Picture 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.
And 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?
Consider, 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.
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.