the moral conflicts that being “soft-hearted” bring up make this female character more interesting, possibly better than her “cut-and-clean, no problem sleeping at night” male compatriots (in fact, it’s not necessarily a female-exclusive conflict at all RE: Bros. Karamazov, etc. LoL~), but I don’t like that we naturally assume/expect a female warrior will have such conflicts, but would find that an interesting twist of a trait in a male character.
In that vein, I feel like the idea of women and their portrayal–no matter how much they grow or how great they become later in the story–always seem to start in the same narrow conception of “woman” or “feminine.” And many times, when a woman is introduced who starts off different (maybe she’s already got a foul mouth and gunslinger mad skillz), she is either written off as a minor and or unlikable character, or quickly shows her “feminine side” so that male readers can see “aw, she’s cute/attractive underneath all that toughness after all” and far too often ends up losing all that was initially cool/powerful about her so that the hero can take over as the tough one, and she’s conveniently pigeonholed back into her role as “love interest.” =__=
That said, Vivi Vega brought up a good point–the folks who write the flattest, stupidest female characters are often also writing flat, stupid male characters (though they still get to do the fun things like beat the badguy, etc, and have marginally more personality than the female characters). And while I read a lot, my reading list is far from exhaustive, so maybe I just haven’t found the excellent strong female characters I’m looking for yet (I’ll definitely take your rec for Graceling–thank you!).
And Mel, thanks for putting yourself out there and posting–I’m sure it IS a little freaky to get your words picked apart by all these faceless folks lurking in the gloom of the Internets (like yours truly ), but discussions like this are what help us all learn and grow and discover how better to express our thoughts. I certainly learned from this–thank you!
March 12th, 2010 at 3:29 PM
I have a high tolerance for bad books, so, once I start reading it, I don’t get turned off easily. I’ll rant and mock all the way to the end, and sometimes I search for bad books specifically for mocking. That said, I’m getting more and more turned off by rape in romance novels. I’m not even talking about old romance novels from the time where they used it as a plot point to get the female lead to have sex without being guilty, but contemporary books that show the authors just have no concept of what consent or free will mean; where the rape is presented as love, or just plain old fun.
I read a book yesterday that was an how-to guide to abuse, disguised as romance. The hero arguably wasn’t responsible for the first rape, as he was hallucinating due to sickness, but then when the woman refused to stay in a relationship every single character, including her best friend, told her she was being selfish and childish because he loved her so much; and when she turned out pregnant he used his money and the pregnancy to blackmail her into marrying him (with threats of bribing his way into getting sole custody of the child after birth), then raped her at least once each day after the wedding, and because they were married and it didn’t involve violence _she_ keeps talking about how stelar his character is.
Paranormal romance is specially bad for that, because every once in a while there will be some magical powers that makes a man irresistible, or a love spell, and nobody ever talks about how that’s just the same as using roofies.
March 12th, 2010 at 4:03 PM
Gudday Melina… I enjoyed your post mate! I guess it’s a struggle for me to pick anyone thing that leads me to not wanting to finish a book. If it bores me though – I’ll simply put it down. I very rarely pick these books up again – which might be a shame to some, but it’s probably more about maintaining a sense of pace (a well constructed pace) rather than that of one that doesn’t keep the momentum up for you.
I mean – why go to all that work to build a great yarn up to it’s first peak – only to lose it completely in a detour that makes no sense (to the reader). That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a detour or three – but it’s in the construction of that story that it becomes clear that this is a detour you have to take, to take maximum enjoyment out of they tale being told.
Lazy journeys and obviously ‘lost’ journeys just don’t do it for me.
As to types of characters and whether they’re simply good or bad – whether they’re slightly good or mostly bad – none of that necessarily bothers me. People in real life have shown me the amazing things they are capable of (or the some of the most horrid things too I guess) so I find people really hard to constrain in particular ways at times.
Key characters for me – depending on the skill of the writer – can be as fickle as we all are and can ‘turn on a dime’ when it comes to their personality – so I tend to enjoy someone who can show this reality of ourselves in our real lives – through their characters.
March 13th, 2010 at 8:10 PM
Rai X Says:
Love triangles do annoy me too, though because I usually don’t go for books in the romance genre anyway, this usually isn’t a problem. Books about that don’t appeal to me. Also books where the characters are much older than I am and especially if said old characters are falling into love triangles. I’ve dubbed them “old man love stories” and they irritate me. I think its probably because I cannot relate to them in any way. I also don’t like when any female lead, no matter what her personality, is shipped off with some guy at the end. Many books by one of my favourite authors do this and I’ve only been able to overlook it because the plots and writing are so good.
I usually stray away from a lot of YA novels too, because they’re often about school drama and romances and I don’t want to read about that. I’m more into fantasy or adventure novels and the like, most of the things I see in the YA section are about models or highschool kids.
I also don’t like books that are primarily about drugs (unless its some deep dark story about an addict). I’ve read a few books where the main character does drugs so nonchalantly that it just turns me off to the whole book and makes me hate the characters.
March 16th, 2010 at 11:08 PM
Trackback from SF Signal on 11 March, 2010 at 2:31 AM
RSS feed for comments on this post.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.
© 2003-2013 Justine Larbalestier