“W” is for “Wooden Writing”

I have a confession to make.  I read Harlequin (and Mills and Boon) romances.

This is a relatively new habit for me. I’m the kind of person who reads the same writers over and over again because I find it so hard to pick up new ones.  I may have said this in a previous post, my memory being what it is, I’m not sure.  But when I’m in the library (buy books? moi? [laughing hysterically]) I look at title, cover, subject and author.  If the book at least looks intriguing, I’ll take it off the shelf and read the first half-dozen pages.  IF the writer manages to not make me 1) like a character or 2) wonder what’s going to happen next or 3) captivate me to the point of wanting to sit for a minute and read further, the book goes back on the shelf.

Well, one day, all of my putative books to borrow having let me down, I picked up this pink-covered book from the large print area. To this day I have NO idea why. It managed to pass the test.  In fact, I wound up quite enjoying it (even if I did have to restrain the impulse to climb into the book and slap the heroine silly — it’s a convention of romance novels that quite often either the hero or heroine needs an attitude adjustment in the worst way).  There were several other of these books in the same area and I took them out as an adjunct to my other “usual suspects” (Alan Gordon [recommend!], Dick Francis, Robert Heinlein, Janette Oke, etc.) and discovered that they weren’t all that bad.  I especially like the “Dante’s Inferno” series (Day LeClaire) and there are a couple of other writers who I’ve gotten into.

Where does wooden writing come into this?  Well, I’ve continued to read these books, and lately, I’ve been let down.  Not so much by the plots; I mean, there’s only so much you can do with the basic premise, assuming that you stick to the modern world and the Alpha Male/Feisty Female motif.  Of the last dozen, I actually read all the way through two.  Maybe one and a half.  The writers were clueless about realistic dialog (internal and external), exposition, even characters.  And the writing itself was just cardboard.  I wish I had one of the books here to show you examples, but you’ll be spared that.

Is it a surprise that romance novels don’t attain to Dostoyevskian heights? No, of course not.  However, I can think offhand of several writers (Sandra Marton, Barbara McMahon, Ms. LeClaire, above, Kim Lawrence) who manage to provide entertainment and keep me liking the story, characters and general feeling of their books enough that I not only read them through, I look for more books by the same people.  (And there is one writer, an [I think] Australian woman, whose books I would only pick up if I needed paper and kindling to start a fire.  She’s that bad — I honestly don’t understand why they keep publishing her.)  I should say, too, that I prefer the books where the physical relationship between the leads is hinted at or waits until a marital commitment is made. I’m not into sleaze and when it gets that way, an author either loses me completely or I skip half the book.  YMMV.

I realize that they crank so many books out that quality is likely less of a consideration than quantity. Still, I’ve not gone through so long a period (the books come out monthly) where things have been consistently so bad.  And that’s a shame.  Get your act together, Harlequin.

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