Deal Breakers: Have We All Gotten a Bit Too Cranky?

stock-vector-policeman-yelling-stop-retro-clip-art-58890815Even a casual visitor to the AAR message boards quickly learns one thing:  We are an opinionated bunch.

And in just about every thread somebody posts about a plot device they loathe.  Be it a couple who jumps into bed right off the bat or an arranged marriage, the list of plot devices that we loathe seems to number in the thousands.  Maybe millions.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here, but not by much.  We’re a bunch of cranky pants.

And, when you think about it, we’re leaving authors with little to nothing to work with.  Because constructing a plot that doesn’t feature any of the devices that someone loathes would be nearly impossible.

Here’s what I think:  We’ve gotten so narrow in our list of what we’re looking for when we read, that we’re denying ourselves a whole lot of good stuff.

Because a good author can make almost anything work. (Please repeat this to yourself at least ten times.)

Honestly, I’m just as bad.  Any book whose heroine is described as “a young miss” is one that’s off my list.  Add in adjectives like “feisty” and it’s so off the table I can’t even begin to tell you.  Yet, I just read – and loved – a book that featured a heroine who might have been described by a ham-handed back cover copywriter as a “a young miss” and maybe even the dreaded “feisty.”  It is a book I loved.  And, yes, I’m talking about The Other Guy’s Bride by Connie Brockway.

So, here’s my point: Maybe it’s time to lighten up on the absolute “I hate that” and the pet peeves and open ourselves up a little bit and give authors a little more room to work.

So, what do you think?  Are you ready to take the chance?

– Sandy AAR

28 Responses to “Deal Breakers: Have We All Gotten a Bit Too Cranky?”

  1. Cynthia Sax says:

    I LOVE taking cliches and plot devices and turning them on their head. I find that challenge a joy.

    And for me, romance is about the characters. I can read the same plot a zillion times with different characters and still find it entertaining.

    Plus often the writer does NOT write the back cover copy. We don’t design the covers either. We focus all of our energy into writing the best darn book we can write.

  2. maryann says:

    I really don’t pay attention to the book’s cover or the blurbs. I usually read them after I’ve read the book, and often wonder if the person writing them has read the book.

    If I like an author, or have read a positive review here, I buy the book and almost without fail enjoy it.

    Thanks AAR staff!

  3. farmwifetwo says:

    I read everything and anything as long as the plot and dialogue are good. My goodreads pg runs from non-fic to fiction to PNR to SciFi to romance to erotica…. you get jist.

    Thing is… I’m still waiting for those “good” authors. When you’ve read nearly 300 books this year – not including re-reads – you realize the majority are mediocre.

    I want place and time to be fleshed out and follow the “KISS” rule. I haven’t got time to wade through a complex setting nor do I care to.

    I want dialogue that makes me care about the characters. The majority of authors think the more ‘angst’ the better the story. I simply lose patience with the unending “I’m soooo hard done by’s”… and quit. I live in autism land… both ends of the spectrum… suck it up and get over yourselves.

    I want a mystery plot that makes sense. Leaving large holes in it just to magically solve the case….. poor writing.

    I don’t think my list of wants is unreasonable. There are a few plot devices… like the “surprise” baby ones… that simply do not interest me. But there are many other books out there on different topics so those “plots” are IMO a non-issue.

    Good writing…. I’d rather an author wrote one book a year and wrote an excellent one at that… than 3 a year and have me quit reading your books by the end of the 2nd one since it’s obvious that books 2 and 3 were “slapped together” to get finished by a deadline. The author may think people don’t notice… but those of us that read a lot, that aren’t “fans”… we do… and we’ll write it in our reviews.

  4. wendy says:

    Without quoting, ditto on what farmwife said.

  5. melinda says:

    Thank you for saying this! I agree with you 100% – the good author can take the cheesiest plot devices and turn them into the most wonderful story!

  6. Kistie(J) says:

    I’ve learned like you Sandy, (and Justin Beiber) to never say never. I have happily discovered that like you said, a skilled author can take a plot device I swear would never work for me and somehow do that very thing.

    And I hope we don’t narrow it down for authors too much * g* because I’ve also discovered that a plot device you may hate is one I really enjoy and vice versa. I think for dear authors out there it’s sometimes (probably often times) best. If they almost ignore us readers and just write what’s in their heart.

  7. xina says:

    To me, it al boils down to good writing, good story telling. If an author can do that, I’m on board. I sometimes LOL at all the fences readers put up around themselves. Really…get out of the neighborhood. There’s a lot to like out there.

  8. Victoria S says:

    I had gotten a bit too hidebound, and then I discovered this site. I have read books by authors a few years ago I would have put in my “never-gonna-happen” pile. I am NOT a big paranormal/vampire/werewolf fan. I am currently reading Heather Killough-Walden’s “Big Bad Wolf” series based solely on a recommend by AAR. I did the same with Nancy Gideon’s “Moonlight” series and am loving them both. Cowboys still don’t thrill me, but who knows, I may someday pick up one and be hooked. I leave myself open to the possibilities.

    I am still one of the few (according to posts I have read) who still gets a kick out of Stephanie Plum killing a car in the Janet Evanovich books. And Kistie(J) is correct, sometimes an author has got to just put it out there, and hope that the readers catch up; which I guess is pretty hard, as sales are what greases the publishing wheel.

    Many of my new-to-me authors have come from recommends from this site; Judith Ivory,Lisa Gardner,Anne Perry are a few who immediately come to mind.

    Because a good author can make almost anything work (thank God)!

  9. Christine says:

    One thing I have noticed from these boards is that someone else’s pet peeve is the thing someone else loves about a romance. I agree if that authors listened to every complaint there would be no plot or protagonists left to write about. Happily authors don’t listen to every opinion (or I hope they don’t) and there are so many genres and types of romances now there is surely something to please everyone- even if everything doesn’t please everyone.

    I and I agree 100% that a good author can make you like something you didn’t think you would before reading it.

    • Cris says:

      Christine: One thing I have noticed from these boards is that someone else’s pet peeve is the thing someone else loves about a romance. I agree if that authors listened to every complaint there would be no plot or protagonists left to write about. Happily authors don’t listen to every opinion (or I hope they don’t) and there are so many genres and types of romances now there is surely something to please everyone- even if everything doesn’t please everyone.I and I agree 100% that a good author can make you like something you didn’t think you would before reading it.

      ITA with this. Authors can’t please everyone with a book anymore than a chef’s new special could please everyone who walks into their restaurant. That’s why there are choices!

      IME, people seem to be a lot more … pushy when it comes to their opinions these days. (Or maybe it has always been like this out in the wide, wide world and just not in my small part of it.) It’s almost as if a lot of people get offended anytime someone dares to have a different opinion.

      Personally, the first factor I consider when choosing a book is the setting. I have zero interest in westerns. I also look for storylines that are more lighthearted loveable characters.

      Yes, I often jump on the chance to read a book that features a “feisty little miss” as its heroine! lol

  10. Lori says:

    There are a few tropes I can’t stand, but often, my disappoint lies not with the trope as with tired story telling that makes me feel I’m reading the same ol’ same ol’.

    IMHO, an author who wants to build a story around one or more well-established tropes needs to figure out a way to make the context and characters seem new and interesting to the reader. I think this is one reason The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie was so successful–it gave us a hero who was new and different, and this made the romance (which, if you look at it, included many of the same elements as numerous other romances) interesting.

  11. elainec says:

    I guess I’m easy to please. I like most books I read. If I were grading them, I would give them a :-)(B). Some writers write fabulous books, but I’ve noticed that some whose books I’ve stared(DIK) in my own bookkeeping system in the past, are now putting out many books in a year. I think the quality has suffered for all but a few great writers. They are still better writers than many others, but they don’t overwhelm me . Their books no longer say, “Read me,” “Don’t put me down,” “Read me again in a month.” “Reread me every year.” I’ve read “Pride and Prejudice” nearly every year sine I was a teen. That’s a lot of years. I never tire of it. Loretta Chase, Anne Mallory, Joanna Bourne, Sherry Thomas, and Meredith Duran write almost exclusively DIK’s in my opinion. They tend not to write using a lot of conventions. If they do, they also have great characters, dialog, and other compelling aspects in their stories.
    Farmwifetwo wrote an excellent commentary on books. I agree with her on most things.
    I’ve noticed lately in the reviews that the reviewer often says a book has a certain “device” and she disliked that “device” and the book suffered from it. I think that’s not really fair.

  12. Susan/DC says:

    I agree with farmwifetwo about most of what she says, although I do like complex settings — like anything else, if done well they can add interest and atmosphere to a book.

    Certainly have to plead guilty for saying there are tropes and characters I either don’t like or feel “meh” about. I’m not a big fan of very young heroines unless it’s a YA book or of big age differences between hero and heroine. I’ve definitely put books back on the shelf in the bookstore when I realized that the book in my hand contained them. But (and you knew there would be a but) I’ve read books by authors who make them work, and some of those books are even on my DIK shelf. I think the key is to be open to quality, in whatever form it takes. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have likes/dislikes as long as our minds aren’t closed.

  13. Ell says:

    Very interesting discussion. And yep, I agree with the majority. It’s one thing if it’s just plain bad writing – I think, we can all agree on how we feel about that, but certain plot devices, and cliches are different.

    Recently I tried to read a book I couldn’t finish, and figured the reason was because of lame plot devices, and the afore mentioned cliches…and yet, I have read, and loved books with the same kind of cliches/plot devices. After all, don’t cliches in the hands of a really talented author remind you why they became cliches in the first place?

    So yeah, it all comes down to the author, imo.

  14. Georgia Fox says:

    I hope writers will continue creating all sorts of heroines and storylines – not be discouraged by what some don’t like at any particular time, or what the “trends” are. It’s impossible to please everyone all the time and if a writer sets out to do that, they’re doomed. Some like feisty heroines, some don’t. I happen to like “feisty” as long as its not overdone and if its organic to the character. Many of my heroines have been described as such and yet that’s always by people who loved the book. I’ve never had anyone say “she was feisty and I hated her”. At least, not yet!
    So for me it has worked. It’s all subjective and writers have to remember that. I do write to please readers, of course, but I have to write what’s in my head. The characters wouldn’t have it any other way.

  15. Tee says:

    I’m pretty mediocre with most plot devices. I just don’t bother with some books if I feel they are all about a plot that totally disinterests me. I would never expect an author to cater to my tastes and I believe no author cannot satisfy everybody anyway. However, I will scout for the ones who do write to my interests—and isn’t that the way it should be?

    If we the readers didn’t have these likes and dislikes and posted about them, though, I think the message boards could become a little dull. I don’t like whining (and there is a difference between that and stating an opinion), but I do enjoy hearing about the contrasts in enjoyment of plots, characters and writing styles.

    So, narrowmindedness is definitely not the way to be; but after years of reading, discerning what pleases a reader does make sense. But I agree with you, no whining allowed, though. LOL

  16. farmwifetwo says:

    Susan, I don’t mind a complex setting. But keep the idea’s simple. Nalini Sighn, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brooke’s Steampunk, Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar etc… all complex settings all KISS.

  17. Dante4043 says:

    Jean Johnson’s recent book “A Soldier’s Duty” would have stayed on the shelf if not for someone challenging me to try something different in my reading range. Best book of 2011. I’ve read it three times so far this year because it is that good.

    I have to agree that expanding your horizons is truly fantastic when you have such a wonderful example. However, there are a lot of books that just don’t make the grade and are not worth wasting reading time over. My time is valuable and my “ME” time is even more precious. When I have a chance to read, I hate wasting it on a dud.

  18. Susan says:

    I’m an equal opportunity gal. I don’t have any dealbreaker plots, and I will read just about any genre, even non-romance, all except out and out horror. I agree, any plot device works in the hands of a skilled writer.

    Bring ‘em on! Bring ‘em all on…

    :)

  19. Amy says:

    I am pretty open whether its cheesy or not. I read to get away to me if its regency or round about that era and a romance I ususally like it. Now don’t get me wrong their are a few I have not been able to finish because a bad book is a bad book. The problem is sometimes you read the blogs and I wonder if people forget what they are ready most of these books are written for pleasure. I don’t go into the romance section looking for the next Greatest American novel.

  20. RobinB says:

    This is a fascinating discussion, and it’s interesting to see how other readers feel about whether a plot line or a plot “device” is a “deal breaker” in terms of how they feel about a particular novel.

    I’ve read romance novels that are set in many different time frames: contemporary, Western, medieval, and of course, the Regency! As a former history major, I would have to say my deal breaker is anachronistic dialogue, especially in historicals. Now, I’ve never not finished a novel set in late eighteenth-century England because someone in the story said, “Okay” :), but given enough of these boo-boos, it will affect my enjoyment of the story. So for me, it’s not so much cheesy plots (as someone said, this isn’t Lit. 101), as it is sloppy research as well as an editor who wasn’t doing her/his job!

  21. Tinabelle says:

    Interesting conversation. For me, it is all about the writing, the character development, and how an author handles plot devices. I agree with others who have said that a skilled writer can make any trope/plot device work. Others have also expressed my view that tastes are so varied that it would be impossible for one author to please everyone. We all have different tastes and there are plenty of books to go around. Reading would be boring if that were the case.

    Like any industry, once something catches on, everyone wants to imitate or clone it because it sells. All of a sudden, publishers want all of their authors to write (fill in the latest trend.) I think authors should be allowed to be true to themselves. I have seen disastrous results when authors have been pushed into another sub-genre or plot device by publishers. While some authors can make the transition, many cannot and it shows in their work. Another result is generic, bland work.

    One thing I do appreciate about AAR reviews is that the reviewers admit to a bias for or against a certain plot device if they feel it has influenced their opinion of a book. I can watch for it having been warned. I can put the review in perspective if that is a plot device that I am open to. AAR still has the most comprehensive, unbiased reviews out there IMO.

  22. erika says:

    I won’t relent on my dealbreakers. This year twice I caved and read books with dealbreakers and didn’t enjoy either. So I decided to stay within my comfort zone.

  23. Louise says:

    Well said, Sandy! I totally agree! A good author can make a cheesy plot device work. Heck, some of my favorite author’s have “formulas”, but they are such good authors that they make each book seem unique despite the formula!

    • Tee says:

      <a href=Sandy AAR: Even a casual visitor to the AAR message boards quickly learns one thing: We are an opinionated bunch.

      Oh, I meant to comment on this, too, Sandy. I’m not exactly sure how you meant this statement to be taken, but it’s a big part of the reason why I like AAR above the few other sites I’ve visited. I don’t really hop around as many do, but I like how we feel comfortable saying what we think (respectively, of course). Most of us don’t feel the need to be wishy-washy nor to straddle the fence, dropping from side to side just to be able to sway with the majority. We love authors’ comments on the boards, but still want to feel comfortable voicing our feelings toward different novels (again, respectively).

      So, yeah, we may be opinionated, but I think most of us enjoy hearing both similar and opposing views stated logically, and sometimes maybe not so logically. Actually, we have you and the other staffers that work with you to thank, because you continue to allow this forum to operate that way. So—THANK YOU!

  24. Tee says:

    Oops, I meant “respectfully,” not “respectively” in the above post. My bad.

  25. Diane Farr says:

    I think it’s true that one reader’s dealbreaker is another reader’s auto-buy-! For example, I adore “arranged marriage” books and hope to write one someday. If I can just come up with the perfect characters and situation, I will be all over that one.

    So look out.

    Diane the Troublemaker
    http://www.amazon.com/author/dianefarr

  26. lauren says:

    If the characters are well written and believable it doesn’t matter what other kind of foo foo is swirling around them. I read them all good and bad because more time than not a writer does hit the mark and if I reject them for any reason I might miss a gem!