Reviews can be very revealing about the reader as well as the book they review. Some readers want the sexy stuff right up front while others prefer the story to build. Some want to see the hero in action on the first page others want to understand what makes the hero ‘tick.’ I was going to do some research on what readers want when Ann Siracusa’s blog popped up on my screen. She looked at the issue from another perspective, Dear Author, Please Don’t …
Ann came across a 62 page Amazon thread that contained 1,500 comments. Actually, now it’s up to 69 pages of comments. Ann’s observed that romance writers want ‘realistic fantasy.’ They want it look like real life but with ‘fantasized situations and satisfying endings.’
Ann selected some of the posts and organized them into categories: Names, Characterizations, Love/Sex Scenes, Plot, Dialogue, Writing Craft/GMC, and Technical Craft.
Here is Ann’s full post. She also includes a link to the original Amazon thread.
What do want authors to stop doing? Which ones listed resonate with you the most?
Dear Author, Please Don’t … by R. Ann Siracusa
Not long ago, I happened to run onto a reader’s comment thread on Amazon.com entitled “Dear Author: Please Don’t…” at the following Amazon link.
There are 62 pages of interesting reading. Over 1,500 comments from readers. I had to restrain myself from writing responses. While some of them are a little [or a lot] off the wall, many of the readers had something worthwhile to tell us. Many of the don'ts we’ve heard from agents, editors, and other authors.
As authors, we may not agree, but each comment represents the personal reaction of a reader. To me, they speak volumes about what people read and what is getting published by today’s industry.
The posts gave me the impression that readers [at least romance readers] want “realistic fantasy” in that they want the setting and indicators of everyday real life but at the same time fantasized situations and satisfying endings.
To be sure, these comments come from different people—some want one thing, others want another, and tastes vary—but I couldn’t help comparing statements about not giving the hero (or heroine, for that matter) a moustache or a smoking habit or restraining from giving heroines green eyes, with other comments such as:
● “Don’t describe many bouts of love-making without at least once reaching for a wash rag or the proverbial handkerchief”
● “Don’t have your main characters make love every night for months without referring to that monthly challenge”
A couple of my favorites, which I believe are good advice, include:
● “Don’t allow your hero behave like a sociopath. If the hero is, in fact, a sociopath, then the heroine should kill him and get on with her life.”
● “Don’t over dramatize the alpha male to the point where, if he was a real person, he could be diagnosed as clinically insane.”
Just to give you a sample, I’ve grouped the comments into loose categories, although they don’t appear in this order in the thread. I didn’t repeat any readers’ names, but these are quotes.
Names: Dear Author, Please Don’t…
● “…name your heroes Hunter, Connor, or [insert any other over-used name here] no matter how much you like the name. If you must use an over-used name go with classics like John, Sam or Robert. You guys are killing the 'exotic' names by making them common!”
● “…give your characters 20 different names (nicknames).”
● “…name several characters with the same first initial in their name: Cindy and Cissy or Tom and Todd. For goodness sakes, you've got the whole alphabet to choose from.”
● “…give the heroine a name which could be mistaken for a male: Morgan, Joey or Danny (Believe me, I've seen each of these!!)”
● “…give the hero or heroine names that are so unusual that the reader doesn't know how they're pronounced. It's very distracting when you're trying to enjoy the book and you don't know how to "read" the name. At the very least, have a character (the person him/herself, or a sibling, etc.) demonstrate the pronunciation, even if it's by correcting someone.”
Characterization: Dear Author, Please Don’t…
● “…forget about your secondary characters, even if you have limited space. Try to have them all as real as possible; it takes away from the overall effect if they're all cardboard cutouts.” and “Please, flesh out your secondary characters.”
● “…make your villains one-dimensional. Since everyone has a reason to do villainous things why not the ones in books?”
● “…base your characters (especially in a series) on yourself, your current husband/lover or a close friend/family member. We can tell and it burns us; we hate it...especially when you get divorced and turn the hero you make us love in books 1-4 into a prick we are supposed to hate in books 5-7.”
● “…let your heroine behave like an idiot and write it so that the hero finds this stupidity cute, winning, charming or adorable. There's a difference between making an error and lacking any common sense.”
● “…Don’t forget that not all heroines have to be petite and blonde with huge breasts.”
● “…make your heroine's innocence unrealistic. Your heroine experiencing her first kiss at age 25 is odd.” And “If you're writing a twenty-five year old college student, don't make her act like a 60 year old matron who’s never seen a guy naked.”
● “…have your hero and heroine unite after several years apart where he was a slut during that time, and she didn't have another relationship.”
● “…forget to develop your characters along with your plot. Loveable, well-rounded characters are what make a story stay with a reader long after the book is finished.”
●“…wait until halfway through the book to begin describing your characters. On too many occasions I have felt I was left to my own devices to envision the characters, then --BAM-- suddenly my Kate Beckinsale is supposedly a Gwyneth Paltrow. VERY aggravating.”
Love/Sex Scenes: Dear Author, Please Don’t…
● “…forget to put a little variety in your love-making.”
● “…tell the reader what a great lover the hero is, then give him only a short paragraph or two to prove it. Speed sex is not sexy, spend some time on these scenes and give it at least a few pages.”
● “…discuss the amount of body hair your heroine has.”
● “…have a fight in the bedroom while they are naked in bed and then allow him to stomp out and jump in the car…without any clothes on.
● “…forget to give your characters some sexual quirks. Not every character is going to like it the same way.
● “…muddle through the sex. Either dedicate yourself to more than just a sigh and light touch, or let the scene fade away with dignity . . . Spice things up. Characters are people, and every person in the world has a kink. Big or small, discovered or un-, every person has something just a little out of the ordinary that turns them on.”
●“…give graphic descriptions of the hero's and heroine's genitals and please do not use pages and pages of explicit sex, either in the character's imaginations or their reality, to cover up the fact that there is a paucity of plot! Boring, boring!”
● “…have the heroine lose her virginity, then go on to have sex 8 times the same night in 6 different positions (Can you say ouch??)”
● “…have the hero stop after 3 solid pages of foreplay, look deep in the heroine's eyes and ask "are you sure you want to do this?" Duh! If she has been enthusiastically participating for said 3 solid pages, why would the hero suddenly decide to double check just before hiding the you know what?? Talk about a mood killer.”
Plot: Dear Author, Please Don’t…
● “… forget to include a plot. The days when I read romance novels for sex are pretty much over. A storyline would be nice.”
● “…make me read the roller coaster ride of a plot you've put the hero through and then, on the last page, in the last sentence, a shot rings out and I have to wait for the sequel except it won't come out until two years from now.”
● “…make every hero a man whore. Sometimes less experienced guys are hot too.”
● “…forgive too easily. No matter how much love is between two people, when one makes a mistake, the other doesn't just forget about it. There are always consequences for stupidity.”
●“…have your character set out to ruin someone's reputation. Usually this is the hero ruining the heroine in historicals, but recently reading a heroine who is setting out to ruin a man's reputation for cash and I find it extremely unattractive plot device.”
● “…have the entire book hinge on some stupid misunderstanding that could be cleared up with two sentences. Please, let's have some books with real relationship issues!”
● “…have the hero and heroine bicker like children for most of the book.”
Dialogue: Dear Author, Please Don’t…
● “…talk slang, outside of the dialogue, in the narration.”
● “…include too much girl talk. I don't have a clutch of gossiping girlfriends who dis men, and reading about it is boring. I can't enjoy the heroine if she's acting like a gossiping cat.”
● “…sermonize in your fiction. I don't care if its vegetarianism, your favorite brand of shoes, or social responsibility. Having your character lecture your readers is annoying!”
● “…have the hero or heroine say those dreaded words, "We have to talk." “
Writing Craft and GMC: Dear Author, Please Don’t…
● “…explain things to me. I like to figure it out on my own.”
● “…use foreign words or phrases unless you know what you're talking about. A little research would be appreciated.”
● “…sanitize awkward situations. Sometimes a little awkwardness is exactly what the story--or the character--needs.”
● …give the reader “too much stuff about...feelings. Do we really need five (or seven, or ten) paragraphs about someone's emotions? . . . I mean, I know it's a romance, and the conflict is important, but to have the same song play out every third or fourth page... it gets old.”
● …give the reader a reason to say, “Why do I hear the director in the background crying "Reach deep into yourself! What's...your...MOTIVATION???"
● “…don't resolve the conflict in a few sentences just because someone cried or said, "I Love You."
Technical Craft: Dear Author, please don’t…
● “…forget to proofread carefully.
● “…send a manuscript to the publisher without having at least five people--other than yourself--read it. Misspellings and plot holes are the most annoying mistakes, and the easiest to fix.
● “…allow Microsoft Word to suggest your writing style. Contractions are important. I downloaded a book today and couldn't get past the first five pages because the writer never used them.
● “…write without a dictionary, thesaurus, and an atlas at your side.
● “…forget to let the reader know how much time is passing. Was it a day, a week, an hour? Help me keep up; I can't read your mind.
● “…give detailed descriptions of how to get somewhere on a freeway across town including the turn right and left thing.”
● “…write the book in first person.”
● “…jump POV's to the hero's baby momma's cousin.”
● “…switch tenses throughout your whole story.”