Romantic Tension and Why Love Triangles Hurt

A romance is never just about the romance.

Whether subplot or main plot, a romance plot line is not about the love itself.  It’s about the process of falling in love.  Now, as we know well from Disney, that process can take place within the space of a single song.  Unfortunately, that’s a three-minute character arc.  Romance introduced— romance over with.  Everyone is bored, let’s get back to the explosions.

That’s why romance is never just about the romance.  Romance can be a really quick thing, but we need it to take longer.  We need it to cover hundreds of pages, ramping up conflict and tension between characters as they near the climax.  If we introduce and finish the romance quickly, it’s ineffective, not worth including.  Either that, or really good for a joke.

If left to itself, a romantic plot line would resolve itself in less than three minutes, with song, dance, and birdies chirping.  That’s why you can’t leave it to itself.  You have to figure out a way to slow it down, while making it feel like it can’t possibly go any faster.  You have to create romantic tension.

Romantic tension is what allows a romance plot to slow down and yet remain engaging.  The reader knows two people ought to get together, but something is keeping them apart— even though it’s hardly life or death, that much tension can keep the reader reading in this style of plot.  How to create romantic tension?  One word: obstacles. (more…)

How to Write Strong Females

Strong female characters puzzle me.  I’ve been planning to write this post for a long time– hopefully now I’ll be able to make it make sense.  An early analysis suggested that scarcity was key– Tolkien wrote two of the strongest females I know among the least diverse cast he could manage.  But that makes no sense.  Tolkien also wrote countless interesting male characters.  Characters are characters; their gender shouldn’t make a difference.

And that, I finally realized, is the first hurdle to clear when you try to write strong females: don’t try.  That doesn’t mean don’t do it at all– just don’t concentrate on making a female interesting.  Just make the character interesting and the rest will follow.

A brief note: this is not speaking only to male writers.  Female writers seem to have the same problem– look at the Hunger Games, in which there are perhaps three strong females in the whole thing, depending on how you look at it.  Those three are heavily outweighed by the strong males, and the author is a woman.  Just something to think about. (more…)

Why The Hunger Games Worked

I’ve read The Hunger Games a grand total of two times.  The first time I read it, I loved it.  The second time, I bashed it.

Before we go on, I’d like to apologize for that second time.  Bashing any book is unwise.  It’s fun, yes, and especially so when there are legions of fans for that book, but it’s a fleeting exhilaration, and most of those fans don’t listen to you anyway.  If a book is badly written, it will come across as badly written the first time– you don’t need to reread it with a magnifying glass to see it.

That being said, the points I raised in my second review of The Hunger Games were valid; I’m not the only person to think that Katniss, the main character, is hugely selfish.  My mistake in that review, however, was assuming that because of that, no one would like her.  Of course, I had already been proven wrong by the aforementioned legions of fans.  Why would so many people be charmed by this book if it was fundamentally flawed?

The answer, of course, is that they wouldn’t– and the book wasn’t that flawed in that area.  Yes, Katniss taken by her selfishness alone is unlikable, but that’s why the readers never had to take her by her selfishness alone. (more…)

Dear YA Authors

Dear YA authors,

I graduated from middle grade fiction a long time ago.  Hardly knowing what was to become of me, I left the world of short, heartwarming stories about orphans and cats behind and invaded the unknown land of death, kissing, and trilogies.  I used to bemoan the absence of books over 300 pages, but now the shelves are chock full of long books.  Not only that, but no author stops at a single book– they always write at least three books per series.  I thought that was great.

At least, until I realized I wanted something else.

Series are great.  It’s always nice to follow the same characters through a few books, watching them as they grow over time.  Trilogies likewise.  Trilogies have a distinct format that makes it enjoyable to see two opponents fight each other for three books in a row.  It’s a great feeling, when you reach the end, to know that the main characters have finally won out against all odds.  They can finally live.  Regardless of the predictability of a trilogy– with its charming first book, its slightly sagging sequel, and its dark and bloody finale– a trilogy makes a nice, tight boxed set that looks great on any bookshelf.

But after a while, trilogies get tiring, don’t you think? (more…)

I Did Not See That Coming

At every point in any story, there is a plan.

“We have to get to Mars to negotiate the release of the most awesome person in the world, who is the only person that can stop the end of the world!”

“We must manipulate events to cause the asteroid to deviate from its current trajectory that it might not squash a cheese factory in Wisconsin.”

“I need a sandwich!” (more…)

Why Middle Books Sag

In many trilogies, the first book is great, the third book is just about perfect, and the second book is horrible.

When you think about it, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence.  The first book has a powerful theme– “Ah I hate the Hunger Games because it’s so horrible and Peeta keeps making things up and I’d like to kill him but for dramatic tension I’m not allowed to.”  (The Hunger Games.)  “I’ve found a dragon egg in the forests of the Spine and now the Ra’zac have attacked my house and I’m off adventuring with my crush who’s an elf and who also happens to be asleep all the time.”  (Eragon.)  “I got swallowed by a hippo and accidentally almost pushed people off a waterfall and got caught up in this quest for a magic word that isn’t abracadabra!”  (Beyonders: A World Without Heroes.)

The third book must tie up this enormous conflict, so if the author is competent the third book will be awesome.  But something happens to the second book. (more…)

Driving School for Stories

Some people like character-driven plots.  These are plots where the story is made by what the character decides.  Unfortunately for most fantasies, these turning points in the story are usually ones where there is no foreseeable outcome where everyone lives– not exactly desirable for a character.  Take, for instance, the Lord of the Rings, book one, the Fellowship of the Ring.  Yes, he was kicked out of his home by Gandalf and a group of nine Grim Reapers, but that’s only the beginning.  He takes the One Ring from his home in Bag End all the way to the elven city of Imladris, or Rivendell.  There, everything begins to come back to normal as he finds Bilbo again and recovers from a life-threatening injury.

Then he realizes that nothing is over yet.  The Ring still must be destroyed, and no one can decide upon someone to do it.  So he stands up and says, incredibly stupidly, “I will take the Ring.”

He knows exactly what this entails.  Boromir has just given his famous speech: “One does not simply walk into Mordor.  There is an evil there that never sleeps…”  He has seen the powers that chased him from Hobbiton to Rivendell– and he had only had the Ring for a few days.  He had tasted the awesome power of the Ring.  The facts are telling him, “This is a job for elves or men– taller people than you.  Leave it to them; go home and wash your feet.” (more…)

Really, Was That Necessary?

What am I talking about?  My review of the Hunger Games trilogy, of course.

I have never done a review like that before.  (Excuse me as I guffaw loudly.)  My past reviews consisted of me saying “I love the book!  It’s perfect!  What should I read next?”  I’ve never actually analyzed the writing, the story, or the author in the way that I did with this trilogy.  There’s a very good reason for that: I’m not usually looking for the flaws.  It’s true that when you’re looking for flaws, you’ll find a lot of them.

Why was it beneficial for me to do a crushing review?  Well, I need to edit my own writing, and if I can’t be critical with someone else, I can’t count on myself to be critical with myself.  Thus, I went through looking for scenes that should have been cut, grammar mistakes, author cliches, and ill-fitting characters.  If you think about it, I went through the Hunger Games as if I was the author.  No, actually, because I was daydreaming about how I was going to tell the author off about all the flaws.  Maybe I’m taking too much delight in finding things wrong.  Especially when I cackled evilly at finding a weak beginning to the first book, and the mention of a large carnivorous rodent in the second.  Yes, I was having too much fun.

Back to the subject.  If I plan on editing anything ruthlessly, I’ve got to start somewhere.  Everyone knows it’s easier to be critical of someone else than of yourself, so I started on someone else.  Maybe this isn’t the best practice, but I’d like to get on with the post.

When I read anything, I have a first impression.  As I think about the book, I realize more and more that my first impression was wrong.  Thus it was with the Hunger Games.  Thus it was with the Inheritance Cycle.  (Some of you can attest to the fact that I attempted to argue you out of thinking badly of Inheritance.  Well, I’ve had a change of heart.  I still like the book, and I’ll argue about the story all you like, but I’ve found a few flaws.  And it wasn’t because I reread it more critically– only because I thought about it a lot.)  Thus it was with my own writing.  Sometimes, however, I think I’ve found a flaw after thinking about a book for a long time, but when I reread it I find that my worry was unfounded, due to the author adding a detail that I had forgotten.  I forget things a lot, which is why I reread.

Another thing these reviews helped me to do is to analyze the writing, not just the story.  I’ve never bothered myself with the writing before this– just the story.  If you said you didn’t like one author’s writing style, I couldn’t argue, since I didn’t analyze it.  I didn’t understand writing style, what makes it good or bad.  I wish I could say that now I do, but I’m still working on it.

The thing I don’t want to do, however, is read other books as I did the Hunger Games.  To go through books constantly looking for the worst not only is tiresome and time-consuming, but will put the kibosh on many of your friendships with other writers.  People don’t like people who can’t say yes.

In short, I think the latest reviews were quite beneficial, but I shouldn’t let that attitude rule my other reading.  But if you don’t really like the author, it’s quite fun to give his or her work a bad review.  What do you think?

Mockingjay, a Review

This is a review for the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay.  As with my review of the first and second books, I will be pointing out as many flaws as I found in my latest reading.  This review is not, I repeat, not for anyone who hasn’t read the book.  SO DON’T READ PAST HERE. (more…)

Catching Fire, a Review

This is the review for the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  This should not be read by anyone who has not read the book, as it does contain spoilers.  As in my review on the first book, I will be going over the book with a really big magnifying glass, picking out anything I don’t like.  I won’t bother with a summary, because if you’re reading any farther than the second sentence, you’ve read the book. (more…)