Thursday, April 29, 2010

Anatomy of a Bad Book

On the list of books I took with me to Philadelphia was one that had precisely one saving grace: it was a quick read.  While it wasn't laughably bad, and I really have no desire to mock the book or its author, it reminded me of nearly all the things that can go wrong in writing a romance novel.  Here, then, is the checklist of Faults & Flaws.  Let's see how many got ticked.  (I will say this: it's a contemporary romance, so some of the clangers we find in historical romances will be missing from this checklist.)


    Impossibly beautiful with white-blond hair & perfect skin -- even after being kidnapped, trussed up & thrown into dirt cave, and (later) even after having scalp shaved for surgery.

   Immediately trusting of Hero despite the aforementioned kidnapping and his strange appearance and bad blood with her dad and Hero's own admission that he'd killed someone.  In fact, within 20 minutes, is able to convince Hero of his own worth after he's beaten himself up for five years.

   Sexually inexperienced.  Has had sex exactly once, didn't see the appeal, so when dating to the point of getting engaged, still doesn't sleep with guy -- who then sleeps with Heroine's BFF.

    Too stupid to live.  When villain enters the room with two cans of gasoline in hand, Heroine takes FOUR pages before thinking, "Oh, I get it -- [X] is gonna burn down the house."

    Has miraculous conversion from being shallow, rich daddy's girl to being woman of backbone & character with about a nanosecond of introspection.


    Has been living in one-room cabin on 200 acres with no visible means of financial support for five years, but still smells just fine when he comes across the kidnapped Heroine.

    Still retains alpha hero cred despite fleeing criminal justice when wife & kid turn up dead -- and he's a police detective.  (Like, didn't he trust his colleagues & CSI types to find evidence that guy actually responsible -- identity known by Hero, btw -- did it, not Hero?)

    Looks good in five-year-old beard.

    Not impossibly bitter despite senseless loss of wife & child in adultery-laden tragic shooting.

    Is only law enforcement officer -- in a case with both sheriff's office AND the FBI -- capable of figuring out whodunnit.


   Entire book is over at 35,000 words if Heroine just rides ONE mile on a speedy horse to where FBI and sheriff's deputies are.  Instead, she wheels around and rides back to where shots are being fired, thus getting herself shot (duh) and Hero accused of her kidnapping, complications requiring another 50,000 words to resolve.

    Entire book never happens at all if Hero doesn't take his brother's remark (offer of legal representation when Hero accused of shooting wife & child) as evidence that bro thinks he's a killer.

   Entire book also never happens if Heroine's father -- who supposedly is oil tycoon with incredible business acumen -- doesn't overlook fact that his ranch foreman is rustling cattle, stealing farm equipment ("funny, I thought I left a tractor here someplace"?), and taking/selling drugs.

    After straightforward us-versus-them sequence evading kidnappers in woods, plot devolves into Dynasty with Heroine's family (dad, mom, stepmom, dad's other wives, half-brother and his wife, plus servants) ALL having secrets, debts, and motives up the ying-yang.

Writing Style

   Lots and lots of Tell not Show.  Heroine (despite major trauma of kidnapping, which came 12 hours after seeing boyfriend in bed with BFF) immediately trusts and confides in Hero.  (To his credit, Hero takes slightly longer to fall in love with Heroine.)

    Headhopping to extraordinary degree.  In one three-sentence paragraph, both Hero and Heroine's POV are used.

   Clunky dialogue.  (I'd quote some, but you can trust me on this.)

    Convenient but implausible character development.  Hero goes from police detective to mountain man to successful rancher/husband/dad with no issues.  Heroine goes from rich girl to victim of successive traumas to bank teller to ESL tutor to successful rancher's wife/mom with no issues.

    Unconvincing romance.  Heroine's falling in love with guy who rescues her, keeps her safe, figures out whodunnit -- where's the depth in that?  Hero's falling in love with the kinder, gentler version of the same rich bitch his first wife was -- awfully convenient, isn't it?


Actually, the dog was lovely.  Points for the dog.


  1. Oh, wow. That sounds like a really bad book. Care to share which one it was? :D

  2. If you go back a couple posts to where I picked books for the trip, it's easy to see which one it is. But I really didn't want to mock it specifically. Mostly I wanted to remind myself: Don't do these things!

    Interestingly enough, the same author got an A review from AAR for a 2010 release, so everyone can improve! (And -- the book I skewer here *did* get published...)

  3. Oooh -- this is my day for mistakes, isn't it?

    The author who got the A review from AAR is not the same author whose book I'm blogging about in this post. I apologize to all the unnamed authors involved!

  4. Silly me, I couldn't work it out. To which book did you refer? (I don't mind if you email me privately if you don't want to put it on the blog. Pretty please?)


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