A Romance Writer’s Tip That You Would Never Think Of
We all know the importance of having someone else objectively beta-read and critique your work. Unfortunately, it is particularly hard for small Indie authors to accomplish without a fan club, or a bff literary wizard, or even a mom who was an English major.
Here’s a thought: If you really want someone to sniff out a fundamental flaw, a plot hole, or something that simply doesn’t make sense any which way you word it – pick a dude.
Huh? He’s not your intended audience? He will make unabashed fun of you? He will give you that feeling of, Oh my God, I AM that naive? Yes, exactly!
He may also provide you with some straight-up criticism that – placed in your hands appropriately – will aid you in honing your storyline to a razor sharp edge that makes sense, and still hits all of your reader’s romantic feel-good buttons.
It happened to me by accident. A small comment placed on Goodreads, a timid request, yielded me one, solitary raised hand. A male hand. Probably hairy. Educated. Unromantic as hell. But SMART. Dean was a software developer who occasionally enjoyed some short fiction that ventured on the side of erotic.
Dean (who occasionally dabbles as writer A.V. Roe) took the time to thoroughly read and critique my work, without mincing any words. Yes, some of his comments made me wince with the agony of regret and embarrassment. However, in using that magnificently male left brain of his, Dean was able to zero in on several plot holes that I had never even spotted – and offer solid, logical suggestions on how to fix them.
Here is Dean’s methodology, in his own (adorable) words:
I have two modes: Eye Jerk (EJ) and Brain Jerk (BJ). (Sorry, couldn't come up with a better acronym for the second mode.)
EJs are caused when my eyes can’t digest words, primarily because of typos. I'm not a speed reader, but my eyes and brain flow when I'm reading, and when something doesn't seem right, my eyes halt, back up and try to figure out what just happened.
BJs are caused after I've read one or more chapters and I have to go back and re-read to try to understand what the author is trying to tell me. It can be body parts that don't fit properly in steamy descriptions, or plot holes or the storyline just doesn't make any sense, or the syntax and punctuation is so screwed up, even I can't figure it out.
Dean then went on to list each and every “EJ” and “BJ” that he came across in my writing sample - in a very matter-of-fact method. The logic of his suggestions startled me. He was right. And his comments did not wound me to the quick. They actually helped – a lot.
As hard as it may be, finding reviewers that are NOT in your genre – or of your sex – can help you to fine tune your technique in ways a traditional edit or beta read would not. It is highly beneficial to look at scenes from a completely different perspective, and identify situations that probably wouldn’t work, even if you have managed to get your reader hooked and ready to suspend their disbelief. Technically, if it’s really good, they shouldn’t have to suspend it in the first place!
Yes, romance is emotionally-driven and sometimes whimsical. Yes, we all secretly wish to believe that the perfect hero or heroine is waiting to make our lives serenely perfect at the end of a breath-taking adventure, and give us ten (or fifty) climaxes in the process. That’s why we love romance!
But conflict, tension, and the events leading up to certain plot situations have to WORK well to create a great story - rather than just a good one.
So, if you want to try what I just did, find yourself a left-brained, no-nonsense dude who is willing to tell you exactly what he sees and feels when he reads your work. It’s an excellent reminder that too much cream and sugar in your coffee can cause create something a bit sweeter than necessary.
For romance to flow in that perfect formula to create a winner, fantasy has to mesh with reality. And it might just take an unromantic guy to notice the slight miscalculations in your final equation.
Note: After seeing this article, Dean emailed me to attest that he was definitely NOT very hairy.
About Jessica Leigh:
Jessica Leigh is an emerging author in the romance field, and still holds her “day job” as a free-lance writer/PR specialist for a social media marketing firm. She is also an Environmental Scientist and researcher with a degree from Penn State University. Her first historical romance release, Savage Forest, delves deep into the Native American cultural heritage of the eastern seaboard, and chronicles the life and death struggle of a feisty young Swedish immigrant thrust into a native way of life unknown to her. Jessica’s recent contemporary romance release, Waiting for Eden, is now available on Kindle, and she is currently at work on a sequel to Savage Forest.