Monday, January 17, 2011

Plotlines...good, bad, and throw book against the wall

by Gina Welborn

Book proposals.

For those of you who write fiction, you know exactly what I'm not saying in that last sentence. For those of you who don't write fiction, you're lost. Bear with me.

Think root canal.

Actually, no. I've had a root canal and it really wasn't that painful.

To better explain where I'm going, lemme go back to last week. So on Wednesday my agent (the fabulous Tamela Hancock Murray) asked me to put together a book proposal (one book or a 3-book series) for a CBA publisher. Sure, I said. Then hung up the phone and went, "I have no idea what to write. Ugggh. What was I thinking?!"

After a few hours of researching, I called my mentor-friend, Laurie Alice Eakes. She wisely steered me away from one idea and toward another. So, I had basic concept. But individual plots? Nada. More researching. Lots and lots of prayers for divine inspiration. Still, nada.

That's when I decided to beg my Inky sisters for idea. Anything.

As I mulled over their ideas (well, Lisa's ideas, Dina's I was doing my best to ignore), I walked frustratedly out of my office and collected the mail from the mailbox. One of the pieces of mail was a flyer for a local bookstore. Ooooh. Inside are fiction new release blurbs. Maybe seeing how each story is condensed will spur my creativity? Nada.

Instead what I saw in that book flyers irked me.

In the last twent-five years, I've read a slew of romances...and I've learned one thing: I like pretty much all plotlines but one. Wait. To be fair, that's not a fair statement. Perhaps it'd be better phrased, "Of all romance novel plotlines I've read, there's only one I utterly despise."

Before I share, pause reading for a moment and ask yourself, "What basic romance plot do I dislike to the point I'd practically refuse to read any stories like that?" Millionare cowboy boss secret baby? Millionare sheik boss secret baby? If you aren't a romance reader, then focus on your prefered genre.

Okay, my confession. My dislike-the-most (and please know I mean no offense to authors who've written novels with this plotline) novels are those where heroine's husband dies and through the course of the story she falls in love with her dead husband's brother. Storyline made worse if the brothers are twins. Storyline made even more worse if she's pregnant.

I wish I could figure out my particular aversion to widowed heroines marrying their brothers-in-law, but I can't think of any psychological scar. Just think it's...well, gross. Icky. And in the case of twin brothers, rather creepy. Considering this plotline keeps being used, I'm wondering if I'm the only one with an aversion to it. Hmmm.....

Of course, on the flip side, I can think of several plotlines that I'll read again and again. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Cinderella stories. Or pretty much any fairytale one. Marriage of convenience or arranged marriage. Hidden identity/undercover. Amnesia stories are fabulous...if done right.

I could really go on and on about plotlines I like and give examples, but since I've been working on four different book proposals (including one 3-book series) in the last month, I'd really like to know from y'all what romance plots do you blech at and which ones make you snatch the book off the shelves.

Oh, and what 2011 upcoming releases are you anxiously awaiting? My two next-to-be-read novels are FOUND IN TRANSLATION by Roger Bruner and KAYDIE by Penny Zeller. Roger's book is an older Young Adult fiction. Penny's is a historical western romance.

Let's talk BLECHY plots and LOVE-IT! plots.


  1. Blechy and Love-it plots, eh.


    - Pregnant widow falls for dead husband's brother. Yes, you read that right. And although I'm not crazy about the twin thing, I read one from the Australian outback a few years ago that was so well done it's stayed with me. (Not well enough to remember the title, however.)

    - Secret baby stories

    - MOC (Marriage of Convenience)

    - Rescuer

    Blechy storylines:

    - ummm... where there's a 3rd party involved. I want my romance to be about the H and h only. (Children acceptable)

    Books I'm looking foward to reading:

    - Julie Lessman's A Hope Undaunted. It's a 2010 book but I just received it a week ago.

    - any from our Inky sisters and Seeker friends.

    - all other books are gravy.

    Anita Mae.

  2. I can't think of my preferences. So why, you ask, do I bother to get in this conversation?

    I don't know but I do know that I've seen a lot of "emotionally burned woman returns to home town she promised herself she'd never go back to." I've liked the ones I've read but saw a lot of them while judging contests in the last two years.

    I love 'my dark secret is darker than your dark secret' plot lines. I just made that one up.

    The more writers I get to know, the more my TBR pile grows and I fear I'll never catch up.

  3. Blechy--when all romance novels end with 'happily ever after.' Life doesn't happen that way most of the time. Life is hard work. The opposite is difficult and shocking, but something we need to hear so we can trust the Lord more for the 'endings' of our life circumstances, not Romeo! OR books with explicit sex scenes that are not Biblical.

  4. I agree with Linda to a point. I'd prefer not to know how the book ends by midway through chapter one. Of course I realize that it's not classic romance at that point.

    I love...
    Books where several men are introduced and you don't know who the heroine is going to choose.

    For romance...
    I like arranged marriage and mail order bride stories, maybe because they deal more with working to develop love than stumbling onto your prince charming.

    I don't like...
    Don't kill me inkies. I personally don't like suspense mixed into my romance. If I do read romance, I read it for a light, relaxing read, and suspense makes me feel nervous. And while I will occasionally read a Christian thriller novel, I prefer my suspense and romance in separate books.

    Gina, kudos on the short, fun post.

  5. My number one blech is small child involved who is wayyy to cute... really dislike cutsie dialect. A very famous author does this and I'm sorry, but it makes my skin crawl.

    So shoot me. (I probably deserve it.)

    I'm reading Someone to Blame right now, by C.S.Lakin. Very intense.

    I've got Patti Lacy's Rythm of Secrets and Michael Phillips' Angel Harp on tap. Can't wait!!!

  6. Dina, I read a mystery novel with three "heroes" in it. Drove me bonkers not knowing which one to care about the most. Ended up, one of the heroes was the villain.

    I'm sorta with you on romance and suspense. I don't mind where one is stronger than the other, but when the author tries to balance the two, well, it just doesn't work for me.

  7. So, Anita, was the pregnant-widow-dead-husband-brother-hero romance one by Mary Hawkins? What was it about that set-up that worked for you?

  8. Linda, I hear you about romances that end with HEA Everthings. Some problems shouldn't be resolved...or even worked out so everything is happy.

  9. Deb, I so totally could go for 'my dark secret is darker than your dark secret' plot lines. CBA needs more gothic romances.

  10. Cheryl, on disliking cutsey children...I'm with ya. That said from a mom who has more than one cutsey child.

    How about children who say just the right thing at just the right moment? Wisdom from a child.

    Here's one for discussion: What about books with prominant pets?

    I read a romance few years back where I felt I was reading a SPCA pamplet on pet adoption.

    Obviously I have no problem with any author having her villain kill a pet. Child, no.

  11. Linda,
    Maybe fiction should be labeled HEA. The fiction genre known as romance does not give that option. We blogged about the lack of realism in romances and if it even is detrimental at times.

    It certainly raises the expectations of 'love' in an unrealistic way if we're not careful!

    Oh, I see Gina the cat lady is at work again making friends with other feline fans...
    I just looked around and realized mine went to her usual afternoon pillow so I can actually see the keyboard and monitor.

    Who needs to brush a cat? They use your sleeves. I have to change my clothes when I want to prepare anything to eat :(

    sorry I forgot. We were talking books here not cats.

  12. About cutsie kids... I think it's reading words that are written in lisp form are like nails on chalkboard for me. Anyway, some find it adorable...
    But yes, a wise child can be effective.

    Irene Brand did a great job in An Appalachian Christmas, juggling an orphaned child, an aunt who made a promise, and a gorgeous mountain man with a secret...

    I can go there.

  13. I think the child thing is like any other annoying attempt to represent dialect. Focus on using the right words, not cutsie contractions and creative spelling. If you want a lisp, just mention it and let the reader imagine it or not at their own leisure.

  14. Oh, I love marriage of convenience/mail order bride plots. They never get old to me. I also love Cinderella plots -- wealthy hunk who falls for the intelligence and grace of the spunky-but-not-wealthy heroine, a la Pride and Prejudice.

    I confess that I tend to avoid "married to one brother, ends up with the other brother" plots since I read a particular book years ago (which shall remain nameless) where the husband uses the Bible to justify his wife having a baby with his brother.

    But, if the unmarried heroine is torn between friends or brothers, I don't necessarily have a problem with it. I just want to know who to bond to!

    Hmm, I like when kids are involved in the romance, and most of the time I haven't read ones that are too super cutesy. I suppose it would get old fast if it was treacly. She isn't CBA, but Barbara Metzger writes hysterical kids into lots of her Regencies.

    Fun post, Gina!

  15. Sorry ladies, when it comes to HEA - that's what I love. I read to escape reality - real life is tough enough without finding it in my entertainment. I WANT to put the book down with a contented sigh. I hate it when I am still crying an hour later. Yes, there can be hardships and struggles along the way, but give me a fairytale ending any day. :)

    As far as plots go, I don't have any specific faves or pet hates. As long as it is not too predictable and ends on a high note.

  16. Hmm. I think I just solved the mystery of who gave my other entry the low score in last year's Golden Heart... (That would be the book where the heroine marries her dead husband's brother. Does it help if dead guy was abusive (as was his father before him)??? And the hero had run away from home years earlier because he couldn't stand his relatives -- and his biggest fear was being like them??? And the hero/heroine didn't even meet until after the brother's death???)

    I have to admit, I won't read romances with a sheik hero. I have too many Not-Without-My-Daughter worries to buy into a happily ever after. There are other things I don't care for, but a really good writer can make me overlook a lot.

    And Linda, a book categorized as a genre romance is going to have a happily ever after ending. People who read genre fiction have certain expectations of the particular genre. A HEA is a requirement for a "romance" -- just like mystery readers expect a solution to the mystery. (Even though we all know many crimes go unsolved.) In genre fiction the ending isn't in doubt -- it's the journey (the twists and turns and surprises the author is able to incorporate) that readers are looking for. Books that don't follow the expectations of a specific genre are usually considered general fiction or literary fiction. (Or sometimes women's fiction if the story is about a woman's journey.) The love story may even be the central focus (Romeo and Juliet, Bridges of Madison County, Casablanca) but the ending may not resolve with the man and woman married and living happily ever after.

  17. CJ, no worries, Jen has a married to the dead man's brother story too. It was her first pubbed book and she did a good job. Luckily we don't have to like all the same things in order to like one another.

    I'd have to say I'm tired of the return to home town you despised stories. And I really dislike secret baby stories. I mean REALLY dislike.

    On the other hand I love stories with a triangle. I think they work better when the heroine really does have a hard choice to make. I.e. it's not totally obvious who she'll end up with anyway. (Stephanie Meyer I'm looking at you and your Twilight books!) It must be my desire for suspense bleeding over even to this!

  18. Least favorite plots: Any story that involves some terminal illness that the character does not miraculously recover from.
    Kids are a yes, though the cutesy thing is pesky. Pets are a yes, but if anything happens to the pet I will throw the book away.
    Favorite plots: Cheesy, I know, but I love the "getting together with crush from HS who doesn't recognize her because she's beautiful now." Any fairy tale storyline. And stories that throw the hero and heroine into some horribly awkward situation together... bounty hunter and bail jumper type.

  19. this has been a lot of fun. I've decided I don't have any likes or dislikes. Just know what I like when I read it.

    It can be a great plot idea but if it's not well written... likewise a great writer can make any plot work.

    how's that for being weak and mushy?

    CJ, it's great to see you here. Good things to come at the Inkwell!

  20. CJ, I didn't judge your entry. LOL. In fact, I haven't judged the Golden Heart in the last two years. Not that I intended on not judging. Just since I didn't enter, I forgot to sign up to judge.

    Still, I do my part with judging the Genesis. :-)

    I suppose I ought to clarify...if the heroine marries dead husband's brother storyline is done well, then I'm okay with it.

    In fact, I remember one ABA romance where the heroine and the brother had been in love prior to her marrying the husband. Then hubby died. Instead of hooking up, the heroine chose to walk away because her love was so great she knew the best thing for the brother was for her to leave. Put past behind them.

    Hey, Deb. It was a gothic. Wish I could remember the title or author.

    Anyhoo, I've decided that someday I'll have to write a heroine-falls-for-dead-husband's-brother story since it's a plotline I don't like. Seems to me the real challenge to an author is to take a plot or a character type she doesn't like and make herself like it.

    Kinda like me with love-at-first-sight stories. Which is why I'm writing one. :-)

  21. Lisa, you got me thinking about secret baby stories. While I do like them, I also despise them. Maybe I've read too many one-night-stand ABA romances.

    If an editor asked you to write a secret baby story, how would you do it?

    I know how I would. Will. Someday...when I write a contemporary romance with suspense elements.

  22. Way to make me think. If an editor asked me yo write a secret baby story I'd really struggle.

    I think I'd play fast and loose with who the baby is secret from. I.e. probably not the dad. (That's the part I hate, because it feels so wrong to me. He has a right to know. And the child has a right to know who its father is.) The plots that try to get the Dad out of the way at just the right moment so she never has the chance to tell him... but then years later everything is orchestrated to bring them back into contact. Well those feel contrived. One good conversation and everything would have been solved. But no, all the pieces have been manipulated into place to make it fit the author's agenda.

    I can see a rebellious young person falling in love ala Romeo and Juliet and wanting to keep the secret from her parents so she runs away. Especially in a historical. But in a historical I'd think she'd also want the dad along for support. If he didn't step up to the plate and marry her he'd have to end being an antagonist.

    So if I were asked to write a secret baby story, it would probably end up being more of a "my baby is secretly illegitimate" story.

  23. If I remember right, Jennifer Hudson Taylor's book has the medieval scottish heroine betrothed to one brother, but he dies. That was a good twist on the brother plot, because the heroine wasn't attached to the first brother and wasn't in mourning or anything. Or maybe that was a Kathleen Morgan book?

    I'm sure with the right "twist" any plot can work.

    My new goal is to learn how to write some of these simpler plots and familiar story lines. I try to make everything too complex. I probably need to save those for later in my career.

  24. I've done a couple of secret baby stories. In neither case did I set out to create a secret baby story -- it just grew organically from the story I was creating.

    I think a lot of the familiar tropes are used over and over because they provide an easy path to conflict. The trick is to give familiar story lines an unusual twist and make the characters well motivated. Too many times, the heroine of a secret baby story doesn't have sufficient reason to keep something as important as a child a secret. If a woman is going to keep such a secret, she'd better have a good reason to believe that child's life would be in danger if word got out -- or else she just looks petty.

  25. I've done a couple of secret baby stories. In neither case did I set out to create a secret baby story -- it just grew organically from the story I was creating.

    I think a lot of the familiar tropes are used over and over because they provide an easy path to conflict. The trick is to give familiar story lines an unusual twist and make the characters well motivated. Too many times, the heroine of a secret baby story doesn't have sufficient reason to keep something as important as a child a secret. If a woman is going to keep such a secret, she'd better have a good reason to believe that child's life would be in danger if word got out -- or else she just looks petty.

  26. Lisa's right, my first published book was about a pregnant widow who fell in love with her dead husband's brother. (Waving at CJ - great to see you!) But it's okay if not everybody likes it... that's the thing about fiction. We're not always going to enjoy the same thing.

    Susie, I know EXACTLY which book you're talking about. The author (ABA) was one of my favorites. In fact, she's the one that made me want to write romancey-type fiction. But I have to say, that was probably my least favorite of her books.

    I'll read just about anything if it's done well. What I don't like is when too much is left hanging at the end of the book. I recently read a novel in which the ending was pretty much implied... you could figure out part of it, but the rest was dangling in the wind. I guess the author wanted readers to think about how it ended, but I didn't like it. Frankly, I want the author to wrap things up for me. It doesn't all need to be neat and happy, but it needs to be complete!


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