Friday, April 11, 2008

Bookbuilding - ANALYSIS

Today, our final field trip into the world of novelbuilding pitfalls.


After visits to the twin pitfalls of setting staticus and momentum mortus, and the twin pitfalls of cultura non-equus and non-persona, a look at


PRIMUS IMPRESSIO FALSUS



wherein a book's first chapter gives a wrong impression of what to expect. Example:



The Raven Prince, a historical romance by Elizabeth Hoyt, is the first in the 'Prince' trilogy which shot the author to the top of repeated 'Favorite Book of the Year' lists. This genre frequently features ideal heros and heroines in terms of physical attributes and personal accomplishments, presumably to intensify the fairy-tale quality of such stories. This pretty much always includes such feats of masculine manliness as the hero being the tallest, most handsome, best swordsman, best marksman, wealthiest stock market investor... The list goes on, and includes, perforce, best horseman.



So when the protagonists of this story meet by having him fall off his galloping horse at her feet it is unexpected - and funny. The hero's wounded pride is well written, and memorable. Even more so when touched upon again in a very amusing pseudo-interview the author conducts with the hero at the end of the book (AW assumes this was used elsewhere for publicity purposes):

"...Edward's responses to the Romance Hero Rule Book:
1. HEROES ARE ALWAYS HANDSOME.
(snort) Well, that one is plain ludicrous. Who wants to read about pretty boys and macaronis, I ask you? A scar here and there lends a certain gravitas to a gentleman's countenance.
2. HEROES SHOULD NEVER FALL OFF THEIR HORSE.
Libel, sirrah! I have never, EVER, fallen off my horse and I will meet in the field of honor anyone who dares say so. It is true that, upon occasion, I have been UNSEATED, but that could happen to any gentleman and is an entirely different matter.
3. AND IF THEY DO FALL OFF, THEY DO NOT SWEAR.
I was not swearing. I merely called the beast a revolting lump of maggot-eaten hide, and - follow my reasoning closely here - the horse did not know what I was saying.
4. HEROES DO NOT START BRAWLS IN BROTHELS.
I did not actually start the brawl. Besides, what would you have me do when attacked by four men? Note: I did END the brawl.
5. HEROES DO NOT HAVE TROUBLE KEEPING THEIR SECRETARIES.
I am not sure what you are getting at...
6. HEROES ALWAYS KEEP THEIR TEMPER.
I do not have a temper and anyone who says so- (censored)
7. HEROES SHOULD NOT FANTASIZE ABOUT THE BREASTS OF THEIR FEMALE SECRETARIES.
What kind of namby-pamby novels are we talking about here? I should think-
8. HEROES SHOULD BE ROMANTIC.
Ha! HA! I have you there! I will have you know that Anna found absolutely no fault with my lovemaking. In fact-
9. HEROES DO NOT CONFUSE ROMANCE WITH LOVEMAKING.
(censored)
10. HEROES SHOULD BE TRANSPORTED BY TRUE LOVE.
With that I have no argument."

The opening scene, especially when taken together with the publicity teaser, raises powerful hope that the ongoing story will be marked by similar-type humor. As it turns out, the story settles into and remains within more dramatic parameters. The writing is excellent and the story well worth reading, but doesn't return to that lighthearted initial tone. So while Apprentice Writer enjoyed the novel and can recommend it, she was perplexed about the author's decision to point a certain way with the groundwork and then go in another direction.


Another example of primus impressio falsus is the contemporary romantic suspense novel The Damsel in This Dress, by Marianne Stillings.

It opens flawlessly:

"Hold on while I get out my thesaurus: this review is going to require more words than my paltry vocabulary contains. Ah, here we go: junk, dross, rubbish, detritus (oh, that's a good one), baloney, claptrap, drivel... To continue would require more space than this column allows, so let me simply conclude by saying that 'Strike Three for Death', J. Soldier McKennit's latest so-called crime drama is a waste of time and money. The plot is ludicrous, the characters stereotypical, the writing amateurish. What less could one ask for?"

The heroine is a book reviewer, the hero a police officer-turned-author who heartily resents her reviews. The first chapter builds up their mutual dislike excellently and humorously, creating great anticipation for their first meeting at a writer's convention. The meeting scene worked, but from that point on, for Apprentice Writer, the story steadily deflated in humor and interest as the body count steadily climbed for no particularly good reason and it seemed as though the heroine was of the sort that expects the hero to be more in charge of getting things done than she herself. By the time the finale rolled around, this reader was more interested in what was going on in the subplot between the hero's brother and the heroine's friend than the primary pair.

It's possible that this was a reflection of the fact that this was the author's first book. There have been several since, and though Apprentice Writer has not had a chance to take a second look, based on the strength of this very funny first chapter, she still plans to do so.

3 comments:

Wylie Kinson said...

Very interesting post, m.
Off the top of my head, I don't remember a book that misrepresented itself in the first chapter... but then again, I may not have zeroed in on that flaw. Lord knows, there are a good number of books that I didn't wish to finish... next time I'll pay more attention to the 'Why'

M. said...

paying attention to the 'why' of when i laugh or don't like a book let's me count reading as 'research' rather then 'procrastination' *g*

Julia Smith said...

The thing that throws me for a loop is the head-hopping thing. In a published book. I don't know how it can happen. How many sets of eyes disregarded it before it was sent to the printer?