Monday, October 19, 2009

To Be Subtle Or Not To be Subtle

Subtle has it's advantages, especially when you are trying to make a point to the reader. This character is flighty, this character hates their job, this character *insert what you want to convey here.* You can do this by the words you choose, or how a character reacts in a given situation. But sometimes the subtlety can get lost in the other noise of the novel. Readers come to stories with their own luggage and they see what they want to see.

Case in point: I read this Women's Fiction novel. The heroine hated this one character. He rubbed her in the wrong way and she gave her reasons to why she hated him. On the surface those reasons made sense. Also the fact I was reading a Women's Fiction I wasn't on the look out for "Oh, here's the hero" like I do in romance. So by the time I got to the Big Reveal, I was shocked. OMG!!!!!

Now when I go back to read the story I can see where the author put in the clues. A sentence here and there. The heroine completely evading. It was subtle and it was meant to be that way. Even if you caught on earlier in the novel you still somehow felt vindicated that you were right.

Loosely connected--when it comes to a readers own luggage and seeing what they want to see--I was reading The Grand Sophy and I knew it was a romance. So every man that came on the scene I was looking for the hero qualities. It wasn't until half-way through the book that I settled on one character. But the author kept beating me on the head THESE TWO ARE NOT TO BE. I was mildly disappointed, because I couldn't figure out who the hero was and why would the author wait until the very end of the book to introduce the hero. And then Sophy had the long, steady glance, (that we use in romance novels) the one that says YOU'RE THE ONE...with her cousin!

I was reading The Grand Sophy blind. I had never read a review. I had just heard how incredible this book was. So I was coming to this novel with my 2009 way of thinking, you don't marry your cousins. (It's ALMOST acceptable when you start hitting 5th, 6th lineage. Not your 1st cousin.) I brought my own luggage and I saw what I wanted to see whenever Sophy and Charles would make a scene crackle from their conflict. (I totally needed to buy a Romance Clue when I read this novel.)

Now if those scenes didn't crackle and when I got to the point where they had their "glance" I would have needed to take a serious shower. If those sentences and evading hadn't been placed early on in the Women's Fiction my head would have whipped around and I would not have bought as easily that the heroine really had the hots for the hero.

But in both instances I can see what wasn't subtle. Charles did not like how Sophy was turning his world upside down. Sophy (and myself included) did not care for Charles's betrothed. The heroine in the Women's Fiction needed to grow up and stop living in denial. And after a certain point she just needed to peel the hero's clothes off with her teeth already.

And while I'm going through my second round of edits I'm keeping this lesson in mind. What to place in with a whisper (also taking into consideration how many times I'll have to do it) and what to pump up so that the reader can see it no matter what luggage they bring to the story.

What subjects do you introduce to the reader in a subtle manner? What do you choose to put out there for the reader to see and see clearly?


  1. Hmm... Too late for me to think to introspectively. Gut feeling is that with romance I generally want to know fairly early on who the hero and heroine are. There can be complications, naturally, and other people interacting to stir the pot and make you wonder, but the fun for me isn't the guessing of "who" but the "how." But then maybe thats just because I don't do overly subtle too well! Not sure!

    And the first cousin thing creeps me out too, Melissa. I write Regency, but still couldn't write that into my story. Just too icky.

  2. the fun for me isn't the guessing of "who" but the "how." But then maybe thats just because I don't do overly subtle too well!

    I love the how when it comes to a romance, because the HEA is so much sweeter when you don't know how they will get past all the obstacles.

    And lol. My editor once told me "It was so subtle it wasn't even there." Which was not a compliment. So you have to pick and choose, even practice on the things you want to hint at in the story. And sometimes you just have to say it.

    I write Regency, but still couldn't write that into my story. Just too icky.

    I forgave Georgette Heyer for the first cousin romance because the story, the characters, just came to life. Not to mention the first edition came out in 1950. Definitely a different time; definitely a lot of living resources of mores in the late 19th century and early 20th. It wasn't that far-fetched or frowned upon to marry a first cousin. Not sure when public opinion changed, but I am very grateful for it. 'Cause eeewww. Either way I suspended belief and secretly re-wrote in my head Charles as a fifth cousin, twice removed.