Posted in Books

TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Vague physical descriptions

When I’m reading a book, it’s really important for me to know what the characters look like. If I’m going to spend an entire book with these people, I’d like to be able to picture them.

Now, I’ve read books. Across the kajillions of young adult-, sci-fi-, fantasy-, and chick-lit-novels I’ve read in my 22 years, there are 5 descriptions I keep running into. As common as they are, they don’t seem to be anything other than confusing. They don’t help me picture characters–if anything, I have an even harder time. Here are the top 5 vague physical descriptions I have come across in my travels.

  1. “almond-shaped eyes” (see also “slanted eyes,” “upward-tilting eyes”)
    Sounds like you mean Asian but are afraid to say it.
  2. “shoulder-length hair”
    Oh, goodness. Is it long!? Is it short!? Is it average? Say that instead! I don’t know what shoulder-length means! Is it touching their shoulders? Is it past their shoulders? How long is their neck in comparison? People have different opinions on which length category this type of hair falls under, and I still have no idea.
  3. “olive-toned skin” (see also “olive-skinned”)
    Could be a Caucasian who tans in the summer, could be biracial, could be of Greek descent… My problem is that sometimes people say “olive-skinned” and mean white, or say “olive-skinned” and cast Alexis Bledel in the movie version, so I’m not clear on what this looks like.
  4. “auburn hair”
    This one has bothered me for a long time. I’ve always thought “auburn” meant red, or having a red tone. Very well. If you describe a character’s hair as auburn, you cannot also describe them as “dark-haired.” My hair is dark. Shay Mitchell’s hair is dark. Neither of us has red/reddish hair. Get it straight.
  5. “bronze-colored hair”
    Okay, this one’s not as common as the others. I’m going to pick on Twilight because this description has always puzzled me. I can easily picture “golden” hair. I know what “silver” hair is. Bronze is the color you don’t want to win in the Olympics, which is a bad association to have. And, like auburn, do they mean red? Brown? Orange? What are you going for? Choosing this specific color clears up nothing!
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TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Shilling

Because of life changes, my own lack of planning, and an unreliable webcam, I’m going to transition out of doing videos for Terrible Prose Tuesday. This will undoubtedly mean shorter passages, but to be honest, it will be a lot easier and possibly more entertaining. If a passage is particularly terrible, I might still do a dramatic reading, but only as a bonus.

Blugh.

Not a fan of characters with no self-esteem.

In this book, the protagonist’s issues with her family are only touched on, never explored. I don’t get a good sense of how their actions affect her self-esteem, so when other characters go out of their way to praise her talent, beauty, kindness, etc., it feels unnecessary and unwarranted.

Come on. She’s the most talented, most inspiring, most wonderful person the other characters know? Tack on “most godly,” “most beautiful,” and “most intelligent,” and you have Josh Harris’ dream girl.

The EXTREME modesty is annoying, too, i.e. “What? No, I’m awful.”

Not cute, honey. Just take the compliment.

I understand the purpose of this is to make her more sympathetic. It would be harder to like someone who was perfect and insufferable. That can get annoying really fast. But it doesn’t work to make her perfect and give the other characters nothing to do other than tell the protagonist how great she is. When so many characters feel the need to assure me of the protagonist’s greatness and I don’t buy it, that tells me the author hasn’t done enough to substantiate those claims.

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TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Little kids

*sigh*

Writing in dialect is difficult. Getting dialogue to sound right is difficult.

Just…

If I could…

One suggestion…

JUST DON’T WRITE OUT HOW LITTLE KIDS TALK, OKAY?

I do not believe this FOUR-YEAR-OLD is having this conversation, even with her cutesy (if inconsistent) speech impediment. “Aw, it’s cute because she says words wrong.” NO! FALSE!

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TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Derailing love interests

Goodness. Gracious. The problems with Pride and Popularity abound.

My biggest problem with this book is that everything was told to me. I was never shown what characters are like or how they interact–the heroine summarized events after they happened. So as the book neared its climax and the romance came to a conclusion, the author had to work with two characters she hadn’t developed by making one the obvious right choice and one the bad guy.

She wasn’t exactly subtle in her efforts.

Suddenly we hear of all Taylor’s previously unmentioned good deeds and accomplishments from Chloe’s dad, a pretty unlikely source. APPARENTLY, Taylor is involved in charities and is a doer of good deeds, all with a smile on his face. It’s not that this characterization is unlikely, and the point was to be surprising…it just seems abrupt. I can’t say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming, but it makes sense,” because up to this point I haven’t gotten to know Taylor. At all. I just know he plays basketball and gets around. Also he’s rich, so there’s that. Honestly, he seems like kind of a tool.

Blake’s character derailment I can believe, sadly. Taylor reveals in his e-mail to Chloe that Blake went on trial for rape.

I have so many feelings about this:

  1. NO ONE REACTS APPROPRIATELY TO THIS. Chloe is mildly horrified, but doesn’t think too much of it. Later, she is amazed at what a great family the Andersons are. You know, the family who COVERED UP BLAKE’S RAPESCAPADES AND PRETENDED THEY’D NEVER HAPPENED. THAT FAMILY. GOOD. AND. WHOLESOME.
  2. Author Jenni James prides herself on writing “clean romance.” I have feelings about that genre I won’t go into, but that’s not the point. The point is, in a squeaky clean romance where people are ambiguously Mormon and say “sugar” when they stub their toe, you can’t bring up RAPE. That’s pretty heavy for a light-hearted romantic comedy.
  3. If you’re going to go there, go there. I don’t need graphic details or tons of trauma, but at least say the word. James sticks to the euphemism “took advantage of” and calls Blake a “pervert.” Call him what he is: he’s a rapist. And let the emotion go there. Make me feel afraid. Being wishy-washy and euphemistic does not allow me to connect emotionally, so in the climax, when Chloe and Taylor are frantically trying to find Cassidy before she goes off with Blake, all I could think was, “Oh please. What could he possibly do to her?”

The whole thing feels rather extreme. Taylor couldn’t be a good guy with faults; he had to be a saint. Blake couldn’t be a jerk; he had to be the MOST EVIL, DISGUSTING, IRREDEEMABLE PERVERT WHO EVER WALKED THE PLANET. You could have sold me on a less drastic twist.

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TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Boundaries

I wasn’t going to write about this, but I changed my mind because I’m outraged.

I’m not sure if there’s a cultural difference at play–maybe it’s a Mormon thing–because I can’t imagine parents in the United States who would actually do this to their child.

In the original Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie rejects the odious Mr. Collins. Her mom insists on the match because she wants her daughter married and in her mind marriage and happiness are the same thing. While Mrs. Bennett isn’t known for her parenting skills, she’s at least consistent.

In Pride and Popularity, there’s a Mr. Collins-esque characters named Collin (HA) who takes Chloe out on one or two dates at her mom’s behest and assumes after the second that they’re a couple, trying to kiss her to “seal the deal.”

Up to this point, Chloe has begged her mom not to make her date Collin to no avail. Her mom guilts her into every date, calls Collins herself and tells him Chloe will be his girlfriend, and tries to ground Chloe when she rejects him.

She calls her daughter “stubborn, selfish, and prideful” for not dating a guy she isn’t interested in. All she’s asking is that Chloe become Collins girlfriend for a couple of weeks; completely reasonable and not at all ridiculous, right?

WHAT KIND OF PARENT DOES THIS?

Here’s what you’re teaching your daughter:

  1. Her preferences don’t matter. I stand by (in theory) the idea that you should give [insert appropriate term for undesirable partner here] a chance. Someone might make a terrible first impression only to surprise you [see Fitzwilliam Darcy]. HOWEVER, Chloe has made it clear she’s never going to be into a guy who finds his phone more interesting than he finds her. Somehow that means she’s selfish.
  2. Her feelings don’t matter. At least, not as much as Collin’s do. In fact, her having feelings at all is selfish. Chloe has to reward this guy for pursuing her…even though he’s socially awkward, had his mom set them up, doesn’t try to connect, and spends entire dates on his phone. Telling people their wants and needs are selfish is probably the worst thing you can do.
  3. Her choices don’t matter. Chloe has rejected Collin multiple times, and her mom goes behind her back to override her disinterest. That’s messed up. You’re subtly telling her that her “no” doesn’t mean much, which would be horrifying enough if there wasn’t a rapist in this story for whom “no” means nothing. Awesome.

I’m confused by the reaction to this event. Chloe treats it as an inconvenient but normal part of her regular parenting, i.e. “You know how parents get.”

None of this is cute; it’s controlling, and not something to laugh off.

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TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Obvious villain is obvious

Love triangles are a fixture of many romances. I have mixed feelings about them, but I have no problem with another character posing an obstacle to the main love story, especially if it’s done well (see Clockwork Prince.)

As this book is a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice, it’s only fitting that the heroine of Jenni James’ Pride and Popularity fall for the wrong guy somewhere along the way.

I realize that people know the original story well enough that they see a lot of the original “twists” (e.g., Wickham is actually a bad guy with dishonorable intentions) coming.

HOWEVER. If you are adapting an older work, IT IS YOUR JOB to reimagine these plot points in a creative way. This novel is missing both foreshadowing and subtlety. This particular passage is as bad as–if not worse than–Theo’s creepy letter in A Thousand Pieces of You.

This conversation comes up in the middle of a discussion of “Magnum, P.I.” where Chloe (Elizabeth) and Blake (Wickham) come onto the topic of Taylor Anderson (Darcy). Blake is so filled with rage he ALMOST SAYS THE A-WORD.

After a cringe-worthy conversation about swearing (side note: lots of people complain that people sound stupid when they swear. You know what sounds even more stupid? Substituting words like “chicken butt.”), Blake asks when Chloe turns 18. Because that’s not disgusting.

First of all, WHO TALKS LIKE THIS? Is this how flirting works!? Have I been doing it wrong?

Second of all, WHAT GIRL HEARS THIS AND DOES NOT IMMEDIATELY THINK SHE’S TALKING TO A RAPIST?

Blake Winter is the rapiest of all the rapesters.

FUN STORY, the twist in this iteration of Pride and Prejudice is that Wickham/Winter is…actually a rapist.

He drugged and “took advantage of” an underage girl, went to trial, and was never convicted.

I’m not sure Mr. Winter comprehends the severity of his past actions, though, or even understands what rape is.

“You better call me the second you’re eighteen, you hear?”
“Why?”
“Because then you won’t be jailbait. Don’t worry–I won’t ravish you before then.”

Pro tip: age doesn’t matter if she’s unconscious.

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TERRIBLE PROSE TUESDAY: Death by plot necessity

Dear Janna Nickerson: I will leave you alone soon. I promise.

But not today.

I’m not here to poke fun at the death of a parent.

I don’t think losing both parents in the same day is funny.

I do think in many stories it’s unnecessary and only serves to up the angst quotient.

In today’s passage, Mat’s mom dies off-screen (off-page?), hit by a rogui arrow.

When Janevra tells him to focus, Mat calms down faster than Davis in Digimon: The Movie. “Okay, my mom just died. No big. You’re right.”

His dad goes next, due to…I’m not actually sure. He used too much magic? His aforementioned illness returned? Heart attack? Plot necessity? He goes from “perfectly healthy and alive” to “almost dead” in less than a sentence.

To be fair, the deaths of Mat’s parents up the stakes and give Mat a reason to fight the dark forces by making it personal.

It just seems excessive. Both parents and one of his best friends?

Oh, well. Congratulations, Mat. Now that your parents are gone, you could be the subject of a Disney movie.