Sunday, November 15, 2009

First impressions and epiphanies

In life, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression". In fiction, your principal males do.... but only if they are interesting to begin with.

"I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."
~Abraham Lincoln

I watched "Frost and Nixon" yesterday and found it quite riveting. "Cheeseburgers" was the sentence that changed my mind about the Frost character.

"I don't fleece my relatives," changed my mind about a bad boy hero in one Regency romance. He'd been established as deadly in duels, he drank too much, he was a hazard to other road-users, and he enjoyed the usual masculine vices of his time. However, he did have a personal code of honor.

Are there snatches of dialogue that have given you an epiphany about a character? Does there have to be a spoken turning point for every good protagonist?

Moreover, do readers and writers still have double standards? Do heroines get second chances? If we don't like the principal female in a novel, do we persevere in the hopes of getting to know her better?

I think not.

I'm doing NaNoWriMo, so I'm not supposed to agonize over and polish my latest alien romance too much... if at all. For now, the first indication that my hero might be redeemable is when he tells the heroine, (after she has thoroughly and dramatically foiled him),

"I wasn't looking forward to ravishing you."

Best wishes,

Rowena Cherry


  1. It depends - sometimes (not romance books, but others) I've discovered that the heroine has traits which I like, that are only uncovered later in the novel. Sadly I can't remember example :)

  2. Thank you for commenting anyway, Yunaleska.

    Maybe I am unusual/prejudiced. I want to identify with the heroine, so if I find her TSTL or irrational or irresponsible, I probably will not stick with her for the ride.

  3. I think I'm more unusual for keeping with a heroine I don't like. I never used to be like this, but now I'm reading a lot more as a reviewer, I like picking out what works and what doesn't, because it could help me out as a writer.

    I'm usually a lurker on this site :)

  4. Ah, well, Yunaleska,

    It's altogether a different matter if one is a contest judge, a personal friend of (or beta reader for) the author, or a reviewer.

    I cannot recall ever changing my opinion. I wonder if it has something to do with my nature as a reader. I become quite angry if I feel that an author has purposely tricked me, or misinformed me.

  5. Yunaleska:

    Oh, it's good to hear from a lurker once in a while. Thank you so much for de-lurking a bit.

    As a reviewer, I know what you mean about giving a main character a few extra chapters to reveal something interesting.

    A good reviewer can tease readers into getting over the hump of an awkward opening to a really good novel that delivers a grand punch at the ending. (me; I prefer the 4 or 5 kleenex endings)

    However, on this blog, I try to provide both readers and writers with the clues to how to structure an opening so that you don't "tell all" immediately (and blow the suspense), so you can reveal interesting things later -- but at the same time create a really barbed hook to drag the reader into a character's life.

    Ultimately, that's what Romance is about - LIFE. For me, that means deep, intimate and meaningful relationships that make you strive to be the best you can be (and like yourself while you're doing it).

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  6. Thank you both Rowena and Jacqueline for your answers. I've learnt that there are different ways to read a book (which I really didn't think possible).

    And that the romance genre covers a whole range of issues, not just the obvious ones.

  7. I avoid telling all through the use of discrepant awareness, which is why I write Third Person Limited, with multiple POV characters, and avoiding "omniscient author".

    It doesn't suit every reader. It's particularly disastrous (for me) if readers skim the secondary character scenes.

    Currently, I'm trying something new, and I'm not sure I like it. I'm staying out of the hero's head, for the first 100 pages.

  8. It's most important to me that the characters grow. So, if they start out totally screwed up, all the better. If the heroine is what a lot of people would call Too Stupid To Live, well, that's okay for the first few chapters. None of my real babies were born knowing how to walk. They all had to learn the hard way, tons of practice, and falling down a lot before they were finally able to run around the house, embarking on the Search & Destroy Mission of Toddlerhood. Likewise, I want to see the characters go through that. As a writer, I've learned I must clue in the reader from the start that this will happen. SAVE THE CAT! anyone?

  9. Kimber An,

    Thank you very much for commenting.

    Thank goodness for differences! Just as Yunaleska pointed out, there are different ways of reading books, so there are different ways of writing.

    Personally, which is not in the least to disrespect other readers' and writers' preferences, I'm rather baffled by the "growth" thing.

    I'm not interested in Bambi, or the Lion King, or any coming-of-age tale that I can think of (apart from Dragon's Bait).

    My leopards don't loose their spots, though they might camouflage the pattern. I like to see them adapt, innovate and succeed while remaining true to their essential selves.

    Saving cats is good, though.

  10. Oh, the CHARACTER ARC requirement is much more subtle and complex than "change."

    That's why my interminable posts on Astrology (and there will be more) -- to help writers get a handle on what in a character can (and must) change and what can and must stay the same despite adventures.

    It's just like the Hollywood requirement, "Give me the same but different."

    Once you understand what they're talking about you can find the 'beginning' of a protagonist's story much faster and with less rewriting and fumbling.

    Think of it this way. Any protagonist must, because of (consequent to) the events that happen to him/her during the story, come to FULFILL POTENTIAL.

    That means that the beginning is at the point where the character is just getting a glimmering of the fact that they have no fulfilled their potential (and may be convinced they have more or less potential than the reader can see they have).

    The middle is where the potential that will be fulfilled is completely defined for the reader, but maybe not for the character (whose epiphany should be the 2/3 or 3/4 point).

    And the closing action-drive toward fulfilling that potential finally climaxes in resolving the conflict BECAUSE OF fulfilling the potential.

    The character's change causes him/her to be able to do something that he COULD do at the beginning, but WOULD NOT because of whatever internal blockage he had to overcome.

    The tiger doesn't change his stripes, he takes a bath that washes away the mud and reveals his stripes.

    Make sense?

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg