Monday, January 23, 2006

Categories and Conventions


I just don't know.
I used to be able to color within the lines as a kid. Was good with Crayola.
Now the ink bleeds everywhere.
Still fumbling with categories. Still wondering about their conventions.
Compared a few.
The heroine must have certain characteristics:
1. Big eyes: So the Hero can drown in 'em, you know. Wrote them big. Big as granny glasses. Made them green, too. Subtle suggestion of traditional sorceress. She's the sibyl of the Sockburn legend. The Green Lady. Sort of. Check.
2. Simply lovely, lovely, sexy hair: Yes. She has unusual hair. Long. Silver and gold. A prince's ransom, a dragon's hoard of hair. The Hero gets quite nauseating lyrical about it - must show he has a secret romantic side to balance all that brutal male LUST. Check.
3. Nice T&A: Check. The Hero gets...definitely not lyrical...suitably, lasciviously, interested. Been known to observe "nice ass" - before he is entranced by her beautiful soul, her competent mind, etc., of course. Check.
4. Unusual name: An absolute must. Picked names off the family tree. Double duty names, both for a thin thread of veracity re the central motif and for games with names. Works as a plot device. Check.

So far, so good.
But, Houston, the story goes off the rails almost immediately.

1. Age: She is not dewey-eyed nineteen. Neither is she a repressed twenty-nine year old with a crippling secret. She's not even thirty-five - which is just about the upper limit for a romantic heroine. Everyone knows that rolls and arthritis begin at forty. Our Girl is over forty and - hold tight to your suspension - still sexy and physically fit. Shocking evasion of convention. However, in sneaking compensation, it is implied that she doesn't look her age. She is, furthermore, distressingly normal, without major neurosis. She doesn't even squeal at mice. Lose ten points.
2. First Touch: Our Girl does not experience an electric shock when they shake hands. The Hero does not remind her of the electric fence at her grandfather's farm and the feel of fodder under her behind in the hay loft. She does not turn speechless with sudden desire at his touch. Nopenopenope. No crotch-wetting confusion. As a mild sop to this convention, she does wonder why his hands - they are nice BIG hands, of course - makes her think of an oath-taking. But that is all. Then.
3. Sex: Not only has the convention gone off the rails, it smashed into a grove of trees along the track. She does not snog the Man in the past -maybe because he is not a horny sans underwear Highlander - he's a remote ancestor, after all. She doesn't even snog the Hero - until Book Two.
Bad. Very bad. Ignored the necessary conventions: the Hero must screw the ass off the heroine no later than Chapter Three, and he must conclude he never had a piece of ass like that Ever Before.
Gloom.

50 comments:

ali said...

I think the second list makes her much more interesting. I always want to slap characters that are purely list 1 :).

Bernita said...

The first list is almost de rigeur, Ali, a form of show-not-tell that the Heroine is unique and "special" (and therefore worthy of a Hero and, somewhere along in the rear,faint but pursuing, a plot.
"Purely" is the kicker - when they have no other assets ~snort, snort~ to intrigue.

Ric said...

Off to a brilliant start this morning, aren't we? Early Monday and we're already talking about sex.
I knew I liked this blog for a reason...

Part of the trick is knowing your characters are unconventional and then, as in this case, using it to your advantage.

Savannah Jordan said...

Sounds good to me! And, just so you know, the novel that recently sold has NO nookie. *shocker, I know*

Dennie McDonald said...

Ignored the necessary conventions ... makes it all the more of a unique and intereSting read!

formula schmormula - who needs that - it gets boring and predictble

Bernita said...

Wanted to start the week off right, Ric. A little thaw in January,dear guy. You know.

I protest, Savannah. NO nookie? Are you well?

But published they is, Dennie.
I have the feeling I may be neither fish, fowl, nor good red herring.

Robyn said...

Both your lists?

Hell yes and 'bout time.

Erik Ivan James said...

And her real name is Barbara,---she's my wife.

Bernita said...

Got tired of reading about the adventures, romances and sex lives of heroines the age of my daughters, Robyn.

Awwww, Erik.
You've just been voted Dear Guy status.Next to Ric.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

I love the noises that yout make, your pain-in-the-assness, the sidling up,in effect, like the heavily mascaraed cave girl in Quest for Fire. Shows in your work. Wise
Humpty-Dumpty girl out of Lewis Carroll. Her cup.
I am also impressed by the many responses, wise Bonnie Calhoun and smart r.c. baker and all the others.
But good writing. Have you read many books on creative writing? You probably have, and there is something especially good about the writing process in Through the Looking Glass,by the great Lewis:

"Well, "outgribing" is something between bellowing and whisling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however you hear it don may be--down in the woods yonder--and once you've heard it you'll be quite content."
Guess you'll have to satisfy yourself first, but once you hear that almost inaudible sound, uou'll know for sure.

Savannah Jordan said...

Tis true, tis true. It was only after the penning of that novel that I found I had a particular proclivity toward those scenes. :P

Bernita said...

Ivan, I believe sometime in my dim, distant past I took one of the first ...ahem..."creative writing" classes offered in Canada from
Dr. Desmond "Dizzy Desie" Pacey. He called me "Tiger."
But no, I don't read creative writing books. Did read King's.
I never know if you are damning me with faint praise or praising me with faint damns, but I will agree that the people who do me the honor of posting here are special and talented writers, each in a unique way.
BTW, you have slithy toves.

Rick said...

Well, I'm in trouble here, because my protagonist is in her teens. In my self-defense, I ended up writing a prequel to the book I originally intended, in the process of figuring out what sort of Princess Catherine would turn into the Queen Catherine I had in mind.

Bernita said...

Think that's allowed, Rick, for your type of book. The conventions, or the expected cliches, are not so strict.

Carla said...

Rick - surely that isn't a problem in your pseudo-Renaissance setting? Elizabeth I lived through and successfully managed at least two crises in her teens, if memory serves.

Bernita - following convention=Not Fresh, New And Original. Disregarding convention=We Don't Know How To Market It. One is buggered coming or going (as the Archbishop said to the choirboy). You might as well write what you think is good and leave the rest to the Publishing Lottery Fairy.

Bernita said...

Carla!
You're a Saint!
Oh joy, oh joy...loved the bishop/actress jokes.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Ah...c'mon. Not even a hint of cellulite? She's over forty, for goodness sakes.

Don't suppose the hero could be squinty-eyed with a lisp?

Love your descriptions, Bernita. I choose list number two. And I'm liking your excerpts, I would so totally read this book, but I can guarantee that I'd have to be pointed to it first, after somebody explained the genre to me.

Bernita said...

Cellulite? C'mon, M.G.
Didn't have it then, don't have it now.
Lots of women don't actually.

The goat lisps...will that do?
Hero has the requisite cold, hard eyes, though. Like a sniper.
Saying you'd read it, though it's not your thing is a very nice compliment.Thank you.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Didn't have it then, don't have it now.
Lots of women don't actually.


are any of them Italian?

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Actually, my working class friends
(NDP says 'ordinary Canadians') all say, "I don't give a damn about your slithy toes,
Play that funky music, white boy."
If I were to damn you, it would be to damn you with loud praise. You are some sort of a genius. I'm not sure which sort. I would have to hunt up categories. Aristotle invented categories. But the poor dude was married twice.
Pumas in the Crevices(Smothers Brothers). Why try and screw oup a good thing. You got a good thing going. Somehow think of an old R&B song.
Cuddly hugs.
Ivan

Bernita said...

Sophia Loren.

Bernita said...

~ gurgling~
There's always "evil genius", Ivan.

Ivan Prokopchuk said...

Kinda like m.g. tarquini.

Fox in the henhouse.
Got to do a segue.
Don't mean I don't love ya.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Sophia Loren.

HAHAHAHA!

Ivan - hee!

Tsavo Leone said...

If you're telling a story then there's always two things to consider:

1) Is the story I'm telling interesting?

2) Are the people I'm writing about interesting?

If there's a definie 'No' to both questions then you may as well call it a day.

For me it's the story first and foremost; that informs how the people in my story are going to act. That being as may, sometimes it's the people that make the story...

Conventional 'characters' are just that. Interesting people are something else entirely (and there are usually lots of them congregating here!), though some authors make the mistake of having their 'characters' interesting just for the sake of it. I prefer a bit of dirt under the fingernails and the occasional belch or fart to some classical/conventional pristine (and yet wholly unobtainable) ideal...

And yes, there is a reason for my distinction between 'characters' and people, though I can't quite put my finger on why I feel the need to make such a distinction at this juncture...

Gabriele C. said...

Write about real women and leave the girls with the unusual eye and hair colours to Legolas.

BTW The only NiP with a strong romance subplot I have, ends unhappily.

Bernita said...

Hmmm. Lunch time, m'lord Tsavo.
Not sure why you make the distinction either.
It does come down to a judicious selection of the facts, after all, in creating/describing a character. And as we know when we meet people they in turn only present certain selected facts about themselves.Not always a lot of difference.
I prefer individual details to either advance the plot or indicate something about the character which in turn explains conflict or conduct.
To be crude, if someone has a pimple on their behind it's a useless attempt to infer individuality - unless it reflects something about their situational hygiene ( no running water), skin condition(neurotic immaturity) or why they sat in THAT chair so they could dive out the window when the grenade went off.
The foundation for the convention of the beautiful heroine in romantic fiction is very simple It explains motivations. It produces conflict. It creates plot.

Bernita said...

But Gabriele, I maintain that women with unusual hair and eyes are just as real as any other.

Gabriele C. said...

Well, unusual hair is mostly the result of a Wella or Garnier dying job gone wrong. But I agree on the eyes, those of your heroine are only large and green - they lack the purple circling the green and the ability to turn silver in the moonlight. Pretty real, then. ;-)

Rick said...

Carla -- surely that isn't a problem in your pseudo-Renaissance setting? Elizabeth I lived through and successfully managed at least two crises in her teens, if memory serves

Yes. And Lady Jane Grey shows what could happen to a teenage girl close to the throne if she didn't manage successfully.

This was very much in my mind in deciding to write about a very young Catherine - she is at the grownups' table, like it or not.

You are also right about getting screwed either way when it comes to convention. I decided that it was the best story I could write, and said the hell with it.

Boy, was I relieved to find Guy Gavriel Kay's books, and realize that you could base a fantasy world on part of the real past rather than generic Tymes of Olde, not to mention having minimal conventional fantasy elements.

Bernita said...

Rick, if you read Kay's Finovar Tapestry, you'll find he can handle fantasy elements equally well.
I wuvs Kay.

Don't have her by moonlight yet, Gabriele.Eyes turning silver...hmmm.... maybe I can use that.

Rick said...

Bernita - I've never read Fionavar Tapestry (sp?), though I've heard good things about it. Fantasy elements in the usual sense aren't what I mainly like about fantasy - give me honest thrust of sword and shot of culverin to settle differences, not all that hocus pocus!

Bernita said...

Knew I spelled it wrong. Thing is, it's mentioned in passing in several of his other books as a sort of a legendary utopia, cleverly spelled differently each time...
(scraping for an excuse, here)
There's a fair amount of cut 'n thrust battle in the Tapestry too, Rick. The parts I like best. actually.

Rick said...

Bernita - I didn't figure Fionavar Tapestry was devoid of cut & thrust. (You're right that it is mentioned under various spellings in his other books.) I'm just oddly averse to magic, though I do have just a bit of it, somewhat tied to Renaissance proto-science.

M. G. Tarquini said...

My eyes are green. They really are. Without the colored contacts. They can't see through walls though.

Bernita said...

So are mine.
The kids swear I can.

R.J. Baker said...

Ah-Ha. And here I thought I was the only one struggling with an intiguing heroine...

If you don't describe her, other than in short bursts when necessary, and have the hero's(or heroine's towards the hero) thoughts betray necessary traits then the reader may infer traits to their liking.

As for no sex, well, that's like non-alcoholic beer.

What exact genre are you targeting?

Bernita said...

At the moment, R.J. the best I can do is call it a cross-genre novel.
It contains paranormal, historical, romantic and thriller themes.
I don't describe her.Other characters do that.No mirrors. No combing out her yaller hair.I let dialogue and situation imply her character.
There is such a thing as sexual tension and anticipation. It can provide a type of suspense in a story if handled right.I worry at times that I do not have enough touch-tingle going on.
It is not a vanilla story, nevertheless.

Rick said...

My mind does not go at FTL, and sometimes it runs much slower than light. Only when I glanced back at some of your early posts, where you mentioned that Damie is in her 40s, did something strike me that I hadn't thought of when I read the same thing here.

This woman already has a life. (If she doesn't, she was in serious need of one well before she stumbled on the time travel thing.)

I think that's an even more shocking implication in a romance heroine (at any rate, someone with attributes of a romance heroine; I don't know just how much genre bending you're doing) than whether or not she has cellulite.

Whatever she was doing before she suddenly found herself sticking a knife in a 12th century ruffian, she was doing something, and she is presumably going to face more complex choices than a 22-year-old would in a similar situation.

Bernita said...

Exactly, Rick.
She's a sane and sensible woman.She's intelligent and mentally mature.She's pragmatic. She has already handled emotional trauma.
The real difficulty is providing adequate conflict.She may expand her perceptions about the world and herself and discover unsuspected strengths in herself but she is logically not going to "grow" the way a younger person might or may be expected to.

Rick said...

The flip side is she may have to make tougher decisions. I have no idea what the overall story is here, but it deals with time travel and has at least a romance element.

In the traditional convention, the hero(ine) chooses to stay in Brigadoon, er, the Other Time Period. Assuming that is even a possible option here, it means leaving an already-lived life behind, or else choosing to keep living it, foregoing the other.

Tangential to that question, and probably to the book as a whole, but I gotta channel my inner SF geek. She has interacted with the medieval past, and therefore changed it - even without the guy-cooties stuff of teaching them about gunpowder / the Copernican system / boiling surgical instruments before use.

Do you deal with these sort of time-travel implications at all, or are you leaving them outside the book's universe of discourse?

Bernita said...

She never considers "staying" in the past.She gambles she can get back to her own time, that this twist in time was not casually random, that there is logic or method behind it and when that is accomplished, she can return.
She considers the question of alteration of the future and decides she is not. It has already been changed and she is re-living or re-counting it in a sense.She decides the question , the potential infinity of time/being recursiveness is similar to a Heidggerian fugue, that there is no "answer" - just exercises in semantics.
She does not spend much time on it.
I get what you're asking though. Thank you.

Rick said...

I think I get what you're implying, that Damie's little excursion was integral to the fabric all along. It makes little matter - as said, I was just channeling my inner geek!

I don't have time travel, but the trace of magic I have relates to time, and at one point an astronomer loosely ripped off from Tycho Brahe gives Catherine a little lecture, with an hourglass as teaching aid. All relating to a mirror she should not have admired herself in. :)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Yikes, you were doin' good until you got to #3 ~blush~

that's not allowed in christian fiction....LOL

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I dunno Bernita, if I'd hand out that Dear Guy status to Erik just yet. Over on Lisa's blog, he wanted a perfume sample to take "primative camping" with Dana....LOL

http://dazeofwhineandroses.blogspot.com/2006/01/on-scent-of-jt-leroy.html

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh, Bernita, I spoke too soon....check out eric over here...

http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=19486536&postID=113800517158817818


Hehehe...LOL

Bernita said...

Not 'til the second in the series, Bonnie...ahem.. keep your shirt on.

Sheesh, I missed the good ribald stuff.
Nice comment about his wife rates "dear guy" from me.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Bernita,
I had Bonnie read a ribald chapter of mine, complete with ribald drinking song.

She blushed and everything.

Do you like ribald drinking songs?

Bernita said...

You mean like:
North Atlantic Squadron?
Friggin' in the Riggin'?
Roll me over in the Clover?
Landlord, Fill the Flowing Bowl?
Yep.

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