We were discussing “good bad books” on the blog last week, and while I understand the premise, I have difficulty labeling any book as good or bad. Yeah, after reading a few million books over the years, I have a definite opinion on what kind of books I don’t like, but they aren’t necessarily bad books. I just don’t like them. Many of them are bestsellers—I’m missing that Dan Brown gene, too. Can one call a bestseller bad? So there are books I like to read and books I don’t. And then there are the wallbangers.

Since I write romance, I like books that end happily. Yes, I’ve read the Russian classics and I was edified and experienced catharsis, and I didn’t fling them at the wall just because they inevitably ended messily. But unless I expect someone to interrogate me about a book, I prefer one that entertains me—and that requires a happy ending. I want the mystery solved, the treasure found, the rightful queen on her throne, and I want happily ever after, or HEA as we call it in romance.

But even if justice is served and all’s well that ends well, a book can still end up pitched against the wall if the story lacks logic. Or I may never find out if there’s a HEA because the hero and heroine spend so much time drooling over gorgeous anatomies that they don’t realize they’ll kill each other should they ever be stupid enough to marry. Or one character or another is so perversely blind, stubborn, or thick-headed that they persist in believing an obviously wrong assumption despite all evidence to the contrary.  So I guess, for me, books have to have some degree of intelligence or they’re candidates for dinging a hole in my plaster.

And this is coming from someone who has written a book about a heroine so seemingly blind and thick-headed that the copyeditor called her a nincompoop. I kid you not. But if that poor copyeditor had kept on reading, he would have discovered the heroine actually was almost blind. She wasn’t being stupid when she set aside letters. She couldn’t read them. So I can accept thickheaded characters if they’re that way for a reason.

In THIS MAGIC MOMENT, which we’re adding to the catalog this week, I have a heroine who could easily be called Too Stupid To Live, or TSTL in romance-speak. Christina goes on hair-brained escapades that would have most normal people locked away in a strait jacket. Christina is also a rich, privileged daughter of an aristocrat, with the ability to speak to ghosts and read auras.  Rich and privileged means people never tell her no, so she’s spoiled, but she’s not dumb. She knows who she can trust by reading their auras, and she has her ghosts around to protect her. So while she may seem TSTL, she’s just more talented and courageous than most. So even arrogance has its place.

At what point does a book become a wall-banger for you? Can you stick with a TSTL character if the rest of the story leads you to believe that the character will improve? Or is it all about the action and pacing?




Wallbangers — 8 Comments

  1. It’s largely a matter of taste. I’ve thrown some bestsellers at the wall in my day (Thomas Covenant – bleah!).

    Like you, I like books to make sense, thank you. When a character I’ve grown to like does something stupid just for the sake of the plot, that breaks the suspension of disbelief for me. Always a disappointment.

  2. Hate perfect characters. Hate ’em. I’m beginning to get pretty sick of women who are beautiful in a particularly “no one really has this shade of eye-color or hair color” sort of way, as a shorthand for how swell they are. Show me the swell, rather than the violet eyes*, please…

    *yes, I know. Elizabeth Taylor. But she doesn’t have violet eyes as if they were shorthand for character.

  3. I don’t mind thickheaded characters if I can believe their motivation for being thick, and if I’m entertained. If I hate all the characters, I don’t care how kewl and pomo the book is, I’m not the audience.

    The biggest wallbangers for me are historical error. That’s where Dan Brown really failed–I could go with his wooden prose because of his lickety-split pacing, but when he made historical error . . . nope. Bounces me out of the story, and that means I’m not being entertained: when I sink in, I want to stay in.

  4. This doesn’t happen as much anymore, but the last time I hurled a book across the room, I had reached the last twenty pages or so, cheated and read the last page, and realized that NOTHING in the book that had been posed as a problem for the Protags was going to be resolved. NOT ONE THING. And there was nothing on the cover to indicate this was part of a series or a duology, or I would have waited for the second to come out and read them back to back.

    I still have not forgiven the writer, which is not really fair, since packaging was the culprit. But it still bothers me to this day. I feel that there may be an arc to a group of books, but there need to be small victories in each volume, even if each victory may open up another mystery. I need that, and react badly when it’s not there.

  5. What I really, really, really hate is characters who are so nasty, evil, vicious, what have you, that I’m wishing that both sides could lose as it would morally improve the fictional universe.

    But merely having some flat, amoral characters in conflict such that I don’t care which one wins is enough to get me to put aside the book, sometimes.

  6. I hate books in which the main characters fall instantly in lust and/or love. I particularly hate books in which the male protagonist sees his love interest for the first time across a crowded room and gets an instant hard-on. Apparently, love is unable to grow and develop. It’s bursts into existence or smashes you like an avalanche. It’s not remotely romantic, it’s not the tiniest bit realistic, and it’s absolutely no fun to read.

  7. Dumb villians are a deal breaker for me. I can be easily distracted with worldbuilding (LORD OF THE RINGS) and tech (STAR WARS), but sooner or later I wake up.

  8. Are dumb heroes fine?

    Me, I dislike dumbness of every variety. Even in the comic relief, usually.