Wednesday, September 14, 2005

But I Like the Kitchen Sink

I started a new book yesterday - new-to-me author and a new-to-me series. Before I picked up this title, I checked out the review on AAR. I'm not going to tell you the name of the book yet until I've finished it, at which time I'll form a final opinion and will happily share. But the review on AAR for this particular book as well as the other books in this series was way less than favorable. That's why I checked out the first title from the library rather than commit to a purchase.

Anyway, I decided to read this book despite AAR's bad review. This goes to prove that negative reviews don't necessarily keep people from reading books, or at least me. But I will confess that my expectations for a good read plummeted when I saw that "D-" grade, and I find myself looking for clues to corroborate those negativities the reviewer pointed to specifically.

However, other than one of my greatest pet peeves in any form of writing*, so far I'm enjoying this book quite a bit. The reviewer complained that the story fell into the "everything but the kitchen sink" trap of including nearly every romance novel cliché ever used. Since I'm only about a third of the way into the book, I can't say if this is true or not. Who knows. By the end I might agree with the reviewer.

But here's the thing. I confess to having a thing for all of those romance clichés. I'm a sucker for them. It's why I keep reading romance novels, because quite honestly, I do believe that everything has pretty much been done already. I open a new romance novel and expect to encounter a cliché or two or three. If I'm really lucky, the clichés will be my favorite kind (damsel in distress, knight in shining armor, bedside vigils, enemies into lovers) done very well, and the book ends up on the keeper shelf. The books I toss in the UBS bag or don't even finish are the ones that include clichés I don't love done badly (secret babies, rich businessmen and virginal secretaries, Big Misunderstandings with transparent premises).

In the instance of a book containing too many clichés, yes, there is a point where the hero and heroine have suffered enough for love and the inclusion of more traditional obstacles are just more for the sake of more. If a writer can't maintain an entire novel-length story based on a couple clichés, she (or he) needs to go back to the beginning and try again rather than throw in another been-there-done-that to add fluff.

With my current read, I've encountered three clichés with a set up for at least a fourth. I've got the woman who has sworn off gorgeous, womanizing men married to a gorgeous, womanizing man (enemies into lovers), a near-death of the heroine (bedside vigil), and a commitment phobic man having feelings for his unwanted wife. The set-up for the Big Misunderstanding is standing by in the form of a rival suitor for the wife's affections, and this concerns me a bit because it needs to be handled carefully from here on out or I will get seriously annoyed.

I guess my point is that having everything but the kitchen sink doesn't have to be horrible if it's done well and makes sense. I do admit that this delicate touch isn't something most writers have, but it does happen.

I'll get back to you on the final verdict to see if this writer has the right stuff.

*My biggest pet peeve in any sort of writing is when the characters consistently call each other by name during dialogue. It usually goes something like this:

"Lola, I don't know why you insist on teasing me this way," James said.

"I'm not teasing you, James. I honestly don't love you in that way," Lola replied with a sly grin.

"That's crap, Lola, and you know it. You've wanted me ever since that day you saw me skinny dipping in the old swimming hole." James grabbed Lola by the shoulders.

"Let me go, James," she said, her breath catching in her throat.

"No, Lola, I'm not going to let you go. This is what I'm going to do."

Before Lola knew what was happening, his lips had caught hers in a bruising kiss. She shoved her hands against his chest, breaking the contact that had set her entire body bursting into flame. "James, you are a cad!"

Nothing looks more amateurish than this technique. People do not talk this way. A simple outloud reading of such dialogue would show how unnatural it sounds.

So all writers out there, stop doing that. Just stop.


meljean brook said...

There are quite a few cliches I love as well -- friends into lovers, enemies into lovers (I'm easily pleased, yes? :-D) good vs. evil, beauty/beast. *happy sigh*

McVane said...

I wondered about that, too, addressing each other by their names so often. I recently read a romance that has a scene with two characters in one room, and they use each other's name in almost every dialogue line for three f. pages.

"You did what, Dina?!"
"Oh, Paul, I did what I had to do."
"But, Dina, you can't do that."
"Paul, please understand."
"Dina, I don't understand!"
"You will understand, Paul."
"You shouldn't have done it, Dina!"

Every dialogue line, all the way through, for THREE BLOODY PAGES! When the scene reached its end, I almost killed myself from crying so hard with happiness.

meljean brook said...

Funny thing -- I responded at work yesterday, and only minutes after I read this, one of my co-workers came to talk to me. I can't stand this woman, because SHE USES MY NAME IN EVERY SENTENCE! Gah!

"Is that you, Mick? How ya doing, Mick? Is it busy today, Mick? Oh, you sound terrible, Mick! Mick, you should really take another day off to recover."

Every. Single. One. I usually try to avoid her at all costs, because it annoys me so much.

So in a book? Definitely.

Alyssa said...

OH! I hate seeing names in every line of dialogue. Maili, I would have killed myself long before reading three pages. Ugh.