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All About the Lists

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I loved reading the lists that people made up of their top 16 books this past week in honor of Kathleen Winsor.   In making up my own lists of top books (either for the end of the year or for something else), I struggle with competing concepts.   There are my favorite books.   There are books that I think are well written.   There are books that I find to be groundbreaking.   These three types of books don’t always overlap for me.

Favorite Books

I have books that I love to re-read time and again.   Are they the best books ever written in the romance genre? Probably not.   For example, Savage Thunder by Johanna Lindsey is one of my favorite romances.   Savage Thunder is about a half breed who is hired by Jocelyn Fleming, a recently widowed virgin duchess.   It seems hard to believe that Lindsey was able to fit all those iconic (ironic?) tropes into one heroine, but she did.    The hero’s name is Colt Thunder. I know!   It’s hard to type that without giggling.   Despite the cliches, this book works for me.

One of the things I loved about this book was Jocelyn’s world view.   Sex is something to be enjoyed.   She has few prejudices which is believable given that she spends three years traveling around the world.   She decides she wants to take a lover but she cannot take one who may have known Edward, her deceased husband.   She doesn’t want anything to impugn his memory.   When her entourage was in Mexico, she found several men attractive but her interest wasn’t returned.    When she was in the Middle East, she was too raw from Edward’s death.   (She found the boldness of the men to be “sheer arrogance and audacity”).   Now she longs for a bold man.

Instead Jocelyn gets Colt Thunder who aids Jocelyn’s group.

“I’m not associated, as you put it, with anyone, lady. Christ, what is this with all the questions? Either you want out of there or you don’t. Now, I can understand if you feel you’d be dirtying your hand putting it to mine for a lift up”-‘the impatience turned distinctly bitter here-‘”but I don’t see much alternative just now-‘unless you want to wait for the next fellow who comes passing by.”

“Not at all,” Jocelyn said with relief, certain now he meant them no harm. “A little dirt can be easily washed off,” she added with a smile, having misunderstood his meaning.

Colt has been the subject of terrible racial violence.   As a half breed, he is viewed as a non person by both groups.   He has barely recovered from being nearly whipped to death for having the audacity to touch a white woman.    He views whites with suspicion and has a hard time wrapping his head around Jocelyn’s seeming indifference to his half breed status.

“I was born in this country, but folks got a different name for me, lady. I’m a half-breed.”

“How interesting,” she said, aware his tone had turned bitter again, but choosing to ignore it. “It sounds like something to do with stock and crossbreeding. What does it have to do with people?”

He stared at her for a moment as if she were crazy; then he swore under his breath before snarling, “What the hell do you think it has to do with people? It means I’m only half white.”

His tone gave her pause, but still she asked, “And the other half?”

Jocelyn’s refusal to accept Colt’s prejudice (either his own or other’s toward him) provides a great source of humor throughout the story.     Savage Thunder has a heroine looking to rid herself of her virginity; a half breed with a chip   on his shoulder a mile wild; and a secondary romance between the heroine’s best friend and companion, a sexually experienced woman, and one of Jocelyn’s guards.   This book was published in 1989.   I found it awesome when I first read and I get a little thrill each time I crack it open for a re-read.   But is it one of the best books that has been written?

Well written books

One thing that I never really noticed or even paid attention to before I got online was layering or theming in a book.   I never really understood character arcs, patterns or even plots.   I joined Jennifer Crusie’s yahoo group   in 2001 and her contribution to that list provided some of the most illuminating information about writing I have ever read.    I started thinking about romances more critically.   Over the years, I’ve learned to examine books a bit more clinically but I respond to books from my gut.

There are times when my gut and my head don’t work in  synchronism.   Flowers from the Storm (pub. 1992) is   book that I can recognize as being an amazingly well crafted story.   When I see it on “Best of” lists, I nod my head in agreement. It is a well written book, probably one of the best in the genre.   If you were to give this book to someone who doesn’t read romance, I think that person would be hard pressed to find that there is anything about it that norms the stereotypes.

The hero is Christian Langland, Duke of Jervaulx, who spends most of his time drinking and whoring, living the life of luxury and ease.   He was also a brilliant mathematician who had been working on a paper with the father of Archemedia Timms.   Maddy, as she is known, despises Christian for his lifestyle and for the attention that he receives from her father.

Christian suffers a stroke after a duel and his family decides to institutionalize him in order to seize control over his assets.   Maddy finds him there and knows that he is neither mad nor stupid, but unable to speak and with diminished hearing.   Maddy is moved to help Christian.

Neither Maddy or Christian are delightful characters. Christian is a selfish cad, even after he suffers his stroke.   Kinsale does a superb job of showing us his personal anguish at being taken for a madman and placed in an institution.   Maddy is self righteous.   She is unbending from her faith and her beliefs even unto the end, although her love for Christian, a non Quaker, is the basis of her greatest break with her religion. The constant criticism that Christian and Maddy receive from external forces (his family, her Quaker friends) only serves to strengthen their bond.

Stunningly, Kinsale maintains the characters’ mannerisms even in their narrative dialogues. In other words, Maddy’s personal thoughts are still in the Quaker-ease, using the thees, thous, and other mannerisms.   Ditto for Christian.   There is nothing trite or frivilous in this book. It’s a serious examination of vulnerabilities, growth, questions of faith, and acceptance of personal  frailties.

Having said that, Flowers from the Storm is a book I’ve only read a couple of times.   I find myself curiously detached from the romance.   It’s not an easy read and I don’t count it was one of my favorites.   It’s not even my favorite Kinsale (For My Lady’s Heart and   The Shadow and the Star vie for that).

Groundbreaking Books

There are a few titles that, in hindsight, I find to be rather groundbreaking within the genre.   Groundbreaking for me is a book that sets off a rash of imitators or brings a certain sub genre into popularity.   Some groundbreaking books in my opinion include: Stephanie Laurens, Devil’s Bride (pub 1998); Christine Feehan’s Dark Prince (pub. 1999); Julia Quinn’s Duke and I (pub 2000).

Devil’s Bride wasn’t the first book to feature the hero in pursuit, but I believe that it’s popularity led to a decade long worth of novels featuring the hero doing the pursuing.   Duke and I marked Quinn’s rise to stardom. Did you know that it wasn’t even an NYTimes Bestseller?   In fact, Quinn did not make the NYT list until An Offer from a Gentleman, the third in the Bridgerton series.   Avon has tried to replicate the tone and voice of Quinn in a number of regency romance releases since the 2000s but Quinn is a one of a kind.   Dark Prince by Christine Feehan made the whole paranormal romance subgenre popular.

By virtue of being groundbreaking, to exclude these books from a best of list seems somehow negligent; yet, Dark Prince and  Devil’s Bride have been done so repetitively (by the original creators no less) that re-reading the books is almost a chore rather than a pleasure.   Duke and I doesn’t even rate on most people’s list as their most favorite Bridgerton novel.

In composing best of lists, do you choose your favorites, the best written, the most groundbreaking?   Does it matter? Do you think there are conflicts between those categories? Would you categorize the books differently?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

39 Comments

  1. S. Thomas Summers
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 04:50:54

    It’s funny how our favorite books aren’t always those that are best written. I admit – I love to dig through a Star Wars novel now and again. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it keeps me young.

    S. Thomas Summers

    http://www.thelintinmypocket.wordpress.com
    a poet’s blog

  2. Danielle
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 04:51:31

    I love Savage Thunder especially the sex scene on the horse. I have several copies of this book and I think I may have to reread it.

  3. HeatherK
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 06:11:34

    Angel for Hire by Justine Davis is one of my favorites. I’m no JD fan by far. In fact, all other books of hers, I’ve been unable to read, but that one, is one of my all time faves.

    I can’t reread Christine Feehan’s Dark books, either, though I did enjoy them the first time through.

    The books I tend to go back and reread the most seem to be my very large list of Diana Palmer books. Not the best written books in the world, very predictable, but enjoyable for me all the same.

  4. Kendra
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 06:41:04

    It’s funny that you mention the Duke and I, I just told some one the other day that is was my favorite of the Bridgerton Series. I’ve read all of those, but I don’t read her new series at all. Stephanie Laurens had a good series going then they got formulaic and i stopped. Then paranormal exploded.

    I am a voracious reader, sometimes 2 to 3 books a week. (more if I can) The main reason I go back and re-reader is because of the feelings the book gave me.

    I just re-read Catherine Coulter’s Beyond Eden. I love this book. The challenges this woman must over come to truly heal seem too much, but our hero won’t let her hide from him or their relationship. Is this the best written book? I don’t know. Don’t really care actually, because it means something to me personally.

    Jennifer Ashley’s The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenize I saw so much much of my son in this book. It touched me in ways I can’t explain, but if you’ve never seen autism up close, you might not have the same experience.

    That’s what I love about Romance, each book has the potential to give me news experiences.

    Thanks for the topic.

  5. joanne
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 07:05:57

    My favorite books have one common thread: the Ahhhhh moment.
    They have the (hopefully first of many) passages that tell me I’ve got a keeper. Whether or not someone else thinks it’s a well written book or a ground breaker can’t change that moment.

    The lists that I have made in the past as recommendations or as ‘best of’ don’t always contain my favorite books. My ‘best of’ books are from different times in my life and may not translate well to others who are reading from another point of view or in the ‘here & now’.

    Loving a book can’t be determined by how scholarly or intellectually well written a story is but how easily it steals into your mind and heart and makes a permanent place there for itself.

  6. Caroline
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 07:06:44

    In composing best of lists, do you choose your favorites, the best written, the most groundbreaking?

    Definitely favorites, for whatever reason they are favored. I’ve read exquisitely well-written books that I would like to scrub from my memory for some reason or other, and have read ground-breaking books where some of the imitators were frankly better. But a favorite book holds up, for me, because I loved it in spite of whatever flaws or mediocrities it suffers.

    Also, The Duke and I is my favorite novel by Julia Quinn (and an all-time favorite as well). Who dares like the other Bridgerton books better, ;-)

  7. Kati
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 07:08:28

    Oh my, many of my favorites are not necessarily really well written. But for me, what makes it a favorite may not necessarily be that it’s groundbreaking.

    For example, Again the Magic by Lisa Kleypas, which is a well written romance, but certainly not the Kleypas that comes up routinely as one of readers’ favorites by her, is my favorite. Why? It got me through a really tough time in my life. It’s a comfort read.

    I also adore The Windflower by Tom and Sharon Curtis. Many readers think that it’s overwrought and the heroine aggravates them. But man, I love every moment of reading it. And I re-read it at least once a year.

    And if we’re being honest, I’ve read Lover Eternal by JR Ward probably 15 times. I love Rhage. Even though Ward’s writing style grates on my nerves. I really love Rhage and Mary’s story.

    But then, there are also books that on my favorites list that are beautifully written and considered by many to be among the best out there. Scandal by Carolyn Jewel comes to mind. This book leapt over many others on my favorites list this year. Because Jewel’s prose is sumptuous, and technically brilliant, and there is little I adore more than a very bad man doing his best to deserve the woman he loves.

    But as everyone knows, one person’s least favorite book is another’s absolute favorite. It’s what makes this genre so entertaining for me, is hearing the variety of opinions.

  8. Sarah Frantz
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 07:29:20

    To make my “Best of” list, a book had to be well-written AND personally important. That’s why Kinsale’s Seize the Fire and For My Lady’s Heart make my list and The Shadow and the Star doesn’t, even though I think it’s better structured than STF. I don’t like Ninjas and can’t connect with the heroine in TSATS. So I need “Favorite” and “Well-Written” together. “Ground-breaking” is an added bonus, but not even really on my radar when putting together MY list. If my “job” were to write a “Most important for romance” list, then ground-breaking would be most important criteria.

  9. Jane O
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 07:57:38

    I always appreciate it when people make a distinction between “This is a good book” and “I like this book.” The first depends on the author’s talents and execution, the second depends on the reader’s personal quirks. One of the things I appreciate about the reviews on this site is that they do a pretty good job of making that distinction.

    As for personal quirks, my favorite Bridgerton book is “To Sir Phillip, With Love” -‘ a book nobody else ever mentions. ;-)

  10. Barbara B.
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 08:29:07

    OT:

    The phrase half-breed is pretty offensive. If the discussion was about Gone With the Wind would nigger, pickaninny, colored, or Negro be used? That’s why I freaking hate romances with Native Americans and whites. Or indeed any non-WASP paired with a white protag. The casual racism and stereotypes of the author is frequently in full effect. This includes historical as well as contemporary authors.

  11. katieg
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 08:35:19

    Agree with you. That phrase is very offensive within the discussion. I was a little surprised to see it being used.

  12. Jane
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 08:37:47

    @Barbara B. and @katieg: I guess I disagree with you. In the context of the story, it was clear that the term was insulting and derogatory. It’s used against Colt and he uses it as sword against others. Jocelyn’s character refused to accept the term. It meant nothing to her.

  13. katieg
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 08:47:30

    I was more surprised that you used it within the discussion than the inclusion of this phrase in the book.

  14. Jane
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 08:48:46

    @katieg fair enough.

  15. Dani
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 08:58:16

    Savage Thunder is one of my favorites as well. In fact, it’s the first romance novel I ever read so it has a special place in my heart. Colt and Jocelyn are a hoot. And they’re sexy. And while the prose isn’t flowery, its pace matches the adventure and the story.

    When I think of my other favorites, I usually go for the books that blew my mind. I guess you could call them groundbreaking, but I don’t want to be that general. What’s mindblowing for me may be run of the mill for somebody else. Agnes and the Hitman, Goddess of the Spring, Black Ice, are just a few that got my attention in a hurry and became instant favorites.

    Well-written is also very important to me. If the book has bad grammar, bad dialog and jumps too much, I’m not going to finish it. Or I’ll be so annoyed with the author that I won’t pick up another of their books ever. That’s why I love Chase and Kinsale. I may not fall in love with all of their stories, but I know I’m getting a good read that won’t offend my intelligence.

    I can think of at least one book (well, I can think of more, but they’re the usual suspects that everyone talks about in these forums) that I consider groundbreaking and well-written. The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. LOVED IT LOVED IT. I bought all of Jennifer Ashley’s backlist because of it and I haven’t regretted a syllable.

    So I don’t think that being well-written and groundbreaking clash. It all just depends on the reader’s sensibilities. A book can make my favorites list by being one or the other or both.

  16. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 09:07:13

    To make my “Best of” list, a book had to be well-written AND personally important.

    To be a favorite it has to be well written, or it has to meet my definition of well written (which might not be someone else's). And then it has to have that extra something that makes it spark and catch and end up on my keeper shelf to be enjoyed again and again. Since both of these standards are objective (and the latter is so personal it defies explanation), I wouldn't expect a universal list to ever be popular or even possible.

    For example, I found Flowers from the Storm almost unreadable (I couldn't connect with the characters and I didn't enjoy the writing itself enough to overcome that flaw). I shut the book and gave up during the “fluffy kittens in the garden” scene, which I found to be both trite and frivolous. *shrug* I see this book touted all the time as being one of the stars of the genre and I end up baffled every time. But I don't discount the fact that it clearly works for hordes of people (often people I respect, like Jane). I couldn't manage to finish Outlander either. Clearly my tastes are spectacularly misaligned with those of the masses on occasion.

    That phrase is very offensive within the discussion. I was a little surprised to see it being used.

    Half-breed was a period term for the setting of the book. I'd even say it was a linchpin of the hero's self-image. Personally, in this context (the book and Jane’s use) it doesn’t offend me (and I happen to be half Native American).

  17. Jennifer Estep
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 09:24:31

    I usually just pick my favorites. If something resonates with me, if I want to re-read it, if it gives me a satisfying emotional high at the end, if I find myself smiling or laughing or whatever just thinking about the story — those are the things that go into a book getting on my best of list and onto my keeper shelf

    Like Beauty by Robin McKinley, which is one of my all-times favs. Or Watership Down by Richard Adams. Or Lisa Kleypas’ contemporaries.

    I can see/appreciate that some books that I like are better written than others, or more groundbreaking or genre-bending or whatever. But mainly, I’m reading to be entertained. I like analzying/dissecting books, but the sheer entertainment value is always going to come first for me — that ahhh moment that other folks have mentioned.

  18. jessica
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 10:30:39

    I love Kleypas and Quinn–in fact, I love Quinn’s books so much I don’t know if I could pick a favorite. And they just keep doing it–What Happens in London was one of the first romances in a long time where it seemed the H/H actually liked each other.

    I love Sunshine by Robin McKinley–it isn’t a romance but it is amazingly well-written. I think it’s one of the best examples of what a vampire book can be.

    Jude Deverauxs A Knight in Shining Armor is my favorite romance of all time and I fully acknowledge that it’s probably not one of the most well written. But I adore it anyway–it was so different than all the Lindsay and Coulter books I was reading at that time…

  19. Janine
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 10:42:20

    In composing best of lists, do you choose your favorites, the best written, the most groundbreaking? Does it matter? Do you think there are conflicts between those categories? Would you categorize the books differently?

    This question presumes that there is no overlap between these categories. Maybe for some there isn’t, but for me, the books that I consider well-written are also often (though not always) my favorites. My favorite book in the genre is Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold. I also defy anyone to find a book in the genre that I will acknowledge is better written. There are Kinsales and Ivorys that give it a good run for its money, but in the end, I also think it’s better written overall, than any other book in the genre.

    So the answer to the question is — I generally go with my favorites, but doing so also means that a lot of well-written books end up on my list.

    I have to admit that groundbreaking isn’t that important to me. Also, how do you define ground-breaking? Unless you work in the industry and have the numbers from years of bestseller lists, it is hard to know which book started a trend, and even then, the book that sold enough to set the trend may have not been the first to use the concept. Linda Lael Miller was writing vampire romances back in 1993, so she was certainly groundbreaking in one sense, but she rarely gets the credit for it because the sales of her books didn’t immediately launch the vampire romance subgenre that followed.

  20. Jessica Scott
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 11:16:25

    For me, a story that’s not well written would jar me out of the pleasure of the read more than the characters themselves. An author who uses exclamation points too much may keep me in the story but the book won’t make my keeper – which is to say my read again someday – shelf. The characters have to find a way beneath my skin so that I have to see what happens.
    I loved Savage Thunder back in the day when I first read it. I haven’t read that book in nearly twenty years and I don’t know what my reaction to it might be now. I can say that I reread Kinsale lately and her books hold up to the test of time for me, being both well written and intense characters.
    One book that for some reason speaks to me on more levels than others, and is quite honestly the book that got me reading romance again many years ago was Nora Roberts Dance Upon Air. Nell was so real to me and her plight so personal that I still reread that book and get pulled right in. I won’t say that I don’t notice the head hopping now whereas I might never have noticed it before I started writing, but the main character is someone who gets under my skin. I didn’t know then that Nora Roberts was a household name and started reading everything she’d ever written, but Air stuck with me and pulled me back to the romance genre.
    A book doesn’t have to be well written to get under my skin, but it definitely helps!

  21. Susanna Kearsley
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 11:23:44

    Over the years, I've learned to examine books a bit more clinically but I respond to books from my gut.

    Me, too. One of the unfortunate side effects of learning my craft as a writer is that I’ve become so aware of all those technical details you mention that I find it really difficult these days to just get pulled into a story. I’m too busy noticing what the writer is doing with his or her words to be affected by them, and I miss the days when I could simply curl up with a book and lose all sense of what was happening around me.

    So whenever I do find a book that can give me that feeling, whether it’s a book I’ve read before or one that’s new to me, I treasure it.

    A book that can give me a story that lives while I’m reading it; lives in my memory a long, long time afterwards, and draws me in so completely I’m not even noticing whether it’s layered, well-written, or groundbreaking — that is a book I’ll consider a favourite, and add to my own “best of” list.

  22. Brussel Sprout
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 12:24:16

    Both teaching and writing have made me pickier and pickier. I find it increasingly hard to read historicals and when one works for me, it’s because the writing is witty or unobtrusive.

    For me a groundbreaker was Welcome to Temptation. That book was soooo funny and sooooo hot. It wasn’t my first Crusie (that was Crazy for You, which I enjoyed but didn’t love). Won’t say any more for fear of spoilers, but reading it was like being transported back to one of those really great wise-cracking 30s/40s movies with Rosalind Russell or Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Delicious.

    My favourite romances of all time continue to be Georgette Heyer’s Frederica and Sylvester, and for well-written, I’d go for Eva Ibbotson, probably Magic Flutes, Company of Swans or The Morning Gift and Jude Morgan’s An Accomplished Woman.

    If I’m sick or in need of mental TLC, those are my retreat books.

    http://www.thatreadingwritingthing.com/

  23. Caligi
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 12:49:22

    I definitely do distinguish between books I love and books that are good books. Sometimes there’s overlap – like with Flowers From the Storm and Pamela Clare’s Surrender – and other times I would recommend the book with caveats – such as with Lover Eternal or Slightly Dangerous – while loving them no less for their flaws.

  24. Melissa Blue
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 12:57:49

    I think for me it’s a tie. Some of my favorite books became that way because they are just so well written. Lani Diane Rich’s Little Ray of Sunshine is one of them. While reading this story I just fell in love with it. I loved the characters they were real to me. The romance element of it made me swoon. But I also can go back and point out all the reasons why it’s well written. The structure of this novel for one. She bookends the ending, which made me blubber because when you get there YOU KNOW it’s going to be an HEA. It makes the ending poignant, but it’s still a device used when structuring a novel. (For a while I was a devote Cherry on Jennifer Crusie’s writer’s forum, too.)

    Same can be said for Smoke in Mirrors by Jayne Ann Krentz. This novel can be used to teach how to make characters come alive. How to use description to tell more than setting and the visual attributes of a character. I also love the story and it’s an annual re-read or I read it to get me out of a reading funk.

    Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson…’Nuff said.

    And there are some that would never be called well written, but they have a quality that makes them my favorite. Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts is a fabulous story, but I can nitpick this novel to death with the basic rule of don’t headhop. Sometimes it does throw me out of the story, but Tucker Longstreet…my heart be still. Jude Deveraux’s Summerhouse, I don’t know what rule it doesn’t break, and I do marvel at all the backstory (even before they are transport back in time, making the past the ‘now’ story). But, really, I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve read it.

    The only book I would consider groundbreaking is Faking It, but more for the timing of when I read it. I had started to seriously read romance novels. I had gobbled up Harlequins back to back. I had read hundreds of contemporary single titles. And then I read Faking It and the first love scene that was not flowers and roses, in fact it was disastrous. She didn’t climax in a flowery glow? OMG, how scandalous in a romance novel!

    Crazy thing though it’s not my favorite Crusie, but I’d put it up against many romance novels for putting a spin on a genre trope and then making it work. It would knock the novel out.

  25. wendy
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 13:42:43

    @Kalen
    I heart you.
    Flowers From the Storm I re-read just to make sure it was that meh book I read years ago, meh the second time.
    Outlander I have read time travel books that were more my style. The villian was too OTT, the heroine was a bore and the hero TSTL.

  26. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 13:52:07

    @wendy: clearly we should start a club or something, LOL!

  27. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 14:02:41

    but I can nitpick this novel to death with the basic rule of don't headhop.

    I’ve never understood why so many romance readers seem to think this is a “rule”. Just who laid down these rules and what is the punishment for breaking them? *rolls eyes* I'd never even heard of this “rule” until I joined RWA, and it's clearly not a “rule” for any other genre of fiction.

    If you can't tell whose POV you're in, that's just sloppy writing, but if the hop is clear, I just don't get why this is a “problem”. I also frequently see POV-shifting mistakenly called headhoping (in a POV shift, the POV clearly changed from one character to another and stays with the new character for a good long while; headhoping is what Rita Mae Brown does, where one sentence you're a dog, the next you're the raven in the tree, the next you're the horse, and then you're the rider, or what Georgette Heyer does where you get bits of secondary characters tossed in liberally in tiny one-offs).

  28. Melissa Blue
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 15:21:24

    @Kalen Hughes:

    I think it came about because it was done poorly and every character got a say that really didn’t matter to the overall story. As you stated in your comment, there I can agree.

    I also call it rule, but all the rules are really craft tips on how to make a strong story and/or scenes. It becomes a problem and becomes sloppy (IMHO) when it’s used to show a thought, a reaction that could have easily been shown in the original character’s POV.

    And when I say nitpick I’m referring to instances where I’m in the heroine’s POV for a page, maybe longer, then the hero’s maybe for a paragraph or two, and then back to heroine’s. I can find examples in every book she’s written. I’m a big fan and I’ve read almost every single novel she’s written. Loved them.

    The basic point it comes down to for me is that the scene (the reaction) viewed from the original POV character would have more impact if it didn’t jolt me out of the story. This even applies to when I know what character I’m viewing the story from (Nora makes it plain what character you’re in, which is probably why I’m still a fan. If you are going to excel at something frowned upon, you might as well be the best.) Overall, it’s very much like saying, “Wait a minute. Okay. No, stop. Okay let’s begin again here.” It gets frustrating after a while.

    Funny, I recently read The Grand Sophy. Everyone had the lime light at one time or another, which circles me back to my point–would it have been a better story? IMHO, yes.

  29. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 15:52:39

    One POV per scene thing has become something of a comfortable standard for romance, but I really hate to see it held up as a “rule” or as the only way to handle multiple POVs. Perhaps it's a good, safe “rule” for writers who would otherwise create a miasma of POV confusion, but that's certainly not the case with Roberts or Heyer.

    My natural writing style is to switch POV at the midpoint of almost every scene that involves the hero and heroine. I don’t do it consciously, it’s just how my brain works. The film that runs in my head as I write switches POV and I follow along (most romance writers seem to do this in their love scenes). *shrug* I’ve been labeled a “headhoper” by a few reviewers, but what I am is a serial POV switcher. I don’t ping pong back and forth (as Brown does).

    I think so long as the reader isn’t confused, this is simply a “rule” to ignore.

  30. Melissa Blue
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 16:44:05

    I agree someone who has never been tortured read a classic example of headhopping when it didn’t work might confuse it with switching POVs or even with a slip in POV (from omni to third) when it’s done throughout a novel. We also agree breaking a rule isn’t punishable by death, jail time or fines.

    Where I veer off is what craft is important when keeping a reader in the story, which is a personal standard as to what’s “well written”. I’ve yet to find an unanimous agreement that defines it.

    *And what you are describing is not headhopping.*

  31. ReacherFan
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 18:42:06

    I was laughing about Savage Thunder. One of my favorite Johanna Lindsey books, and one I bought again recently, is the follow-up to Savage Thunder, Angel. :-) A guilty pleasure along with Gentle Rogue.

    I tend to pick favorite reads for lists, not the ‘best books’. Some books can be brilliantly written and if I hate the characters, it wasn’t a good book for me. I think ‘Best’ lists should reflect what the person doing. If I’m being asked to act as an impartial judge, well, that’s a different story. Then it’s not MY best, it’s a ‘critical best’.

    I like to read Best lists that are personal favorites of others. When I see books that like, I give the other books on the list a try in the hopes we have the same tastes.

  32. Patricia Briggs
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 18:59:07

    Oddly enough, I read so many historical romances back in the day when a “half-breed” was the hero, it actually has good connotations for me. I have a tender spot for the loner, society-despised hero (or heroine) who shows his worth to the world by the end of the book — typical of the half-breed hero in 1980’s historical Westerns.

    I wouldn’t use the word now — since it is 1 Old Fashioned and 2. most of the Native Americans I know are proud if they are half Native American. But it doesn’t trigger my racial epithet meter when someone else uses it
    .

  33. Patricia Briggs
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 19:11:38

    My favorite romance list varies. Some that have stood the test of time are These Old Shades/Cotillion by Georgette Heyer (doubtless if she had not written those, there would be others of hers on my list, but no more than two books per author!).

    The Windflower by Laura London. If it weren’t for the opium-laced meat scene in The Gypsy Heiress, The Bad Baron’s Daughter would be there, too (mostly because, if it hadn’t been for that terrible title, I might have missed the rest of the London Books). But The Gypsy Heiress has that lovely scene with the dripping meat — so no BBD.

    The Broad Highway and The High Adventure by Jeffery Farnol (a mostly contemporary of Heyer’s who wrote a lot of regencies) Love his chapter Titles: “Being a Description of Nothing In Particular” or “Which, Being the Last (Chapter) is Mercifully Short”

    Good reading,
    Patty

  34. Janine
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 20:00:56

    Okay this is a tangent and probably doesn’t belong in this thread, but you have hit on a subject I can’t resist, Kalen.

    headhoping is what Rita Mae Brown does, where one sentence you're a dog, the next you're the raven in the tree, the next you're the horse, and then you're the rider, or what Georgette Heyer does where you get bits of secondary characters tossed in liberally in tiny one-offs).

    That’s not headhopping, it’s omniscient voice narration. I love reading it when it’s done well, and hate reading it when it’s done poorly.

    Examples of omniscient done well:

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

    –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

    “Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more the than the living, settled down in neighborhoods. The truck was suddenly surrounded by fields of monuments and cenotaphs of kindred design and striking size, all guarding the privileged dead. But the truck moved on and the limits of mere privilege became visible, for here now came the acres of truly prestigious death: illustrious men and women, captains of life without their diamonds, furs, carriages, and limousines, but buried in pomp and glory, vaulted in great tombs built like heavenly safe deposit boxes, or parts of the Acropolis. And ah yes, here too, inevitably, came the flowing masses, row upon row of them under simple headstones and simpler crosses. Here was the neighborhood of the Phelans.

    Francis's mother twitched nervously in her grave as the truck carried him nearer to her; and Francis's father lit his pipe, smiled at his wife's discomfort, and looked out from his own bit of sod to catch a glimpse of how much his son had changed since the train accident.”

    –William Kennedy, Ironweed

    These are great examples of omniscient narration IMO because both the voice (elaborate and rich) and the information given signals to the reader that we are not in a character’s POV for the bulk of the sentences in the second example, or any of them in the first example. We have a God-like perspective, an all knowing narrator who can tell us knowledgeably what kind of times these are, or that the ghosts are twitching in their graves.

    Now here’s an example of omniscient POV done poorly (what some people call headhopping):

    Bill put down his fork. Dave was such an idiot sometimes. He couldn’t believe that his brother had put celery in his omelet.

    “You put celery in my omelet! How could you do that!”

    What was wrong with celery? It tasted good.

    “I thought you liked it,” Dave said.

    “You didn’t think so, you just wanted some in yours.”

    His brother could be such a jerk.

    I wrote that one myself, to illustrate my point. When I read the above example, I am irritated because I’m jarred by the first POV switch and not sure who is thinking the last thought. But frankly, even if it was cleared up with “Dave thought” and “Bill thought,” or even in more elegant ways, I would still be annoyed, because it switches viewpoints so quickly in such a short segment that I feel like a ping pong ball when I try to read it.

    I like to settle into a character’s thoughts and feelings when I read, to sort of mentally become that character. And if there’s no richness of voice or God-like knowledge on the part of the narrator, I assume I’m reading close, limited third person rather than distant, omniscient third person. So I settle in to do lose myself in the character’s thoughts and feelings, and then, bam, I’m yanked into a different character. The more that happens, the less I can sink into a character and enjoy myself. If it happens frequently enough, I will not relax into my reading experience at all.

    Now, that doesn’t mean I think an author of close, limited third person should never change POvs within a scene. There are exceptions for every rule. But IMO authors should recognize that there’s a cost to that, in terms of some readers’ involvement in a character’s emotions, and think about whether the payoff is worth it.

    If it happens on a regular basis, though, then it’s omniscient voice, and personally, I usually want to be compensated with a strong voice and with insights that the characters don’t have access to (i.e. “But Mary didn’t know that John was making his way home to her.”). Because those are the strengths of omniscient narration IMO, and if an author is going to make it impossible for me to really sink into any one character, then I want the narrator’s voice to be a kind of character.

  35. KristieJ
    Oct 20, 2009 @ 20:47:54

    I tried to get a wide variety in my list. For example, One Summer by Karen Robards is a fail as a Romantic Suspense. But the connection between the hero/heroine makes up for the lack. If I were to grade it, it would be between a 3.5 and a 4, yet it is one of the books I reread the most.
    In a similar vein, I can see why there are a lot of readers who can’t stand Gray in Linda Howard’s After the Night. He does border on jerk and cross over a few times. But Faith makes the book a keeper and another big reread book.
    I think one of the reason why Dreaming of You is at the top of my list is it WAS a ground breaker when I first read it. I was wowed by the fact that in a genre where most of the heroe’s were of the nobility, here was a hero who owned a gaming hell and grew up in the gutters.
    The heroine of Lord of Scoundresl SHOT the hero – on PURPOSE. How groundbreaking is that :-)
    And then I have some very layered, well written books in my list too such as Morning Glory, where both the hero and heroine grow as people.

  36. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 07:51:06

    Okay this is a tangent and probably doesn't belong in this thread, but you have hit on a subject I can't resist, Kalen.

    headhoping is what Rita Mae Brown does, where one sentence you're a dog, the next you're the raven in the tree, the next you're the horse, and then you're the rider, or what Georgette Heyer does where you get bits of secondary characters tossed in liberally in tiny one-offs).

    That's not headhopping, it's omniscient voice narration. I love reading it when it's done well, and hate reading it when it's done poorly.

    Nope. I’m well aware of what omniscient is, and I’ll grant you that is what Heyer does (though many people I know do think of this as head hoping), but it’s not what Brown does. Brown switches POV like a mad thing.

  37. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 07:51:52

    The heroine of Lord of Scoundresl SHOT the hero – on PURPOSE. How groundbreaking is that :-)

    Heyer did it first.

  38. Janine
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 16:44:56

    Well, I haven’t read Rita Mae Brown’s fiction but it sounds like omniscient from the way you describe it. How else could it include the POV of a variety of animals as well as people? To me, something like that would signal that I’ m not going to identify too closely with any one character and I’m reading a narrator who knows what everyone is thinking.

  39. Lorraine
    Oct 23, 2009 @ 17:55:05

    I've never understood why so many romance readers seem to think this is a “rule”. Just who laid down these rules and what is the punishment for breaking them? *rolls eyes* I'd never even heard of this “rule” until I joined RWA, and it's clearly not a “rule” for any other genre of fiction.

    @Kalen I agree. I’m a beta reader for an up and coming author whose critique partners always give her shit for head-hopping POV switches. As a reader, they don’t bother me at all. In fact, I love knowing what’s going on in the characters’ heads at all times. I guess it really comes down to “to each their own”.

    Jane, thanks for reminding me how much I loved Lindsey’s old western novels. It’s been ages since I’ve read Savage Thunder. *I’ll never forget the horse riding scene* I’m going to have to dig it out of my garage for a welcome reread.

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