Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Teapot Tempest v. Storm in a Cup

Sacchi Green

I’d always heard the “tempest in a teapot” version, but a bit of googling suggests that my version is considered to be the American one, while “storm in a tea cup” is the one favored in England. My source claims that there’s a good deal of “overreaction to this small or insignificant” difference “as if it were of considerably more consequence,” which of course is the definition of either one. In fact, according to the phrases.uk.org article I read, both versions arguably had their origin in Scotland, and the concept itself goes way, way back, at least to the writing of Cicero circa 52BC, with his “Excitabat fluctus in simpulo,” sometimes translated as "He was stirring up billows in a ladle". More variations over the years include the possibly first used recorded in English in 1678, when the Duke of Ormond wrote "Our skirmish ... is but a storm in a cream bowl." Some translations from other countries are far less genteel.

Isn’t it fun to spend your time contemplating such non-essential nonsense? Don’t you love the strained set-ups of imagined conflict that appear in so many romance novels (as well as some other genres) because everybody knows that a story has to have some conflict, or how are you going to fill all those pages?

I don’t. I especially don’t like the blurbs that say, time after time after time, “Can X overcome [whatever the problem between them is] and find happiness with Y?” In fact any blurbs that end in a question mark turn me off, so I can’t even say that the answer is never “no,” but I’d bet on it. The worst set-up in my opinion is the “misunderstanding” one, where the protagonists are driven apart by mistaken assumptions of the tempest in a teapot variety that could have been cleared up by a little simple communication. A more reasonable variation is the secret or traumatic past, but from what I’ve seen in passing, “Can X overcome (whatever the challenge is) and find happiness with Y?” is very much overused these days.

It’s quite true that I don’t know enough about these books to pass any kind of judgment. These writers (and blurb-writers) know what their audience wants far better than I do. My one attempt at a novel was panned by a reviewer because she didn’t like the main characters to be already in a relationship at the beginning. She only likes to read about the falling-in-love, coming-together kind of romances, she said, perhaps having missed the fact that the novel was not billed as a romance. I did cave to the editor in terms of a blurb with a question mark in it, but it didn’t make it sound like a romance. The book itself was of the love-it-or-hate it variety, anyway, and reviews came out about even.

My preference is for books that have fully-developed, original stories at their core, whether they can also be classed as romance, or erotica, or historical. Mysteries and thrillers by their nature have fully-developed stories if they’re any good. But, as I said somewhere upstream, all I know is what I’ve seen in passing. I do know that there are many excellent books classed as romances, and I know some of the excellent authors that write them. All I’m doing here boils down to stirring up an irrelevant tempest in a teapot, or storm in a tea cup. But with lemon, lots of very sour lemon, no cream or sugar.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I wish I'd thought of this take on the topic. I couldn't agree more about the ridiculous insignificance of some romance conflicts. I do read quite a bit of romance, usually for reviews, and sometimes you'll find me gritting my teeth and shaking my head. My least favorite might be "she thinks he's not into commitment" while "he thinks she's too good for a bad boy like him". Ugh!

    As for the questions (rolling my eyes) ... well, you've said it all.

    However, I did end a recent erotica novel blurb with a question. More than one, actually:

    "Will love triumph? Will Francesca be drawn over to the dark side? Is there a difference?" ;^)


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