Monday, February 27, 2012

I Can Find the Sugar ALL BY SELF

I really enjoy a sweet romance. It doesn't matter if the romance happens in a “romance” book or if the romance happens as a subplot. Romance is always good for this reader.

I also enjoy redemption tales, plots about healing emotional scars, stories about people working together to accomplish a common good (major or minor), and yarns about truly discovering who you are. I’ve been known to tear up just because a bunch of people who already liked each other all decided to do something good together. My heart warms when someone manages to change their life for the good. I grin when characters pet wiggly puppies.

Yes, I’m a total sap.

So here’s the thing. If you give me a book with a romance, cute dogs, a hero with emotional and/or physical scars that need to be healed, a heroine who must overcome the wounds of her past to move into her future, and a town full of wonderful people who are determined to work together toward a common goal, I’ll probably love it . . . but I might throw it across the room in a huff, instead.

Here’s a tip to avoid provoking my ire: HIDE THE SUGAR.

I don’t care if the entire book, front to back, is packed full of saccharine goodness. I’ll read and enjoy every bit of it and lick my fingers afterward. BUT. If you (or any of your characters) ever point any of it out, I’m gone. That’s not because I’m embarrassed to catch myself reading such cavity-inducing fare. It’s because, if you think you need to point it out, you’ll make me feel like a dim-witted two-year-old.

I haven’t taken kindly to that since I was four. You can ask my mother.

In a way, this is a sub-category of the famous advice to SHOW NOT TELL. Let me illustrate:
Fine: Heroine notices that hero’s eyes are haunted, and wants to help, since she’s a vet and naturally drawn to wounded mammals. Wise Woman character also notices and, keeping her reasoning to herself, sets out to help Hero heal his soul with a plan that will also, coincidentally, help save the town, provide a home for a local stray dog, and help Heroine overcome her rocky romantic past.
NOT Fine: Heroine-the-vet notices that hero’s eyes are haunted and wants to help. Later, when she sees him again, she notices and remarks to herself about the same thing. When her BFF asks about him, she ponders on how he looks wounded, both physically and emotionally. Wise Woman character engages Heroine in a conversation about how wounded Hero appears. Wise Woman character lays out her master plan for Heroine, who agrees that, yes, that would be the perfect plan to engage Hero’s skills, save the town, heal Hero’s poor wounded soul, and convince him to adopt the stray dog that has already decided to adopt Hero.
Please tell me you can see the difference.

I picked up the published book described above because I wanted a sweet contemporary romance story. I kept reading through some rather off-putting maid-butler dialogue because I really, truly am drawn to these sorts of plots. I simply could not continue past the “let’s fix Hero and save the town” conversation.

I don’t care if your characters want to fix each other, save towns and souls, and develop elaborate plans to do so. More power to them. I don’t even care if they work so long as you don’t spell them out for me ahead of time. Especially in a straight romance: I already know how it ends, so if you preview the plot for me, what do I have to wonder about?

I’m not two. If you just show me your characters going about the actions required by their elaborate plans, I’ll eventually figure out what they are, even if they never spell them out. I’ll figure out what the purpose of the plans are, even if no one tells me. I might actually conclude that the plans are clever, even if you don’t have one of your other characters around who can point it out to me.

I can find the sugar—and the message behind it—all by myself.
So, how do you like feeling like a two-year-old?


  1. Dang it, Robin. Now I want sugar for breakfast! Totally get what you mean, though. I don't like it when the plot is spelled out for me either!

  2. I think as authors we are worried readers will miss it. Is it because lots of us send our days and nights with 5 year olds who need to be told 17 times to brush their teeth? How could someone get something so subtle as our book's theme :)

    1. It's such a thin line, too. I'm constantly confusing my readers by not giving enough info, trying to avoid this very issue.

      Stupid balance.

      And I totally understand the kid problem. I actually get to hang with adults most of the time, but kids are never going to understand something that isn't spelled out. Several times.

    2. LOL! The repetition of motherhood might make us prone to such mistakes.

  3. Nice! I'm all for sugar, too. But you're right. I don't want my face rubbed in it.

    1. Though that could be good for exfoliation... :)

  4. LOL! This cracked me up but I know exactly what you are talking about. Please no sugar overload...thank you.

  5. Great post! I totally agree with you. I'm a sucker for the romantic subplot, but when it's blatant it drives me bonkers.

  6. This is exactly the sort of thing I hope my beta-readers will point out for me, because I'm TERRIBLE at catching them myself!

  7. I have a great fix, one that I've used: Keep it bitter! Make them struggle, scrape, and scratch to find the sugar at all. Then when they do, it tastes sublime, like you've been starved your whole life and just discovered chocolate for the very first time.