Friday, May 22, 2009

Don’t Go Down in the Basement. Then Again, Maybe…

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We’ve all had those moments. We’re watching a thriller/horror movie. It’s dark. Evil people/spirits/creatures are aprowl. Our pretty young thing hears a noise down in the basement. Does she go for help? No. Does she run like hell? No. We’re screaming, “You idiot! Don’t go down in the basement!” But does she listen? No. She goes down in the basement.

Why do writers do this? Frequently it’s because they’re lazy. If our heroine calls the police and says, “I think there’s a prowler in my basement,” there goes our writer’s scary/gruesome scene. It’s a lot easier to get an unbelievably stupid character into trouble than a smart one.

That’s not to say that smart characters can’t make mistakes and get into trouble. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when they don’t have all the necessary information or if there’s something in their past that is driving them to make bad choices. Or maybe our character has a choice between a bad alternative and a worse alternative—say, she hears her baby crying down in the basement. Then she has my sympathy and respect when she goes rushing down into trouble. But those kinds of situations are a lot trickier to set up. They’re more work. (And even then some opinionated reader will probably criticize your character for making a poor decision.)

Yet I’m beginning to suspect that there are a lot of readers/viewers out there who don’t actually care if their hero—or at least their heroine—does the equivalent of going down in the basement over and over again. Consider, for instance, a certain megaselling series, which is sort of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer only without the kick-ass heroine (I always thought Buffy’s snap kicks and knife hand blocks were a big part of her appeal, but then, what do I know?). Rather than dispatching her enemies with Tae Kwon Do and a stake and a humorous quip, the heroine of this megaseller goes down in the basement over and over again, largely so that she can be rescued by her hero. I don’t think this is an example of lazy writing. This is deliberate. In a sense, it’s a retreat to an earlier age, where the damsel was in distress and the hero saved the day. And readers love it. One out of five books sold in the United States in the first quarter of this year were by this author.

One might actually deduce that its heroine’s propensity to go down in the basement is an important part of this series’ appeal. Is that true? I don’t know. If you’re a fan of this series, please don’t think I’m criticizing it, because I’m not. This author has obviously tapped into something huge here. I’m just trying to understand it.

12 comments:

laughingwolf said...

candy, i agree... pure laziness

i agree with stephen king, that author sucks... but, also knows how to play the game, and does it very well, laughing all the way to the bank in the armored trucks....

Steve Malley said...

What keeps freaking me out is the way the 'I don't really read' folks in my life keep picking up her books and *loving* them! You're right, Candy, she's sure tapped into something here, but I don't get it either...

cs harris said...

laughingwolf, she is indeed laughing all the way to the bank!

Steve, my agent once remarked to me that people like Dan Brown and this author sell so huge because they appeal to people who don't normally read. I've known some writers/big readers who could look past the clunk and enjoy The DVC anyway, but I think my agent hit on something.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I know exactly which author you're referring to so can't speak to the particulars there. As for Dan Brown and DVC, what I found interesting there wasn't the plot, the clunky prose, or (most definitely not) the characterization. What kept me reading was the way it made me think about how certain ideas become part of the orthodoxy while others become heresy. From Dan Brown to Elaine Pagels may not be a straight line, but it worked for me. Once I found the real authors who could talk about the subject, I didn't have to subject myself to any more of Brown's books.

Susan/DC

Charles Gramlich said...

Not a kick ass heroine? Geeze, I hate to say it, but that might almost be refreshing. I liked the first three or four hundred kick ass heroines, but the fifty thousand clones that followed haven't done much for me.

cs harris said...

Susan, I haven't read Pagels (I doubt Brown has either--I think he used Holy Blood, Holy Grail), but I think you're right: the "aboutness" of that book was a HUGE part of its appeal.

Charles, You might have something. Maybe a lot of women are tired of kickass heroines they don't feel they can ever live up to. Are you as tired of kickass heroes?

BevChurchill said...

Your books are addictive!!..Our bookclub in Metairie would love for you to speak. Would you email me back for an address or phone # to get in touch with you? Thanks so much

Charles Gramlich said...

No, because there seems to be more variety among male characters. Say in fantasy, you might have a kick ass hero like Conan, or a less than kick ass character like Frodo Baggins. But in paranormal romance the main character in 'all' cases seems to be a kick ass hero who looks to me (as an admitted outsider) like a clone of Buffy.

cs harris said...

Bev, you can email me at canproc@earthlink.net

Charles, I actually haven't read ANY fantasy romances, but if they are all Buffy clones, you may be on to a big part of this series' appeal.

liz fenwick said...

I think one needs to first look at the target reader - teens to evaluate the book (and it works on the that basis) then look at how it has morphed out side its market.

It is fantasy and in the current economic times people need that 'escape' from reality and think that someone else can save them.........

cs harris said...

liz, that may be it--that powerful, childlike wish for someone to take care of us.

Dan said...

candy, i agree... pure laziness i agree with stephen king, that author sucks... but, also knows how to play the game, and does it very well, laughing all the way to the bank in the armored trucks....