Posted in Writing

Not Quite DNF

Dear Author,

I took a couple of days off from work, only to come down with some virus.  I’ve never been too sick to read, however, so at least I had the opportunity to plow through some of my considerable book backlog.  Your series was part of this fiction binge, but it had some problems that would have stopped me from continuing if the books hadn’t otherwise been such a great read.  You truly have action and timing down to a science, and I was on the edge of my seat through most of the chapters.  Your stories were absolutely riveting, which makes me much more forgiving of any flaws.  Since I enjoyed your books so much and only want to see them get better, please note the following:

1.  Gunshot wounds.  Your description of the gun fight was good, very good.  You plunged me into the chaos and confusion, the adrenaline, the white noise buzzing through the ears, the alienating sense of being there but not being there.  You accurately depicted the shock and reaction to injury, something a lot of authors overlook.  Your scene at the hospital leads me to believe you have a nursing background, or that you did some extensive research.

So what happened between this chapter and the next, when your character engaged in a very athletic round of what I’ll just refer to as ‘Hide the Button’?  This scene took place within two days of the injury, with no mention of any physical accommodations made for that shoulder wound.  I understand that romance is all about the fantasy, so instead of laying in bed and whining about how his mom always put an ice cube in his chicken soup to cool it down, he’s up and back in action.  Still, I would think he’d at least have his partner do some more of the, um, heavy lifting.

2.  More gunshot wounds.  In another book in the series, your hero was grazed by a bullet.  You didn’t fall prey to the ‘it’s just a flesh wound’ nonsense, and while the injury was not serious, it did require some cleaning and a few stitches.  Good on you.

Then you were hit by a bus or had a year-long break from writing that story, because you absolutely forgot anything ever happened to this guy.  There was no mention of it again for the rest of the book, but the next day, your protagonist did several things that would have resulted in a twinge of pain, if not considerable discomfort to that stitched up area.  Yes, he’s macho enough to have done those things anyway, but I would have liked to see some sort of hesitation in his movements.  He’s also dating a nurse, and I can’t believe she didn’t bust his chops for not keeping that wound clean.

3.  Kissy-face in the women’s bathroom.  This one almost killed me.  On top of the ‘ewww, this is really unsanitary’ reaction, this is the women’s restroom.  The only women’s restroom.  Your hero just locked himself in with his fair lady, which means no one else has access to this room.  In a crowded bar full of bikers, someone’s old lady is going to be enraged when she can’t take care of business and things are going to get ugly.  When you have your couple ‘get a room’, perhaps it shouldn’t be that room.

4.  Style and naming inconsistency.  The side character was ‘Mark’ in one book, then five books later he had the leading role and was named ‘Marco’.  In one book the biker was wearing a leather ‘kutte’, in another, he was wearing a leather ‘cut’.  This can happen quite easily when writing a series, and sometimes it comes about as a result of switching editors or publishers.  Your mistakes weren’t serious, and if I wasn’t reading all five books in a row, I might not have noticed.  Since I did notice, I recommend you ask Santa to put a character bible in your stocking this year.

In spite of the above-mentioned problems, you are definitely going on my ‘follow this author’ list at Amazon.  I’d totally volunteer to beta-read for you, except I have no spare time to offer.  I’m too busy criticizing people who have accomplished what I have not, such as writing a book.




I was fortunate in this round, as only one of the books in my reading pile landed in the DNF category.  I’ve written a list of some of the reasons for this, but this was something new – failure to convince.  This is quite a feat, because I read mysteries, fantasy, romance, and various combinations of all three.  Like most avid readers, I dive into these genres with reality already suspended.

Dead body in the conservatory?  Hey, it happens.  Aliens?  Sure.  I’ve never believed we’re the only planet in this huge universe to have sentient beings on it.  Werewolves/Shifters?  Sounds like some fun magic, particularly if they’re well-muscled.

But this author’s scenario?  The reclusive, billionaire hero pulls a beautiful woman out of an ocean during a storm, and takes her to his mansion to recover.  Okay, not an uncommon trope, so I’m still in.  Then, because he’s considerate and doesn’t want her to catch a cold, he removes her wet clothing and wraps her in a nice warm blanket.  So far, so good.

Then, because she’s still resting, he goes out to the store and buys her some replacement clothing.  He takes it back to her, she puts it on, and they are on to the next step in the story.

Meanwhile, my eyes have rolled to the back of my head.  There are a lot of things I can believe, but there is absolutely no way anyone can convince me those replacement clothes actually fit the woman.  No freaking way.

I understand the implication of this – he could guess her size because he’s very familiar with women’s bodies.  Reformed Playboy is another common romance trope, although not one I particularly care to read.  But I can’t walk into a store and pull something off the rack with any guarantee that it will fit my own body, and you’re telling me he can dress a stranger?  He might get lucky and guess correctly on the t-shirt, but her bra?  More than cup size goes into the sizing of a bra, and as any fitting assistant at Soma will tell you, three completely different shapes of women might all correctly wear a 36-C.

Maybe if he took her wet clothing with him and bought the exact same items, but at least one of those items is probably no longer made, so…nope, can’t go any further.  Come back to me later with a different scenario, and I might finish your book.  Meanwhile, I’ll be reading something far more realistic, such as Arrested by the Alien Vampire.  Book ‘em, Zhyrg.

Posted in Writing

DNF Romance

Dear Author,

I wanted to finish reading your book.  I always want to finish.  In fact, there was once a time in my life when, no matter how difficult, I would slog through to the bitter end.

I had more free time on my hands in those days, and a far greater tolerance for pain.

You might not think this is a big deal, but I read a LOT of books, and so do my friends.  We’re always looking for a ‘new’ author, and when we find one we really like, we go and purchase everything the author has written.  You’re not just losing sales on your future books, you’re also losing them on your back catalog.

On the off-chance that you are looking to improve, here are some of the reasons your book landed in the dreaded DNF (did not finish) pile:

You bored me.  Life is too darn short to spend it reading something that puts me to sleep.  Textbooks are the primary culprit in this category, but your fiction committed this cardinal sin as well.  Please get a beta reader/editor to help you tighten up the narrative.

I can’t stand being inside your character’s head.  You wrote from the first-person point-of-view, but your character wasn’t capable of holding the entire narrative on her frail shoulders.  I felt like I was listening to a coworker talk about her divorce, wondering if it all really happened just like she said, and curious as to the other side of the story.

I hate your protagonist, Part I.  The greatest risk of first-person POV is that it can make a merely annoying character truly unbearable, because now I’m locked in her head.  Please tell your whining-and-making one-poor-choice-after-another drama queen to shut up.  I shouldn’t be rooting for the bad guys to win, or worse, wishing for a ‘rocks fall, everyone dies’ ending.

Your mistakes killed me.  The advice is to ‘write now, research later,’ but you forgot to come back and do the research part.  I’m not referring to the sort of error that would only be noticeable to a subject matter expert, but your romantic lead is in the military and there’s no excuse in the age of wiki for not knowing what rank is appropriate for the age of your character.  A 24 year-old Lieutenant?  Sure.  A 24 year-old Colonel, not so much.

Your lack of personal experience shows.  Not everything can be gathered through research, and the sad truth is that some things require first-hand experience if you choose to focus on them.  In your case, you chose to be rather explicit describing something that I’ll just refer to as peeling potatoes, but it was obvious you had never peeled potatoes.  In fact, it was clear that not only had you not peeled potatoes, you had never so much as held a spud.  In this instance, it would have been best if you had left the couple to peel potatoes behind closed doors.

I hate your Protagonist, Part II.  If your romantic lead spent the first half of the book being a jerk, why should I believe he won’t start mistreating his One True Love later on, once the honeymoon is over?  And why would she want to hook up with him in the first place?  If this guy’s going to have a mighty change of heart by the middle of the book (and I wouldn’t recommend waiting until later), please don’t try to base the transformation solely on the love of a good woman.

You grossed me out.  We all have different tolerance points, which is why sub-genres exist and M18+ books have warnings.  Your graphic description of a sucking chest wound would have been fine in a war thriller, but it wasn’t appropriate for your target audience in a contemporary romance.  I know your character was a nurse, but most readers don’t want to stumble across the dirty details while they’re eating lunch.

Your protagonist is a fashion plate.  Descriptions of the physical world are necessary to good fiction, but your character’s clothing took center stage.  I don’t need to know that she chose to wear a black pencil skirt with a sheer, soft coral blouse and silver hoop earrings.  I might need to know what her love interest thinks of her appearance, but I doubt he’s looking at her earrings.

You have an obvious author tic.  By the third chapter, your protagonist had rolled her eyes seventeen times.  Your romantic lead blinked twelve times.  You referenced his deep blue eyes in six different places.  I should never be able to play drinking games with your prose.

The worst part of all of this is that it didn’t have to be this way.  A good beta cures most of these ills, and a great beta has the courage to tell you that your character is unlikable.  I started reading your book because it looked interesting, so there was something there to draw me in.  You just didn’t close the deal, which is a shame.  The world needs more good books, and I was hoping one of them would be yours.