If you are a reader, you likely have been there once or twice. In a reading rut. You know what I am talking about. Times when nothing is good enough… nothing appeals… everything seems the same… everything annoys you… You get the idea.
Some ruts are short lived, just a day or an evening. Sometimes they are longer. I am currently in one of the longer ones. Reading ruts have a cause. For each person that cause may be different, but this one got me thinking about why I was in such a rut and how to avoid it in the future.
I do not claim to be an expert on what sells and doesn’t sell. I don’t claim to have a degree in writing or literature, heck my degrees are both in engineering. But I am an avid reader, and I know what I like and what I don’t. I recently posed a question on Facebook that said
I am getting jaded by formulaic contemporary m/m romances… give me the title of one book you think will wow me…
I also said something about not reading historical, but that is another topic. I got some interesting responses from this status born out of frustration. Born out of a reading rut. The more I thought about it… well you know what that leads to… A Sunday Spotlight. Yeah, me and my big mouth (or fingers, as the case may be)…
As I spent some time analyzing the cause of my current rut and the books I have been reading of late, the answer I came to is formula. Too many stories that were predictable and “the same” as everything else I read. Too many stories that didn’t capture my little reader heart, mind, or imagination.
Not every book I read is a romance, but m/m contemporary and paranormal romance is my reading bread & butter, so to speak. This discussion is not just limited to M/M Romance, but I haven’t read a het romance in over two years so I can’t speak to the current quality or quantity.
Romance (and fiction in general) has an inherent formula. In Romance, you know the characters will be riding off into the sunset together, or at least they will be giving it a fair shot. By definition a Romance has a Happily Ever After or Happily for Now ending. The beauty of the romance genre lies in the journey.
I was asked what I meant by formula, and what I mean is this: When I can predict precisely what is going to happen from page to page and overall. When nothing surprises me. When I repeatedly say “of course, [this] happened” or “of course, [that] is about to happen,” and then I am sadly proven right again and again. When the dialogue is trite and predictable. When the heroes are two-dimensional caricatures rather than three-dimensional people.
Everyone who has ever taken an English or writing course in school has seen a diagram similar to the following:
You have likely written a story or two using a worksheet similar to this one:
When you are first learning to write, these diagrams and formulas are a great starting point. But that is all they should be… a starting point. As one grows and matures as a writer, one should take more time and effort with the HOW. With the “middle.” With the green zigzag line. Move the prize, move the epiphany. Surprise yourself. Surprise the reader.
The journey needs to keep the reader captivated. The journey needs to transcend the formula. The journey should not be completely predictable.
I talk to many in the genre on a daily basis, on both sides of the page. Some love formula. They love that they know there will be an HEA. They love that they know the characters are going break up and makeup. They love the comfort in being proven right time and again. Obviously, there is a huge market for formula romance because, let’s face it; it sells and sells well.
As a reviewer, however, I run out of things to say about these books. There is only so many times I can say something is a “sweet and cute love story with little angst” before that statement turns from a compliment to a criticism. There is nothing WRONG with these books. They are, for the most part, well-written and well thought out. They may have witty banter. Some even have may have deep, rich characters or settings. However, I find that the more I read these stories, the more it reads like the author was just trying to get from the prologue to publication with as little effort as possible. If the author doesn’t enjoy the experience… neither will the reader.
As a reader, I crave the break in formula. I crave the experience. I crave the discomfort. I crave the one moment in the book where the characters surprise me. I crave the book hangover.
I was recently talking with an author about writing the “connection” that their reviewers often said was lacking. I gave that author an example of one of their books where they “got it right.” As this author thought about it, they realized that they had FELT it when they were writing, as well. If the writer doesn’t feel it while they are writing, the reader won’t feel it while they are reading. The “it” is whatever the reader sees in a book that makes it connect and grab them. That makes them want to turn page after page. The “it” in this discussion is what I find missing when I say that I am getting jaded by formula romance.
If I am busy rolling my eyes and saying “of course” I can not connect with the characters. If I am bored reading predictable dialogue and sex scenes that reduce the act to tab A goes in slot B, thrust, repeat, I can not appreciate the story.
Sometimes the formula isn’t the “industry” formula, but one of the writer’s own making. Some authors find something that works, and they just keep going back to the pot over and over. Once you read one of their stories, you have read them all. Or at least it feels that way. Now, I won’t claim to be “above” such stories because there are some authors I read DESPITE their formula because their characters are so compelling, or they really have become comfort reads for me, or they hold a special place for one reason, or another. However, for the most part, I strike such authors off my list from the start and just don’t read them at all. There is too much available in the genre and my reading time too precious to read the same thing time and again.
I am not saying that all stories in the genre suffer from formula. Some take the formula and make it their own. Some transcend the formula. Some sparkle. For the most part I love this genre for so many reasons. I just seem to have butted up against a number of formula romances in a row and have gotten a bit jaded. There are authors out there that repeatedly land at the top of my to-read list because of their ability to grab me and not let go. These authors have the ability to break any reading rut I may be in.
I am not saying stop writing to formula. I am saying transcend the formula. Find a way to make it special. Grab me and don’t let go.
For those of you who weren’t in on the Facebook thread, here are some of the titles that were mentioned for me to check out to break the formula rut. I have read some of these and agree. Others are new to me.
Enter to Win a SIGNED paperback copy of Static from LA Witt, a Prism Book Alliance Totebag, and RainbowCon/RT Swag pack.
All you have to do to enter is tell me in the comments one m/m book you think will wow me. One book you think will break my rut. 🙂
- A Hole in God’s Pocket by KZ Snow
- Aaron and Spencer by JP Barnaby
- Afflicted 1 and 2 by Brandon Shire
- Aftermath by Cara Dee
- An Unconventional Chicago Anthology by Various
- Anything by Fabian Black
- Anything by Kol Anderson
- Anything by Freddy MacKay
- Apollo’s Curse by Brad Vance
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Allire Sáenz
- As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann
- Bob the Book by David Pratt
- Bone Rider by J. Fally
- Bound by Hb Pattskyn
- Broken Road Cafe by TA Webb
- Brother’s Bishop by Bart Yates.
- Bus Stop by Anne Dudley
- Campus Cravings Bundle by Various
- Chance Assassin by Nicole Castle
- Cold by Brandon Shire
- Dangerously Happy by Varian Krylov
- Dog Tagged by James Brock
- Don’t by Jack L Pyke
- Ethan, Who Loved Carter by Ryan Loveless
- Falling for Ramos by Sue Brown
- Finding Sanctuary by D.C. Juris
- Finding Zach by Rowan Speedwell
- Good Bones by Kim Fielding
- Illumination by Rowan Speedwell
- In the Absence of Monsters by JP Barnaby
- In the Flesh by Ethan Stone
- Infected series by Andrea Speed
- Irregulars by Nicole Kimberling
- Josh of the Damned by Andrew Speed
- King Perry / King Mai by Edmond Manning
- Last chance Charlie by Ryan Loveless
- Latakia by JF Smith
- Laurel Heights by Lisa Worrall
- Listening to Dust by Brandon Shire
- Lola Dances by Victor J. Banis
- Love, Like Water by Rowan Speedwell
- Memorizing You by Dan Skinner
- Missing by Drake Braxton
- Motel. Pool. by Kim Fielding
- Murder on the Mountain by Jamie Fessenden
- Notes in the Margin by Isabelle Rowan
- Nothing Ever Happens by Sue Brown
- Protection by T Baggins
- PysCop Series by Jordan Castillo Price
- Ricochet by Xanthe Walter
- Rough Canvas by Joey W Hill
- Running with George by Charles Lunsford
- Saturn in Retrograde by Jamie Fessenden
- Saving Alexander by Susan Mac Nicol
- Scarred by JM Snyder
- Seasons Series from by Jay Bell
- Serpentine Walls by CJane Elliott
- Shaking the Sugar Tree by Nick Wilgus
- Sins of Another by Jessica Skye Davies
- Slam! by JL Merrow
- Slasherazzi by Daniel Kaine
- Soulless by T Baggins
- Spirit by John Inman
- Static by LA Witt
- Tales from Foster High by John Goode
- The Disassembled Life of Duncan Cole by S. Hart
- The Island by Lisa Henry
- The Last Thing he Needs by J.h. Knight
- The Magpie Lord series by KJ Charles
- The Man in the Long Black Coat by JL Aarne
- The Next by Rafe Haze
- The Painting of Porcupine City by Ben Monopoli
- The Return by Brad Boney
- The Room series by Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow
- The Shattered Door by Brandon Witt
- The Slayers Apprentice by Zathyn Priest
- The Trap by Indigo Wren
- Their Plane from Nowhere by Princess So
- Whyborne/Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk
- Woke up in a Strange Place by Eric Arvin
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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