When I saw Brutus, I knew at once that he would be my one true love. Tall, dark, handsome and strong, he commanded the attention of everyone in the room before he even opened his mouth. Then after he parted his plush lips and spoke, his wit and charm swept over the crowd. All the time I felt that he only spoke to me, though I suppose the rest of the group felt that way too.
I must start with a disclaimer: I did not coin the term “swampy womanfolds.” The unfortunate verbiage came via my editorial intern, who read them in a het romance some time ago. Usually I shy away from using real text from real books in this column but for the life of me, I couldn’t invent any less appealing or more horribly imagematic term for the female genital region.
As regular readers know, every other month I try to address problems I come across in various manuscripts. Many of these deal with pitfalls in characterization so dismal that I believe they constitute a form of abuse committed by authors against their poor creations. These crimes can include instances of neglect wherein an author deprives her characters of careers, interests, hobbies or intelligent thought. Other authorial actions are more subtle, such as arranging for her protagonists to become clueless plot-zombies or giving them limited reasoning ability, which renders them TSTL.
Have you ever wondered how it’s possible for two authors to write nearly the same plot, scenes and characters and yet one writer is interesting and the other is dull? Oftentimes, savvy readers need search no further than the verbs.
Let’s try a little experiment.
From The Binky Chronicles Book Nine: Moon Grab:
Brutus was standing in the doorway of Dr. Binky’s office. He was gripping a laser pistol.
“What’s wrong, baby?” Binky asked.
“The goddamn Martians have stolen the moon and all hell is breaking loose.” Brutus walked to the space station port hole window and looked outside. Binky followed behind him and looked over Brutus’ shoulder.
Outside the stars were shining as brightly as ever, but the space where the moon should be was empty.
Binky looked down and saw that his hands were trembling in fear, but he tried his best to keep a calm look on his face when he said, “What are we going to do?”
Okay, here’s the scenario: Our Intrepid Hero, Dr. Binky, has just found the man of his dreams.
Commander Brutus is everything that Dr. Binky could have asked for and more. A strong soldier, good leader to his men, Brutus also writes poetry. Unbeknownst to anyone, Brutus has been extensively published. He wants to be a father, even though he’s gay. Strong, yet sensitive—that’s our Brutus.
After meeting in Afghanistan, where Dr. Binky had been volunteering for Doctors Without Borders on a massive inoculation program, Binky and Brutus begin a whirlwind affair that leaves them both breathless and infatuated.
Then tragedy strikes—a roadside bomb leaves two men under Brutus’ command dead while Brutus is only mildly injured. Binky rushes to his bedside but meets with only a cold stare.
Too Stupid to Live—the worst possible criticism. The brand on the forehead of idiotic protagonists that just can’t be ignored. The sign that the reader really, really hates your character and hopes that they won’t survive till the last page.
Today I ask what, really, is TSTL Syndrome? Gut instinct says that it’s a problem with characterization, because the ire of the reader gets focused on the offending character. But I suggest that TSTL is merely a symptom of other afflictions in a book—and not just one.
Here’s an example:
Every year Blind Eye Books goes to Yaoi-con to sell books in the dealer’s room.
Not that I need an excuse to go to Yaoi-Con. I love manga in general and yaoi specifically. So I thought I’d share some of my 2012 finds. This is only a tiny sample and I’m sure there are lots of great manga I’ve missed, so do comment and tell me all about what you loved this year.
First up is Castle Mango Volume 1. Written by Muku Ogura and Illustrated by Narise Konohara. Published by June.
The main character in this one is Yorozu Shirosaki, a high school student whose widowed mother owns an old-timey love hotel. Far from being embarrassed by this, despite the frequent admonitions of his school teachers, Yorozu believes in his late father’s idealized concept of a love hotel being, “A place to nurture love,” rather than a just sleazy rent-by-the-hour joint.
As you may know, I’m ever on the lookout for fearsome epidemics coursing through the world of m/m romance. A few months ago I brought you my plea for writers to become job-creators by giving their unemployed protagonists something to do.
Now I’ve come to you once again with this shocking news: cluelessness has now reached an all-time high in m/m romance.
I’m not talking about characters who are TSTL—that would be an entirely different post that I’m not sure I’m smart enough to tackle. I refer instead to characters who do not seem to understand that as gays they face discrimination. In most countries they are not allowed to get married and in a few special nations, may actually face the death penalty just for expressing their sexuality.
Look Ma! No Hands! by Nicole Kimberling
Recently I’ve been hearing lots of discussion about fanfiction. I guess this has to do with the popularity of that 50 Shades of Grey book that has been topping the amazon.com lists all summer long. Before this book–this admitted piece of modified fanfiction—started making gazillions of dollars and selling like crazy, I never heard any serious author or editor advise new writers to write any sort of fanfiction. Ever.
In fact, conventional wisdom advised just the opposite. Writing fanfiction, it has been said, creates bad habits.
Picture this: you go to a restaurant and you see on the menu an item called “pie.”
You ask the waitress, “What kind of pie do you have today?” (For the purpose of this thought experiment, let’s say you are a big fan of pie and may very well buy a piece of it, depending on how the waitress answers.)
“It’s hard to describe,” the waitress says. “It’s kind of a tangy, creamy, sweet dessert. It’s layered and really complex. Part of it is yellow. It’s totally sick.”
Your heart sinks.
As editor of Blind Eye Books, I have to say that I am deeply concerned about joblessness. Every day manuscripts arrive in my mailbox featuring protagonists who appear to be out of work. Still more protagonists seem to be so deeply unqualified for the jobs that they do hold that in addition to worrying about them being fired, I wonder how they every got hired in the first place.
And tragically, it is my own genre, fantasy and science fiction that suffers the highest rates of unemployment. Like the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, I consider assassins, thieves, intergalactic pirates, hookers and all other crime-based workers to be technically unemployed. I feel that sorcerers, wizards and witches qualify as self-employed, but only if they’ve actually been contracted for a job. Ditto for star captains, mercenaries and any sort of bounty hunter. “Agents” must be on the payroll of an “agency” to which they are accountable for me to count them as members of the workforce. And I regret to inform you that “adventurer” is not and has never been a job, alas.
Okay, obviously I’m not here to write about dogs. Several readers have asked me to do a basic breakdown of the process and… gulp… the cost of producing a Blind Eye Book from start to finish. I can only assume that these intrepid readers are looking for inventive new ways to go bankrupt. And boy howdy! Making print books is an excellent and noble method by which to dispose of all your money, so here we go.
Well, first I’ll explain a little bit about manufacturing print books. There are basically two ways to do it–either a person can go through a POD or “print on demand” process or an offset print process. Well, there is a third option—digital interior with offset color cover, but I’ll just stick to the basics here.
But sometimes that inspiration can go too far. What started out seeming like a gift from the muses can turn out to be an outright copy of another author’s story or even worse, lifting the exact same phrasing as another author to describe the exact same thing. In other words, plagiarism. Here’s the weird thing about it, though. Authors can telegraph characters, sentences or even whole plots from other writers without ever realizing that they’re doing it. It sounds weird, right? But it’s one of those “strange but true” things about writing.