Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Constructing The Opening Of Action Romance

Story openings are difficult to construct and even harder to troubleshoot once constructed.

Information must be coded, compact, subtle, "off the nose" and at the same time explain to a totally disinterested reader why they should read (or viewer why they should view) this story.

I've discussed openings and how to construct them in the context of many other posts on aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com -- posts on theme, character, plot, and the other working parts of story.

Here's some posts on structure which reference the skills of constructing an opening.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2008/09/sexy-information-feed.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/01/worldbuilding-for-science-fiction.html

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/10/7-proofing-steps-for-quality-writing.html

And here's one on first chapters by Linnea Sinclair

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2008/03/first-chapter-foibles.html

And my usage of the words "story" and "plot" just to be clear about that.  Theme is what glues them together.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/08/plot-vs-story.html


If you've been trying to apply these techniques, I now have a really great example to illustrate them. 

Here is the novel IMMORTAL by Gene Doucette - a writer I met via twitter and #scifichat #scriptchat and others.

Immortal

The structural issues make this a very borderline book, and it may not make it into my professional review column for that reason alone.  However, there is a compelling resonance here that makes this a "can't put it down" read.

The structural issues that are a put-off for me might well be the real source of interest to others.  Structure is not absolute.  There are elements of taste involved.

So I have to say that the structure chosen to tell this story seems unnecessarily involuted to me.  It's too complex for the material.

What is this structure?

The first-person narrative does hold to the POV of first person (an Immortal born so long ago language was only grunts).  So I have no complaints there.

The structure is clever. 

Each chapter is introduced by a few paragraphs set in italics that are happening while the main character is a prisoner (hung hero) in a laboratory setting where they are obviously investigating his immortality and immune system.

If the novel were told starting with his capture and going through his escape attempts until he succeeded, it would be a drag, long, boring hung-hero dealing with distractions rather than advancing the plot.

The plot is not about him escaping prison. 

The actual narrative tells the story of this Immortal discovering that someone is after him.

This "someone" is rich and powerful and hires "demons" as hit men tasked with taking him alive.

Other people, though, die all around him. 

So the straight-through plot is this Immortal being chased by humans, hit-men, demons, (actually some online gamers being used as dupes) and there are vampires, and a female who may be as old as he is (or older) he isn't sure.  There's another woman involved, too, so you have a sort of "triangle" situation which isn't made clear even at the end of this volume.  But the ending leaves us eager to read the next installment in this guy's Relationship problem. 

He's been playing tag with this Immortal woman for millennia.  (I told you this is good stuff.) And in the end of this novel, he learns some things about her, and his Relationship to the woman he meets in this novel changes substantially -- so the plot is advanced and there is a solid "ending" leading to a sequel. 

At JUST THE RIGHT POINT (I told you the structure is well done for what it is) we get to the event where he gets captured at just the point where he hatches a successful escape attempt.

All the elements (characters and tools) to create this escape have been properly introduced in prior scenes.  The possibility that he can die permanently has been made real. 

So what's "wrong" here?  This plot rumbles along like a well oiled machine.  Why is it a chore to read? This is a good writer with a solid track record.  What happened here?

There are 2 very abstract technical problems with this absolutely fascinating novel (don't worry, there's a sequel in the works that'll be better).

#1) The point in time chosen for Chapter One is wrong.

#2) The innate "character" of this character may be either badly presented or actually formulated wrong. 

OK, let's start with #1 because that's easy to fix once you understand why it doesn't work.

------SPOILER ALERT -----

As often stated in this blog, I don't believe a good story can be "spoiled" by knowing what's going to happen in it.  If it can, it's not a good book.  If you understand that, read on fearlessly.  You'll still love reading this book.  In fact you may love it more after reading this discussion.  

The first characters introduced after the main character wakes up out of a drunken stupor end up dead right away. 

It is established that this dissipated and dis-likeable main character telling the story actually holds this pair of unlikeable college men in some affection -- mostly because they enjoy getting drunk and watching ballgames on TV with him.

This is a portrayal of college students that does not "work" for me.

What rule is violated by this portrayal? 

Many 1940's SF novels elevate and laud drunkenness as a means to accessing higher consciousness or even one's innate intellectual skills.  I used to like those novels.  I know too much now to find such an attitude laudable. 

Opening a story with a guy (apparently homeless bum) crashing in a college student's apartment and supplying beer and liquor to keep them drunk just doesn't work for me.  I feel no sense of identification with this main character and couldn't care less what happens to him.

The information fed into the story-line by this opening situation is that this guy is not homeless, not poor, is capable of affection for these young men, and is -- ta-da! Immortal. 

He ended up in the apartment having been brought there to a party by a friend (not-human not-magical iifrit) who also plays dissipated drunk convincingly. That friend later returns to move the plot forward, solidly and convincingly.

So I don't like this immortal character because he gets humans (who can be harmed by drunkeness) drunk while he drinks to a stupor but can't be harmed by it.  He stays drunk for centuries just for the fun of it. 

We see a portrait of an individual blessed with long life, not invulnerable but Immortal (so far). 

I dealt with this problem of being immortal among mortals in my Dushau Trilogy, but my immortals there were aliens (I do vampires in other universes such as Those Of My Blood.)

Dushau (Dushau Trilogy)

My Dushau Immortals studiously avoid close personal relationships with mortals because they have perfect memories and too many bereavements can lead to insanity.

Doucette saw this problem as well, but handles it differently and with some intriguing twists.

In the course of the opening set-up chapters of this novel, we see this Immortal experience affection and friendship for a number of humans.  His heart opens and he bonds easily with all and sundry (even vampires). 

This makes him, to me, an irresistible character.  Could not put this book down.

But at the same time, there's the "gritty realism" that this character has murdered -- over thousands of years, for many reasons, causing death has become no great big deal.  And we see him murder mercilessly.  Maybe with some justice, but with a callous attitude. 

Now here we come to the Information Feed issue.

Go back to SAVE THE CAT! (the 3 books by Blake Snyder on screenwriting).

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

What does the title say?

To engage your viewer INTO bonding with the main character whose story you are about to tell, you MUST first reveal something about him that will arouse viewer sympathy, empathy, identification or a yearning to become "like that."

The first thing we learn about the dingiest, dirty-harry character you want to present has to be LAUDABLE, universally laudable.

So Blake Snyder says -- show your hero SAVING THE CAT.  Taking a risk for the helpless, or otherwise revealing an admirable character trait BEFORE you reveal the gritty traits that make the 6 problems the character has to solve.

Nothing in the introduction to Doucette's Immortal is in any way "saving the cat" -- drunkenness itself which is not a real PROBLEM for the Immortal but which harms those humans he associates with is not laudable.  Bumming around among college parties with an Iffrit with dissipated habits is not laudable.  That this is done by choice because he has nothing else to do is cause for reader disinterest.

So, while there are many traits about this Immortal character that are absolute grabbers, what we learn first are put-offs.

The put-offs will eventually become the problems that establishing Relationships will solve.

But as depicted in the opening, this Immortal has no conflict (internal or external) in forming friendships. 

The first real plot event is the news that the college students who hosted him have been murdered by a demon -- and the assumption that the demon had been aiming at the Immortal while the college students just got in the way.

The structural problem with this plot event is simply that the Immortal was not in the apartment when the demon killed the students.  The event happened off stage.

The Immortal actually feels a little sad and maybe miffed that the humans he felt affection for (briefly, in passing, without depth) had been murdered because of his presence in the apartment.

If not for that feeling, he'd have just blown town.  But the murder of the humans made it more personal. He wants to fight back. 

So from there on, the story gets interesting.  The plot advances, and you begin to see where things are going with the bits at the beginning of chapters showing he's going to be captured.

The next structural innovation that is unnecessarily complicated is a shift in the narrative voice at the point where the two narratives (the chapter headings during captivity and the chapters leading up to being captured) come together.  The standard first-person past narrative suddenly becomes first person present.

This is unnecessarily jarring, a real put-off.

In a different sort of story, it wouldn't be a put-off.

In fact, the entire structure could be the best artistic choice for some stories.  Stories that involve say, time-travel, could work this way.  Or stories about known historical events -- a King Arthur legend, The French Revolution, etc. 

But in this particular narrative, the device seems like an erroneous choice because the material itself is strong enough to carry the reader straight through the plot.

So what we seem to have is a story-concept, a very intriguing character, that needed introducing to a readership.

There is a huge over-burden of background to work in.  This character is 10's of thousands of years old and his development as a human being has direct relevance to how he relates to the modern century.  He admits that at first his people were barely self-aware.  He still has long-distance running skills from running down game for days at a time.  He has trouble relating what happened to him in his life to the various calendars that have come and gone. 

There's a lot of background to work in.  A lot of information to feed.

The Immortal's story is being picked up when two women come into his life and that changes things significantly.  But that means the story has to portray how things were for him "before" so that how things become "now" and will be "after" these relationships start to affect him. 

How can you plot that when it's all information feed.

How can you avoid expository lumps? 

The story and the plot are totally stationary in this Immortal's life all through this novel. 

He's a "hung hero" on two levels -- being captured and imprisoned to be studied, and being chased down to be captured but he doesn't know by whom or why until the last third of the novel.

So the author cleverly structured the two stories against each other to give the illusion of movement.

Without the headings at the beginnings of chapters, we wouldn't anticipate him being imprisoned or why or how hard it would be to escape.  It's foreshadowing by expository lump, cleverly translated into show-don't-tell (yes the chapter headings read very well, no mistakes there).

Without the story of his being chased down and captured, the story of escaping from prison wouldn't carry the novel.

So given that you have this terrific character with a huge exposition needed to introduce him, and NOTHING HAPPENING in his life to make a story, what do you do?

The solution to clever-up the structure is actually a work of genius. 

But for me it just doesn't "work" because the story there is to tell about this Immortal does not require artsy-craftsy tricks of structure.

This Immortal's story actually begins when he meets the woman who will change his life, his self-concept, cause him to become involved in the modern world, in humanity and humanity's future by using all his past experience in the service of a greater good.

For any man, that change is always caused by a MATE - a SOUL-MATE (for most it's female, but not always). 

The element is LOVE.  The journey is from today's misery to "happily ever after." 

When that story starts to move, the novel begins.  All the rest is throat-clearing. 

The story starts where the two elements that will conflict first come together. 

So for this Immortal, that point is where he meets this human woman who will become significant forevermore.

But the story of his being captured and escaping is an incident, an excuse for action scenes, not the story, not the path to resolving the conflict.

Taking Blake Snyder's advice, the story starts where SHE sees HIM "save the cat" -- i.e. do something that endears him to her, that makes her willing to RISK something to save him.

Do you see where this is headed? 

We have a classic PASSIVE HERO - he fights, he takes action, but his decisions do not actually make a real difference.  This very clever, very skilled author has hidden this salient fact under some virtuoso writing, but the fact itself spoils everything in this novel.

What do you do to solve a PASSIVE HERO problem?  What do you do to avoid expository lumps?  What do you do to find a new opening for the novel that does not focus on a hung-hero who can't do anything about his problems and about whom the only important facts are odious to the very readers who would most enjoy the novel? 

The solution is excrutiatingly simple. Think hard. It is a tried and true classic any seasoned editor would toss at a writer who sent in a chapter and outline like this.  Why is this writer fumbling to tell this story when he obviously knows how to write novels?

See my 7 part series here on editing -- here's the 7th which has a list of links to the previous parts:

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2010/09/what-exactly-is-editing-part-vii-how-do.html

Now, think-think-think. 

If you've read the novel now, you may see the obvious solution. 

This whole thing is not the Immortal's story.

The expository lumps cleverly avoided by having the first person narrative allude to events in past millennia (a literary device that works) are filled with information we don't need to be TOLD -- on the nose. 

And though these allusions are cleverly phrased to appear incidental, they are "on the nose" data-dumps.  The data is mostly irrelevant to the Immortal's story.

How do you avoid that?  What do you change? 

I loved reading this Immortal's "voice" -- but that didn't change the fact that the expository lumps disguised as clever narrative that carried characterization just don't "work."

Why don't they "work?"  Because the information in each memory is not something I wanted to know before I read it.  No suspense.  No revelation.  I didn't have to work for it.  I wasn't asking the question "what happened to this guy in Egypt?"  I didn't NEED TO KNOW in order to solve the mystery of who's after him. 

Because of that I didn't care who was after him or why.  He felt it was ho-hum, being chased another time -- yawn.  So it bored me.

At the opening, in the college student's apartment, this Immortal wakes up from a drunken stupor. 

If ever you are tempted to start a story (and yes, I've done it!) with the main character "waking up" in some improbable circumstance or confused -- STOP WRITING and go back to the drawing board.  Something is wrong conceptually with the structure or the character. 

The story opens where the two elements that will conflict to generate the conflict which will be resolved in the last chapter first come together.

What happens in the last chapter of this novel?

The woman the Immortal meets pretty well into this novel finally gets what she wants, positions herself where she wants to be. 

The Immortal succeeds in achieving NOT ONE THING that he SET OUT TO ACHIEVE in the opening.  He wasn't either setting out or achieving.  He was stationary in his life when SOMETHING HAPPENS TO HIM. 

The two types of plot that go with this kind of material are:

1) Johnny gets his fanny caught in a bear trap and has his adventures getting it out

2) A likeable hero struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds toward a worthwhile goal.

In the opening to this novel, the Immortal does not DO ANYTHING, decide anything, take any action, learn anything, or even pray for anything that CAUSES anything else to happen.

Thus the Immortal (Johnny) does not GET his own fanny caught.  That is he does not take an action that initiates a because-line. 
In this novel the Immortal is not introduced by any trait that is even remotely likeable by any substantial audience-demographic.  He is by any measure no hero and most importantly, he has no goal. 

All of these fatal flaws are totally hidden by the superb writing craftsmanship. 

And hereby hangs a cautionary tale.

When you are writing a story that has hold of you by the guts, a story you just have to get others to read, a compelling story -- and you find that you have to HIDE THE FLAWS, then STOP RIGHT THERE and go back to the drawing board.

Readers may not know how to tell you what's wrong, but they will sense something wrong and many of the very readers who should read the book just won't finish it.

Don't use your skills to hide flaws.  Use them to eliminate the flaws.

The flaw in the novel IMMORTAL by Gene Doucette is the very most common flaw I see in manuscripts (and even published novels in Mass Market), and I see the very readers who would enjoy the novel most putting it aside.

It's a simple flaw and it's easy to fix.  You know it's there when you face pages of utterly essential expository lumps. 

YOU ARE TELLING THE STORY FROM THE WRONG POINT OF VIEW.

Now re-imagine this novel, IMMORTAL, from the woman's point of view.

She is the online gamer.  She has an eclectic education, a vast imagination, an embracing nature.  Her story starts when she gets the first inkling that such a thing as "an Immortal male" exists.

Her goal, which she pursues as relentlessly as the Immortal once ran down game animals, is to meet a living Immortal man. 

When she meets him, her GOAL shifts to getting him into bed. 

Her goal shifts when her heart opens to embrace this Immortal as a person, not just an icon. 

Her goal shifts again when she realizes she wants this guy, she wants to be with him. 

And that final goal, at the end of this novel, seems to have been achieved.

She is the one whose life changes, by her own actions, by her own determination, by her own will, by her own heroism.  And that change is a WORTHWHILE GOAL that can be achieved only over SEEMINGLY OVERWHELMING ODDS. 

She is the likeable hero who struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds toward a worthwhile goal - one she only sees dimly when she takes that first, fateful, step. 

This novel is her story.

Here is a marvelous post by Linnea Sinclair on Point of View.

http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com/2009/01/heading-into-danger-choosing-point-of.html
Now from within her point of view, FINDING OUT, or discovering, or unfolding, or digging up the information about how The Immortal interacted with the ancient past, what his opinion of it is, and any relevant detail of his past experiences, becomes the main story-imperative.

As we sink into her point of view, we adopt her urgent need to know, and feel sparks of triumph every time we worm some new tidbit out of the Immortal.

All the expository lumps disappear and we learn his story through her eyes.  What we don't know becomes spice, incense, and erotic triggers. 

Saving him from the laboratory (which she does very cleverly) becomes the plot which culminates in conflict resolved and if not an HEA at least an "off into the sunset" ending leading to a sequel where we chase the HEA which is now suddenly possible - but maybe not going to happen.

So this opening novel, the introduction to the Immortal as a character, is not his story because his life is static at that point. 

Yet through her eyes, we can enter into his life, understand what makes him tick better than he does himself, and see what he needs to do to learn what he must learn in order to change and grow, i.e. to be alive in a real sense, not just immortal.

Sometimes a character's story can be more compelling, more dramatic, easier to write and easier to read when that character's story is seen from outside.  Remember Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. 

Always turn your material around and around, looking at it through the eyes of various characters before writing. 

Notice here the power of THE OUTLINE.  Given an outline of the plot, it would be immediately clear that the ending does not match the beginning and the middle doesn't hit the right "mid-point" tension note.

Once you see that the ending happens where one character achieves a goal, and the other character acquires a goal, you will know where the story starts.

Maybe you'll read this book and totally disagree because the character revealed in the smart-ass inner dialogue is just too interesting to lose by switching points of view.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com  

ps: in a few weeks we'll walk through the step-by-step process of stitching all these disparate techniques together and invent a world bursting with story-potential. That'll be at least a 7-part series of posts.

19 comments:

  1. What I see here is a flaw in your analysis. Actually, I see several flaws. I am only going to address these generally for now, but may expand at a later time.

    My first issue with your "deconstruction" of Immortal is your seemingly naive insistence that there is a right or wrong way to do things. I am positive that I can find you numerous examples of successful novels using the devices you have labeled as "wrong". Sticking to conventions simply makes one more run-of-the-mill novel.

    My second, rather large issue, is your implication that Immortal should have been told through one of the female characters' eyes. This is ridiculous. Immortal would then become a romance - which is NOT what it is. The story would have been diluted and unappealing. I know I would NEVER have considered reading it if it unfolded in the way you described.

    A novel does not need to follow ordinary conventions to be a well crafted, fun, interesting read. In fact, it's those steps outside of the boundaries that make Immortal such an engaging story.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous2:17 PM EST

    I guess this post was supposed to spark debate? Enlighten?

    I found this post mean-spirited and condescending. Surely you can come up with better ideas. Publicly eviscerating novels, especially good fun ones like Immortal, is not a nice thing to do.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I agree with one part of this analysis. I also felt the change from past to present tense in the third section of the novel was unnecessary, though I didn't find it jarring.

    Other points, however, I disagree with.

    "...the structure chosen to tell this story seems unnecessarily involuted to me. It's too complex for the material."

    As you stated, structure is partially a matter of personal taste. How I measure whether a story is too convoluted is whether I can read it without getting confused or lost. I never had a problem following the storyline of Immortal. That indicates to me it is not too complex for the material.

    "The point in time chosen for Chapter One is wrong."

    I would agree if the book started in chapter 1. However, Immortal has a prologue. And like a good prologue should be, it is indispensable to the book. This is where the character of Adam is first depicted as a sympathetic character. He is a leader in a hard world. He doesn't take time to mourn over the dead, child or creature. Then the woman appears. She represents not only her literal self but his own repressed feelings. That he dreams about her crying over his actions so often says much about him. Even the picture on the cover attests to the importance of this prologue.

    Thus, when he wakes up behind the couch, the reader already has an inkling of the kind of life that drives him to drink. I didn't think less of the character because he encourages humans to drink (which may cause them health problems). Knowledge of the negative health effects of alcohol is a VERY recent development in his life. I also expect something that shortens a lifespan by five or ten years would barely register with him. To me, the concern expressed over alcohol in this review shows a personal bias against it, not a flaw in the story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. NOTE: Sorry for all the parts. I couldn't get this post with any longer sections.

    I agree with one part of this analysis. I also felt the change from past to present tense in the third section of the novel was unnecessary, though I didn't find it jarring.

    Other points, however, I disagree with.

    "...the structure chosen to tell this story seems unnecessarily involuted to me. It's too complex for the material."

    As you stated, structure is partially a matter of personal taste. How I measure whether a story is too convoluted is whether I can read it without getting confused or lost. I never had a problem following the storyline of Immortal. That indicates to me it is not too complex for the material.

    (cont)

    ReplyDelete
  5. "The point in time chosen for Chapter One is wrong."

    I would agree if the book started in chapter 1. However, Immortal has a prologue. And like a good prologue should be, it is indispensable to the book. This is where the character of Adam is first depicted as a sympathetic character. He is a leader in a hard world. He doesn't take time to mourn over the dead, child or creature. Then the woman appears. She represents not only her literal self but his own repressed feelings. That he dreams about her crying over his actions so often says much about him. Even the picture on the cover attests to the importance of this prologue.

    Thus, when he wakes up behind the couch, the reader already has an inkling of the kind of life that drives him to drink. I didn't think less of the character because he encourages humans to drink (which may cause them health problems). Knowledge of the negative health effects of alcohol is a VERY recent development in his life. I also expect something that shortens a lifespan by five or ten years would barely register with him. To me, the concern expressed over alcohol in this review shows a personal bias against it, not a flaw in the story.

    (cont)

    ReplyDelete
  6. "The story and the plot are totally stationary in this Immortal's life all through this novel.

    Not at all. They are simply not on a superficial level. On the surface, it's all about him being hunted and trapped, then trying to escape. However, each event or flashback drives Adam's internal changes, his growth as a character. This is what makes the book fascinating and hard to put down.

    For any man, that change is always caused by a MATE - a SOUL-MATE (for most it's female, but not always).

    Always? Oh, I vehemently disagree. This is almost offensive to me, and I'm a woman. I've read a good many books that had no romance involved whatsoever, but the male character still managed to change his self-concept. Change can come about from war, from famine, from overwhelming trials, from communing with nature, from being marooned on a desert island...

    ReplyDelete
  7. So for this Immortal, that point is where he meets this human woman who will become significant forevermore.

    Yes, but not because of LOVE alone. It is the closest thing he's felt to a real connection with a human being in a long time. Thus the reappearance of the red-headed woman.

    Now re-imagine this novel, IMMORTAL, from the woman's point of view.

    Done. Any point made on the human condition, any questions asked about the curse of immortality, are moot. The book is suddenly shallow, superficial, and formulaic. Girl discovers immortal who falls helplessly in love with her. They face scary opposition from people trying to exploit and/or murder said immortal, but it comes out all right in the end, and LOVE WINS AGAIN. Twilight, anyone?

    This is not a standard action novel or romance. It is a character study of an immortal man. How can a man who lives forever appreciate life? The flashbacks show him progressively learning compassion and empathy, often against his will and without expecting it. Each time he makes a stride in the right direction, he draws closer to the mysterious red-headed woman who embodies those elusive traits for him.

    "Don't use your skills to hide flaws. Use them to eliminate the flaws."

    Hereby hangs another cautionary tale. Writers should never take individual reviews to heart. If the overall flavor of reviews is similar, you probably have a problem. If not, it probably means that no matter how skilled the reviewer, how much experience they have, how well-written the commentary...they missed the point.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Angela: I see 2 more posts from you that appear to be exact duplicates of one I authorized through. Are they just blogger stuttering?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Folks: On 1/25/2011 Gene Doucette answers this post directly.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I read IMMORTAL and really enjoyed it. I found the Prologue very helpful in establishing why Adam drinks. Although I did find his waking up with frat boys a bit off-putting.
    Your "deconstruction" was confusing for me - you seemed to contradict yourself. Even though Doucette didn't follow your ascribed "A,B,C's", you kept saying how clever it is. If it follows a different "path" but it works, why change it?
    Also, I found your self-promotional links just a tad bit much. Of course you're expected to do some self-promotion, but I found this many distracting from your actual article.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The ladies before me spoke up valiantly in Gene's defense...and pretty much summed up all I had to say. Let me just add my own quick comment.

    If you spend your life looking for those things that don't fit your narrow expectations of what is "right" or what is "correct", you're going to find them. I read IMMORTAL with the intention of being entertained. That's it. I was very entertained by the story.

    I found no difficulty in following Adam's story, although like you and Angela I did find the shift from first person to third person a little disconnecting but I quickly got over it.

    Yes, the book dragged on in a few places. So do pretty much all books in existence. You learn to read past and get to the rest of the story.

    I would also have never picked IMMORTAL up if it weren't told from Adam's point of view. Anyone else's and it would no longer be his story. And that's what IMMORTAL is...this is Adam's story, told from Adam's point of view.

    As Angela said...

    This is not a standard action novel or romance. It is a character study of an immortal man. How can a man who lives forever appreciate life? The flashbacks show him progressively learning compassion and empathy, often against his will and without expecting it. Each time he makes a stride in the right direction, he draws closer to the mysterious red-headed woman who embodies those elusive traits for him.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have read the feedback posts with interests, but I am wondering if any of these people really follow “Alien Romances” or have they simply come over because a specific author was mentioned.

    WotV said
    “My second, rather large issue, is your implication that Immortal should have been told through one of the female characters' eyes. This is ridiculous. Immortal would then become a romance - which is NOT what it is. The story would have been diluted and unappealing. I know I would NEVER have considered reading it if it unfolded in the way you described.”

    While I am glad for both you and the author of “Immortal” , the original story line as laid out is not very appealing to me, and frankly I find it just a little condescending to say it would become a romance as if that were a bad thing in general. I do understand you wouldn’t have liked it but that doesn’t mean that everyone would have disliked the story told in that way.

    This isn’t really a book review as much as it is a learning exercise, books are mentioned and dissected but not as regular reviews but much the same way that books get discussed in writing courses.

    Anonymous wrote
    “I guess this post was supposed to spark debate? Enlighten?

    I found this post mean-spirited and condescending. Surely you can come up with better ideas. Publicly eviscerating novels, especially good fun ones like Immortal, is not a nice thing to do.”

    No this is a writing lesson and as such books both good and bad get taken apart, and it certainly has enlightened me on many occasions including this entry.

    Just as each of the comments have complained that the blogger doesn’t understand what the author is writing about, each of them also have not understood what the blogger is writing about either. Your viewpoints appear just as narrow as you say Ms. Lichtenberg’s are. Did any of you click on the various links provided?

    Elorie

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  13. Elorie:

    Gene did note the posting of my analysis of his novel Immortal as a writing lesson on his blog, and it appears from the stats on blogger that at least 75 readers of his blog have clicked through to read this.

    I want to emphasize that the reason I chose Immortal for this particular lesson is that Gene's writing is strong, vivid, disciplined and polished.

    Immortal is a novel that's worth reading, in and of itself. That's why these points I've tried to make can be demonstrated via this novel.

    Gene did what he set out to do and did it on purpose. Many readers of aliendjinnromances are writers just setting out to try to do something, without being sure what or for whom. This post is designed to present options with a way to assess the target readership and its size.

    Oh, and Gene did read this post before it went up on the web. He will respond here. Stay tuned. This is very interesting stuff for writers!

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  14. In brief, since my response will post on Tuesday:

    Jacqueline, as you see I do have some devoted readers. Immortal has only been out for a few months, and it is facing incredibly long odds for success (as is true for most indie published books.) Your analysis is the closest thing to a negative review the book has received, anywhere (Goodreads avg 4.60 out of 5, seven 5 star ratings on Amazon) and while I can't expect to hope the high praise will continue indefinitely-- ask me that again in a few months-- your approach to discussing it as a teaching exercise I'm sure took most of MY readers by surprise.

    When you love something, you want to defend it, and I have found people who actively DISLIKED the main character defend Immortal as vehemently as people who fell in love with him. So what you've seen in the comments here is an expression of that love.

    And I'm disappointed to hear of anyone who would read this page and conclude Immortal is not something they would want to read. But now I'm getting into territory my commentary on Tuesday will cover, so I'll stop...

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  15. Gene:

    I expect most readers of this co-blog on ROMANCE would actively dislike and avoid a book such as IMMORTAL.

    IMMORTAL is not cozy, sweet, or a manual on how to find happiness. It's far, far outside the material favored by those in a mood for a Romance of any sub-genre.

    But that's exactly why I want all my Romance genre and sub-genre writing students to read IMMORTAL.

    This writing lesson could not possibly have been illustrated with any other book I've encountered in years and years.

    Oh, and I don't see any "defense" in these comments. You can't "defend" something that isn't being "attacked."

    This piece is not a "review." Note the title of the piece. It's about constructing the opening of Action Romance subgenre stories, not about the novel IMMORTAL.

    You want a Review? My "Review" is "Immortal is an important book, a breakthrough exploration of the farthest realms of fantasy, a must-read for writers of "softer" genres."

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  16. :-) I know it's not a review. I'd have introduced it differently were that the case. I do think what didn't come out in your dissertation was that you enjoyed the book and-- as you said in your comment-- this is a case study using a book that WORKED despite the things you've brought up.

    And I hope your readers give it a read. I can't tell you how many comments I've gotten that begin with "I don't read books like this, but..."

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  17. So am I weird for being both a romance reader and loving all the other genres? I agree that for all the genres there are expectations - such as romance is character driven where you are waiting for what you hope to happen to them (versus horror which is usually character driven where you are waiting for what you FEAR to happen to them).

    What was most interesting to me about Immortal as a piece of writing (i.e., beyond the enjoyment of the story) was that it did challenge preconceptions about "how" it should have been written - and we're only talking about it because Gene managed that challenge successfully.

    #FollowerOfGene

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  18. Sue:

    Yes, you're right Gene managed that challenge successfully!

    As for being a Romance reader who reads all sorts of other genres - well, I always try to make it clear that "taste" is more a matter of "mood" than it is of "person" -- a given person at different times in life, different epochs of their personal development, and just in today's mood as opposed to tomorrow's mood, in the mood of a season, in the mood of "my daughter is getting married" (or I'm getting married) or whatever situation -- seeks a particular kind of fiction that fits their mood/situation.

    I really believe any reader who lives long enough will find enjoyment in almost anything -- dark, light, realism, fantasy, intellectualized detective stories, juicy serial-killer-as-hero stories, whatever.

    But an epoch of a lifetime can last 30 or 40 years, and seem like an attribute of the person, fixed and unvarying.

    The bottom line is you like what you like at the moment. And sometimes you're open to a reading experience far outside your usual boundaries. Sometimes not.

    So no, I don't think you're unusual, certainly wouldn't seem so among fans of my own fiction who seem to read everything!

    I can't judge the quality of a novel on the basis of whether I like it or not. I can only try to judge it on whether the author succeeded in doing what the author set out to do. Gene did that, no argument.

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg
    http://jacquelinelichtenberg.com

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  19. eloriealton said: While I am glad for both you and the author of “Immortal” , the original story line as laid out is not very appealing to me, and frankly I find it just a little condescending to say it would become a romance as if that were a bad thing in general. I do understand you wouldn’t have liked it but that doesn’t mean that everyone would have disliked the story told in that way.

    I did not mean to be condescending. I simply meant that this novel is not a romance and to change the viewpoint as described in the critique would change the genre to romance. I have nothing against romance, but this book wasn't meant to be one and the story would not have appealed to me if it had been in told in that fashion.

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