Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Character is King

I normally adore my kindle, but every so often I get a yearning for a good old fashioned paperback. That’s when I scour my shelves for something I haven’t read yet, and as often as not come up with Nora Roberts. Nora is my go-to author for well-written romantic suspense, and she’s so prolific there’s always something new. Here are the most recent three books of hers that have got a grip on me.
What do I like most about Nora? Her characters, probably. Her heroes are without fail solid, capable and just plain nice. They can be sexy as hell (always a winner with me) but they don’t have to sacrifice good manners, respect, and not taking their ladies for granted. I prefer stories to include sex, but despite being an erotic author myself I don’t necessarily insist on explicit scenes if the plot doesn’t call for it. Gratuitous smut gets tedious after a while and will slow down an otherwise strong story.
Heroines, too, will make or break the story. I prefer to read about women who might be my friends in real life – strong, independent, clever, successful – and Nora delivers those in spades. Set all that against a well-researched and believable plot and you’ll have me every time.
Nora Roberts’ back covers and accolades as often as not proclaim her to be the most successful novelist on the planet. I love Nora but I’m not sure about that, I suppose it depends on how success is to be measured or judged. Number of books sold? Money earned? Film rights? There would be other contenders, but I suppose Nora would be up there among them, and I don’t blame her publicist for trying.
I also read crap. Not much of it, to be fair, because my tolerance threshold for BS is low and if a story doesn’t draw me in within the first chapter or two I tend to delete it and move on. There’s far too much good stuff out there to waste time on drivel, but occasionally something sneaks onto my kindle, if briefly. I’m not about to name names here – on principle I refuse to give poor reviews – but perhaps some general comments on what irritates me and would tempt me to consider a paltry two or even one star.
First and foremost it would be poor or mediocre writing. Please, please spare me from ‘he said’, ‘she went’, ‘they were…’. I relish strong verbs, descriptive nouns, clever sentence construction – not necessarily grammatically correct, I value strength of meaning over rules every time. My beloved Nora is something of a head-hopper, but I forgive her that because she knows what she’s doing.
I contend that pretty much any story can be gripping if told well, and the reverse is true. Wizard stories are two a penny, but Harry Potter… now there is a wizard, and it is the literary genius of J.K. Rowling that made him what he is. Come to think of it, if the crown of most successful novelist is up for grabs…
Plot matters. It needs to be believable and with enough pace to keep my interest. Description is good, but don’t overdo it. I like to be taken to new places, I want to see, feel, hear, smell, and experience all of this through characters that I’m happy to snuggle right up alongside.
Which brings me back around to my first and my final must have. Character is king. Give me intriguing characters, interesting and engaging people, people I can recognise in situations that offer both challenge and fascination. Spice it all up with plenty of conflict, get those characters rubbing against each other (literally or otherwise), and I’m yours.


  1. Lately, a woman I know told me she couldn't remember my pen name (Jean Roberta), but thought it might be Nora Roberts! I was flattered. I know she has written an incredible number of novels, especially considering that she also writes under the name J.D. Robb.

  2. ...My beloved Nora is something of a head-hopper, but I forgive her that because she knows what she’s doing.
    I contend that pretty much any story can be gripping if told well ...

    That's the ticket. The best writers can do anything they want and still make it art. Trick is to know the rules inside out, then go ahead and break them. Rest assured that Sonny Rollins, who has so many innovative credentials to his credit, can also play Mary Had A Little Lamb. Perfectly. And backwards.

  3. I love your passion here. At the same time it sounds like we have very different taste. I believe in useful simplicity, and I think 'he said,' 'she went,' and 'they were' can provide a clean background that makes high points stand out clearly. I am all for experimentation with construction if a writer knows what they're doing, and there's the old adage that rules were made to be broken. That said, I care about grammatical correctness, and I particularly hate a weird tyranny of ungrammatical, stylistic pronouncements coming out of certain genres that makes some editors tear up sentences I've written correctly and insert mistakes. When I read books written with this now ubiquitous style (often touted for the strength and activity of its verbiage), I cringe not only because I don't enjoy it as a reader but also because my writer self has suffered too much from people trying to force me into it.

    Aaanyway, I am entering full grammar rant mode. I am glad you enjoy Nora Roberts!

  4. Don't you find heroes who are always solid, capable and nice, and heroines who are strong, clever, independent and successful -- book after book -- to be a bit boring? I have never read *any* Nora Roberts (I will admit to having been put off by her head-hopping reputation), so I can't criticize her specifically, but my main problem with romance as a genre is that it tends to be pretty homogeneous.

    As for books without sex... if a book is well-written, I won't miss it. Lately I've been writing stories which don't necessarily describe every sex scene in detail. Sometimes I will just write the first moves... then end the chapter.


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