jgraeme2007 (jgraeme2007) wrote,
jgraeme2007
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I'm Not Arguing That Which You!

At the request -- behest? -- of a friend I read a couple of Suzanne Brockmann's novels this weekend: HOT TARGET, FORCE OF NATURE, and ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT. I admit I was pleasantly surprised, although to be honest I only read the storyline concerning FBI agent Jules Cassidy and hs on again / off again relationship with Hollywood actor Robin Chadwick. Brockmann is good at writing action scenes and she has a strong sense of humor. And like all writers who come up through the unforgiving ranks of mainstream romance, she understands pacing and how to plot. I like the fact that she allows both characters their strengths and weaknesses -- and a fair share of the good lines.

One thing she does that drives me nuts, though. She has a bad habit of undercutting the emotional intensity and power of her own scenes with the use of inappropriate and ill-timed internal dialog. For example, Jules and Robin (who's younger, closeted, and an alcoholic) will have an argument, and Jules will say some fairly brutal (if necessary) things to Robin, and we'll get Robin's mental response, usually along the lines of: Well, yowza, way to stick the knife in, G-man. 

Brockmann is straining for that certain wisecracking smartass tone here and it's unnecessary. In fact, it's jarring. Like she's trying to lighten up a dramatic moment even though the reader is not ready or needing her to yank on the window shade.  We don't need that comedic filter, and what it serves to do is throw the timing of the scene off. A powerful moment is weakened. 

Anyway. That's a quibble, but reading Brockmann reminded me of one of my main complaints about M/M fiction -- the lack of believable or meaningful conflict.  Let me hasten to add that Brockmann is good at creating believable and realistic conflict, and then resolving it fairly realistically. But sadly this is not true of much M/M writing -- both fan fiction and original fiction. In fact, the reason so much of original M/M fiction is weak on conflict might be because many of the authors started out writing fan fiction where often the plot revolves around something as simple as: Does He Feel the Same Way? 

Without conflict there really is no plot. Plot is conflict and it comes in various flavors, but in romance you can break it down into two categories: Internal and External. External means it comes from outside the relationship -- one of the characters has been kidnapped or has contracted a disease or is getting married in the morning. And you can get some terrific story mileage out of any and all of this, but the best conflict, to my way of thinking, is Internal. Meaning it evolves from the characters themselves -- their clashing goals and needs and personalities. In fact, usually the best romance plots are a combination of external and internal conflict, with the internal conflict often driving the external. 

Raise your hand if you didn't get that.

Actually, don't worry, I cover this in obsessive detail in the legendary writing book. 

When it comes to M/M romance, I see two consistent problems regarding conflict. Either the conflict is contrived and artificial (But, darling, he's my brother!) or it's a genuine conflict, but the writer resolves it quickly and painlessly. Or, worse, pretends it was never really there in the first place. 

I read an article this weekend about how humans crave aggression and violence, but you'd never know that from the majority of M/M writers. Is it something to do with confusing real life and fiction? Because in real life, right enough, our objective is to work things out with our significant others, to draw up treaties and smoke the peace pipe. To compromise where we can. To forgive and forget. But what makes for healthy real life relationships makes for boring fiction. So, while in real life it's a wonderful thing if you can find someone who's ready to laugh with you ten minutes after you were ready to kill each other, in fiction it's not so riveting. 

Now, true enough, every story doesn't need to be fraught with tension; there are charming little domestic sagas that are fine just as they are. Very comforting to read. The literary equivalent of flannel sheets and a cup of cocoa on a dark and stormy night -- sometimes that's exactly what you want in a love story. 

But if that's not what you're trying to write, if you're going for something with a bit of bite -- some angst, some hurt/comfort, some balls -- then it's got to be real. It's got to be a genuine conflict that can't be resolved by the characters sitting down and talking for five minutes -- because readers get quickly fed up with characters who aren't smart enough or grown up enough to sit down for five minutes and TALK. 

Okay, so who was that naked guy who jumped out of your bed/shower/birthday cake? 


One of the consistent things readers bitch about (this in reviews of Other Writers work, by the way -- at least so far, thankyouJesus) is/are characters who refuse to communicate -- because unless this is one of the main conflicts between your characters (that one of them is unable to discuss his feelings or deal with conflict) -- there's no excuse for it. Especially when people are living together. So the number one rule of creating believable conflict is that the conflict or point of contention can't be something that is resolved by a few minutes of honest discussion. Because who cares about two dolts who can't talk to each other?

And that can be tricky, because what we're talking about here is creating real obstacles to our characters' happiness -- we are sowing the seeds of an unhappy ending. That's why romance writing isn't easy: it's about taking two people who should be perfect for each other and then pointing out all the reasons of why it can never work -- and then coming up with valid solutions to those problems. It's also one reason why romance writing - done well -- is satisfying to read. These are really stories about beating the odds. 

Anyway, speaking of beating the odds, I've got 60,000 words due by the end of next week, so more on this later.
Tags: glbt fiction, m/m romance, m/m writing
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