Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Plot and Prejudice

I’ve got a contest running over on my site where I ask readers to tell me some of the things they like or don’t like in a romance novel. One reader said, somewhat sheepishly, that she liked secret baby stories. Another liked the marriage of convenience plot. Still another said she couldn’t stand heroines who were TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Kick-ass heroines are popular, but in the regency period when my novels are set, a heroine who is too kick-ass is going to get her sweet little derriere booted out of Almack’s.

I confess as a romance reader I come to a book with certain expectations...well, prejudices, really. Like CJ’s judge, I’m not a fan of short heroes. I don’t care for regencies set in France. I like paranormal, but usually not in my historicals. As a writer, however, I want to push the envelope. I don’t want to tell the same story everyone else is telling--or the same story I wrote in my last book. Yet I do feel a need to stay within general expectations. If I go too far a field, not only won’t my editor like it, more importantly, my readers won’t. And really, once I get into a story, the characters take over and tell me what to write.

So, what are your plot prejudices? Any plots you love, plots that are almost an autobuy? (It's okay if you like secret baby amnesia cowboy stories!) Would you pick up a book with a Transylvanian hunchbacked dwarf as a hero or is tall, dark, and handsome the only way to go?


JoAnn Ross said...

As a writer who's written a horribly scarred hero with a hook for a hand, I certainly hope tall, dark, and handsome isn't the only way to go. LOL

I've also written secret babies, amnesia, and cowboys, but never all in one book! At least not yet. I've learned never to say never.

I've spent my career breaking rules -- a HQ editor was shocked once to learn that I'd never seen a HQ tip sheet and wanted to send me one. By then I'd written about 40 Temptations, so I told her not to bother because I'd throw it away unread.

Maybe Regency readers have more expectations than readers of other genres (I would guess just the world the books are set in might limit some more wilder plotlines, though I could well be wrong about that), but generally I think that we all need to just write the story that works for us and our characters. There's an old saying among football coaches -- if you listen too much to the fans, you'll end up sitting in the stands beside them. I think this can be applied to writing, as well.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Very true, JoAnn, about not listening to the "fans." (Can we include reviewers here?) Mary Balogh comes to mind as a Regency-historical writer who has "broken" a lot of rules, including having a few heroes and heroines that don't fit the beautiful people mold!

Gail Dayton said...

I don't know about a Transylvanian hunchbacked dwarf--but I've read a book with a dwarf hero I thought was sexy as heck... I love marriage of convenience stories. I'm not real wild about cowboy stories--sorry, I know too many of them, living here in W. Texas and they tend to be really boring. (They're farmers with cows, okay?)(Except for that guy who had a beard down to his stomach he'd rubber-banded off into inch-long segments--a young guy--never did figure out what that was about...)I love Anne Stuart's bad boys, probably because I love a really good redemption plot.

I like to read a lot of different things--as I've said earlier--so while I do have my favorites, I'm open to most anything.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Gail, do you remember the title of the book with the sexy dwarf hero? Sounds like something that should go into my tbr pile! And the guy with the rubber-banded beard? Hmm. I can't match that. Mostly lawyers in my neck of the woods. There was a fellow who used to officiate at the kids' swim meets. He was tatooed over the visible portions of his arms and legs--and since this was at indoor swim meets, he was dressed in the stroke and turn official's uniform of blue shorts and white shirt--and lots of tatooes. Not something you see often in the DC 'burbs.

JoAnn Ross said...

Gail -- I grew up with cowboys, too, in Oregon's ranching country. And no, the ones I write so aren't like the real ones. But, you know, neither are my cop heroes -- or heroines -- for that matter.

I think what makes cowboys work well as heroes is that they have an old-fashioned, pretty black and white, good guy vs bad guy mentality that can be appealing in a romance. Now, in real life, a rodeo cowboy (who, of course, isn't always a "real" cowboy) might have a different girl in every town so he won't have to pay for a motel room, but the fact that they're still, in so many ways, living in the 19th century and put a women on a pedestal, can make them seem really refreshing to a city woman who's only known "players." Like the Dixie Chicks, "Cowboy take me away" song. It's a nice fantasy.