Fri
Nov 9 2012 1:00pm

Body Geometry, The Day of Reckoning, and Stalling Out: Getting Pulled Out of the Story

Question mark image by Eleaf via FlickrPicture this: I’m reading and in the midst of a very sexy scene. I’m getting into it, then...I’m yanked out of the narrative. The culprit? The narrative itself. Is the heroine on top now, or is she on the bottom? Wait. Oh, I think I missed it, because now she’s on all fours, with his left hand on her left boob. Where’s his right hand? Oh no! I think his index finger was just in her “dark, forbidden channel,” and now he’s reaching for her love button. OMG, how ripe is she for a UTI?

Then it’s time for round two. They’re in the shower, a venue that sounds terrific, but isn’t easy to accomplish if the hero is much taller than the heroine, and then they’re falling on the bed. Oh, no! Her wet hair is going to destroy her silk duvet cover...and what of the Down that's in it? And what’s going to happen once they’re all done and her hair is dried and all knotted up? Not sexy.

My Liege of Dark Haven by Cherise SinclairAnd here’s a real-life experience from earlier in the week. So I’m reading My Liege of Dark Haven (2012) by auto-buy author Cherise Sinclair when I reach the scene in which the heroine’s bitch of a step-sister—who once briefly dated the hero—invites him to attend a party with her as her plus one. He doesn’t know she’s the heroine’s bitch of a step-sister. Since the heroine has plans that weekend which don’t include him, he agrees to attend as the plus one with the bitch of a step-sister, the hallmark of whose bad behavior is stealing away the heroine’s boyfriends.

Meanwhile, the narrative continues. The hero and heroine continue their D/s play with a particularly lengthy role-playing scene that I’m sure was lots of kinky fun. Unfortunately, I couldn’t read it knowing of the impending train wreck that would occur when the heroine “catches” the hero and her bitch of a step-sister at the party and all of her triggers are tripped. So, rather than continuing to read, I kept clicking the “next page” button on my Kindle to get to the moment of truth. And though it all works out in the end, and the bitch of a step-sister has her day of reckoning—she gets called out in public—I never went back to read what I “paged” past.

Maybe I’m unfair in criticizing books that pull me out of the narrative because, as a professional reviewer I’m just too picky. Maybe the typical reader doesn’t notice small things. But...they do. From anachronistic writing to incorrect historical facts to a heroine taking a non-existent national professional exam, readers catch such things.

The evil boyfriend-stealing relative playing on the heroine’s insecurities is so much a trope that the moment an author drops a hint of trouble to come, I’m on high alert. I get pulled out of the moment, my mind totally on the impending disaster rather than the narrative in front of me.

Something else that disrupts the narrative? It stalls when confronted with the stubborn wench, that doppelgänger of the feisty heroine. The stubborn wench's behavior is a delaying tactic, either of the story or its characters’ relationships, and how can that not hurt the narrative?

Revelation by Erica HayesConsider, for instance, Revelation, Erica Hayes’s October release and the first in her Seven Signs series. I loved that Hayes went out on a limb with her apocalypse, what with her tweaking the Archangel Michael so that he’s drugged-out sadist, and I applaud her ability to actually engage me in a book featuring a plague of zombies. But just as some writers can’t see a difference between a strong heroine and a hair-tossing, foot-stomping one, here it seems that Hayes couldn’t finesse skepticism, devolving her heroine instead into “I'm stubborn and I can't get up” territory.

The book’s heroine, a medical examiner who believes only in science and who, as a result of her childhood has more than a healthy distrust of religion, determines to put an end to a zombie epidemic scientifically. At first her skepticism of the whole notion that demons are finding, stealing, and spilling vials of God’s wrath makes sense, but as the story moves forward, she gets more and more stuck on issues arising out of her lack of faith, particularly where the hero, a fallen angel to die for, is concerned—even when the evidence under her nose tell her it’s time to trust him. Unfortunately, once she got stuck, so did I, and the narrative stalled.

It’s easy for me to blame the writers for these particular story stoppers. But I have only myself to blame for other instances in which I’m pulled out of the story. Call it the wimp factor, but after a couple comes together—usually temporarily—around the midpoint of a romance, often it all goes to shit, and I need time to mentally prepare for it, for the betrayal that will be revealed, the change in scenery portending dark times ahead, the character introduced who will make trouble, or the Big Separation the hero and heroine will be forced to endure.

In the first step of this process, I literally take myself out of the story. I put down the book (or my Kindle) and take a break from the narrative that may last for days. In the interim I give myself a "talking to” so that I can  get back to the book. I tell myself it’s “just” a book, and after I heckle myself, I’m fortified with enough courage to get back into the story.

I consider this my biggest Unfortunate Reader Idiosyncrasy; it’s certainly nothing for which I can blame the writer. What is your biggest Unfortunate Reader Idiosyncrasy? What do writers do to pull you out of the narrative or causes it to stall? I’m dying to know if we share any, and if not, what yours are.

Questioned Proposal image courtesy of Eleaf via Flickr

 


Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr or goodreads, where she spends much of her time of late, or follow her on Google+, Pinterest, or on Twitter @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.

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23 comments
Lana Baker
1. lanalucy
My mother was an English teacher. I'm afraid the biggest thing to pull me out of a story instantly is bad grammar or a misused word or a homonym. Gah! Then I think about the education system that made an editor think this, whatever it was, was OK, then I just devolve into a ranty puddle on the floor. Or else I quit reading and move on to the next craptastic book. I'm having the worst luck lately.
Laurie Gold
2. LaurieGold
Last week I read a book in which the hero sat down in a seated position. It didn't kill the book, but I did bring it up, the next night, at the dinner table because I was still annoyed.
Carmen Pinzon
3. bungluna
I can usually edit in my mind most grammar erros and my spelling is not the greatest. I cannot forgive missuse of words. And some of the contortions described in some books leave me scratching my head. The worst for me, though, is when a foreign word or phrase that I know is used the wrong way. I remember a book where the hero was described as having 'cajones' which in Spanish means drawers and I just about died from the mental picture. The correct word is 'cojones', which is a slang for testicles.
Lege Artis
4. LegeArtis
Ok, this will sound strange, but I can be pulled from good sex scene when author starts to describe bodily fluids as food.
Seriously, what's up with that...?! "Her cream" or "her honey"... and should we even mention the infamous "juice"...?Gah, that ruins my mood every time....
Ezequiel
5. Ezequiel
Everything mentioned in the comments previous to mine will usually bother me. (Especially the misuse of Spanish. I'm not a native speaker, but I live in Mexico, and I can tell when they're doing it horribly wrong.)

Another thing that bothers me is if the hero/ine can't stop screwing up in the same exact way. I realise that glaringly obvious mistakes made by the protaganist are often a necessary a part of the plot, but I've read a few now where the protaganist will make a basic mistake (like basing life & death decisions on emotion instead of logic, or failing to do any prep work when going after The Big Bad), beat themselves up over it, then do it again in book after book.

Characters should adapt and change over time. Sometimes, those changes will be for the worse, but that shouldn't apply one-hundred percent of the time. I shouldn't have to be the one to say, "Wait... haven't you done this before, Ass-hat?"

That kind of thing can take a good character and make him or her rather tedious.
Vanessa Ouadi
6. Lafka
I have several URI.

Given that I read many historicals, anachronisms really can put me out of a story.

Same thing when, while reading a sex scene, I have to stop, re-read the paragraph, to figure how the hell the hero and heroine ended in such a position and if it is even anatomically possible.

Editing mistakes also pull me out of the narrative : misprints, punctuation problems (it's soooo annoying to have to guess where a sentence begins and ends, and whether a sentence is a dialogue or not), or worse _ and, when occuring too often, it really is a deal-breaker _ names-switching. For instance, I read lately Jennifer Probst' The Marriage Mistake, and in a scene set in Las Vegas, starring the hero and the heroine, the name of the heroine's brother pops out, and I was like "what the hell is he doing here?". It's just a detail, but it disrupted my reading.

What I encounter quite a lot and can really turn into a deal-breaker is the repetition of some words. In itself, given that English language, just as any other language, only offers a limited scope of words, it's quite natural that an author uses several times the same word in a story. But sometimes, the repetition becomes a pattern, and it gets annoying. I'm going to give you an example and I'm sure you gonna get my point : "Holy cow!". Yes, yes, I'm talking about you, Ana Steele. THE Ana Steele from THE Fifty Shades Trilogy _ and for the life of me, I can't understand what on earth is so good with that book, but I'm drifting. My point is, Ana says "Holy cow" nearly in every page of the 3 books, which contain each quite a great number of pages. The first 10 "holy cows", you don't notice much. Then, it becomes a bit annoying. And finally, you think "if she says "Holy cow" once more, I'm getting into the book and ripping her tongue out already!". Yes, the ceaseless repetition of that rather ridiculous idiom brought me near the point of physical violence.
That's an extreme example, but really, more than once in a book have I thought about a heroine : "stop stomping your foot, storming out a room and pouting, you're not a 5-years-old, for Pete's sake!" ; or about a hero : "yes, you're sexy when you scowl, brood, and loom in the darkness, but don't you think you could explore other activities and/or facial expressions?".
Ezequiel
7. Jezebellydancer
Sex scenes that leave me wondering who is doing what and how many hands they actually have drives me right out of the moment. If I can't picture the position, it's just too complicated. I've even grabbed for my copy of kama sutra to see if I could find a visual. Not sexy when I have to put the book down to do research.

Anachronicsms make me crazy too, and pull me right out of the narrative. Medieval hunks who call the heroine, 'baby' or use modern expressions. Ugh.

In historicals, or even modern stories, where clothing isn't properly accounted for makes me nuts too. I'm sorry, but back in the day they did not strip naked for sex. And seriously, do oyu know how long it takes to get a corset off--let alone get it back on when you are done? There's a reason ladies had maids to help them dress.

I agree, with everyone who mentioned poor writing/editing. I cannot abide poor writing. It pulls me right out of a story. It makes me want to pull out my red pen and make my own edits.

I know people are writing under deadlines, but really...Sometimes I wonder if an editor was involved at all.

Hire me if you need someone to proofread or edit!
Ezequiel
8. lawelsh
I just had to shut down my ipad and walk away from a book I am reading because the heroine was a "stubborn wench". I'm only 2 chapters in and am worried it's not going to get any better.

Spelling and grammar I can look past, but I once read a book where every other sentence ended in an exclamation mark! It was not a relaxing read! I felt like everyone in the book was shouting everything they said! I didn't like it! Seriously though, it was very annoying....
Ezequiel
9. pellington
I cannot get through an Anita Black"feeding" to save my life. With each book she adds more men, more S&M, more animals and more graphic, gross scenes. When she's not having sex, she's being an all out bitch to everyone around her. "Because she cares." As if. She's mean, stubborn, WRONG and out of control 97% of the time. The other 3% is when Ted is in charge. Then she has to behave.

I also have to skip any Sookie books wherein Sookie is being a bitch to Eric. I can't stand it. He's been her hero since the get go, but Charlaine Harris has made every effort to make us hate him/them and I won't have it. I lost all love for the books after about #9 and am bitterly anxious about the finale next year. Ugh. It can't end well. And nothing ruins an entire series like a bad ending.
Ezequiel
10. Joyce S
I am not sure if this is what you are looking for, but for me it is the replacement of a beloved mate. I read paranormal romance only and I find it very disturbing that these males or females find their one true mate in almost all the books in a series but there seems to be one in a series that does this story line.. Ward with Thor and Showalter with her Atlantis series.. Total turn off for me as I don't want to be replaced in my fantasy's and I do not want to replace any one else either..
Laurie Gold
11. LaurieGold
Joyce, I've read this too, although there is often a loophole. Have you noticed that?
rachel sternberg
12. rae70
Lafka!! I'm so with you! I haven't read any of the "Shades" because of all the reviews I've read about its bad editing/grammar/use of language. I know I wouldn't be able to handle it. I will stop and ponder hand/body placement during sex scenes as well.. sometimes you just wonder if its indeed possible. Plucky heroines who always have to stop and say whats on their mind when in some kind of peril, come on people its running time! Stop telling me how hot, hunky, dark, dangerous this man is and how every time you look at him all you want to do is..lick/suck/kiss/bang.. after the first chapter, I get it, really I do.. god forbid if the couple have mind reading skills and have to flash pictures in their brains of what they want to do... ugh..
Ezequiel
13. Joyce S
I don't buy the loop holes because the general, original premise of these books are, mates forever/one and only.. For me that is the attraction.. I truly feel it is a cheat that the authors take. Obviously I am in the minority here, judging from book sales and reviews.. :)
Ella
14. cicatricella
I am a linguist and bi-dialectal (speak British English and Canadian English both natively due to a somewhat peripatetic childhood) and one of the worst for me is dialect fail. It happens a lot when US writers write novels set in the British isles. UK writers are guilty of it as well, but to a somewhat lesser extent in my experience.
Shauna Comes
15. djshauns
I can definitely agree with finding grammatical errors and excessive use of the same descriptors and phrases distracting. I also don't like it when authors purposely use "big" words that average readers have to look up just to make sure they have the meaning correct. I feel like they are just trying to show off how smart they are and how many words they know. (There were actually a few in 50 shades that my father asked me the meaning of before he continued on in the story.) It's also distracting when dialog is excessively proper in a contemporary story and the characters are supposed to be average small town people who would never speak that way if you met them on the street.

But, the biggest distraction for me is when an author comes up with a situation for a story that I'm not at all certain would actually hold up in real life just to further the plot. As an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about, when I was reading Summer Days by Susan Mallery, I spent almost the entire book distracted by the situation with the heroine's ranch. The hero, Rafe, shows up in town and soon discovers that Heidi's grandfather has swindled Rafe's mother by selling her this ranch, which is Heidi's and not the grandfather's, so that he can pay his friend's medical bills. The case ends up in court, and I spent the whole book wondering how ownership of the land can be contested when the ranch was Heidi's and not her grandfather's. Heidi, being the caring sort, wanted to help pay the money back for her grandfather so that he wouldn't end up in prison, but it drove me crazy that ownership of her ranch was up for debate in court. I realize that she didn't exactly have a lot of cash to help pay the money back without some kind of payment plan, but the whole thing irritated me to the point that I was completely annoyed by the outcome of the court case and almost didn't finish the book.
Laurie Gold
16. LaurieGold
I had the same problem with that Susan Mallery book. I think some authors intend for readers to suspend disbelief in all ways and simply accept things that the Man on the Street wouldn't necessarily know.
Ezequiel
17. jt
@ lawelsh, I think we read the same book with all the exclamation points. That was definitely a URI moment for me. Why is everyone talking and thinking in exclamation points! Ugh, completely distracting.
Ezequiel
18. CynP
I think the worst for me was a horrible book where the heroine, who was training to be a spy, just killed her first man by blowing his brains out and then proceeded to have sex with the hero while the corpse was lying there in the same room. I agree with how annoying the overuse of certain phrases or words can be (not another "sobbing" or "stalking" and please god no more "dripping.")
Angela Thomas
19. tts573
What pulls me out might be minor, but when in a historical fiction an unexperience woman uses a word(s) I think only a more experience woman would use. I often wonder if the unexperience woman would know this word(s), because most times I think their lives were shelter from such explicit words. Maybe not though, I just have a is this historical accurate moment.
Ezequiel
20. FloL
@djshauns: "I also don't like it when authors purposely use "big" words that average readers have to look up just to make sure they have the meaning correct."
I totally agree, especially when the authors use words they just think they know the meaning of. Which was the case for most of the "big" words I've read recently.
It may be farfetched, but I would link this to the general tendency in modern art to put all of the focus on emotion and disdain craft. We now have painters who couldn't paint a figurative picture to save their lives and writers who don't care for grammar and never open a dictionary. Sign of the times?
Kareni
21. Kareni
Regarding the use of "big words" -- I consider myself to have a good vocabulary; however, L.L. Foster in her book Servant: The Awakening
had me heading for the dictionary multiple times (too many times!). Her style in the books was quite different from her Lori Foster books which I do enjoy.
Barbara Wilmot
22. miadevlin
One of my bugbears is when the hero and heroine are at cross purposes because neither of them has the brains to ask a simple question! I was reading "Deep Waters" by Jayne Ann Krentz and I could see this situation looming on the horizon - mysterious stranger comes to town and turns out to own the pier where the heroine and her friends have their shops. The town mayor approaches the heroine and asks her to get close to the hero so she can find out his plans for the pier.

My heart sank. Oh no - she won't do it but he'll think that she's spying, leading to pages and pages of misunderstanding with me shouting at the book. But I should have trusted Jayne when she immediately sent our heroine on a little visit to our hero:-

Charity - "It was recently suggested to me that I use my amazing powers of seduction to persuade you to tell me the nature of your secret plans."

Elias - " In the words of my last customer: cool."

And, just like that, Jayne set me up and pulled the rug out from under me. Thanks JAK.
Barbara Wilmot
23. miadevlin
One of my bugbears is when the hero and heroine are at cross purposes because neither of them has the brains to ask a simple question! I was reading "Deep Waters" by Jayne Ann Krentz and I could see this situation looming on the horizon - mysterious stranger comes to town and turns out to own the pier where the heroine and her friends have their shops. The town mayor approaches the heroine and asks her to get close to the hero so she can find out his plans for the pier.

My heart sank. Oh no - she won't do it but he'll think that she's spying, leading to pages and pages of misunderstanding with me shouting at the book. But I should have trusted Jayne when she immediately sent our heroine on a little visit to our hero:-

Charity - "It was recently suggested to me that I use my amazing powers of seduction to persuade you to tell me the nature of your secret plans."

Elias - " In the words of my last customer: cool."

And, just like that, Jayne set me up and pulled the rug out from under me. Thanks JAK.
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