Any advice on my novel's feedback?

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craig
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Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by craig » November 7th, 2010, 1:03 pm

First off -- I apologize for the length of this, but I think I need to fully explain the situation before I ask for the community's opinions…

One of my beta readers -- the one who always gives me the most honest and most thorough critical feedback -- finished reading my novel and absolutely loved it. (In the past, she has had no problem telling me if something flat-out sucks, so this is genuine love for my novel not "I don't want to hurt your feelings" love.)

Aside from more spelling errors than I care to admit and a little bit of missing info towards the end, there was only one facet of the story that seemed out of place.

In about the last fifty pages or so, I have a gay romance that blossoms seemingly out of nowhere and it gets a little heavy a little fast. My beta reader had issues with this, but she says it has nothing to do with sexuality as she is quite sure she'd have the same issue if it were a straight romance.

Lemme give you some background on the story…

There's a huge cast, but for the purposes of this post, there are three characters you need to know -- Mason, Lucas, and Jagdeep. All three of them are telepathic and can read minds and stuff like that. Mason is married to a woman and that is known throughout the entire novel. Nothing about the sexuality of either Lucas or Jagdeep is mentioned throughout the novel (mostly because I don't feel that sexuality should be the defining characteristic of a person). In fact, other than Mason and his wife, very few characters are given defined sexual orientations -- I feel it's just not relevant to the novel.

Lucas and Jagdeep know of each other but don't actually meet till about 50 pages from the end. Mason, Lucas, and Jagdeep are chasing the bad guy. At one point, there is a physical touch between Lucas and Jagdeep and a spark travels through them.

In the process of chasing the bad guy, they go down a very cramped lift. Lucas and Jagdeep make nervous eye contact and stumble into each others minds, diving deep and mentally bathing in the essence of the other. It's obvious that it's intense and it's fast.

Eventually, it gets to the point where only one is able to chase after the bad guy. Lucas takes that job. Jagdeep gives Lucas a passionate kiss as "a reason to come back alive." Because of how the story is set up, Mason and Jagdeep are able to follow along at a slower pace.

Jagdeep and Mason, while in a lumbering vehicle following the path of Lucas and the bad guy, have a conversation. One topic is the sudden and very intense relationship. Jagdeep says something like, "I want you to know that I don't usually go so fast when I meet a guy." Mason replies with something like, "I understand. Your mental exploration of each other allowed you to get a true sense of who you two are, right down to the core of your very beings. In essence, you have compressed months of dating into mere minutes."

They keep lumbering along in their vehicle and eventually come to Lucas's broken, and barely still living, body. They get him on the vehicle and patch him up and revive him. They return to where they came, to take Lucas to a hospital. On the way, in the back of the vehicle, Jagdeep and Lucas talk -- it's a bit sexy. Lucas says something about collecting on the promise of another kiss. Jagdeep kisses him kinda intensely.

And that's it. It's all really G/PG rated romance.

However, I've been told that my love scenes, no matter how chaste, are written *very* erotically.

---

I think that this romance works as it is because of the mental connection they have. Within moments they know each other better than any other couple that has been dating for months. However, my reader thinks it's too far too fast.

However, if my problem is that I write way too erotically, then perhaps the solution is to just tone down the intensity a bit. Also, perhaps there could be considerably more internal dialogue within either Jagdeep or Lucas to indicate that this mental connection is pulling them together faster than they normally would do? (So… explain that as it's happening, too, not just after the fact in the lumbering vehicle?)

Any thoughts?

I tried to keep this kinda brief. I sent this to a friend of mine to get his opinion and my message was about three times as long as this.

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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by Moni12 » November 7th, 2010, 1:45 pm

Based on what I've read here I get why you don't want to put too much emphasis on sexuality, but it seems important to the novel, so you may want to include something about Lucas and Jagdeep being gay. Also, I'm not sure how much you go into the mental connection they have, but may describe what they see when they explore each other's minds and also make the new relationship a little less intense.
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polymath
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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by polymath » November 7th, 2010, 1:50 pm

From what's given, I see two related concerns. Catching the bad guy sounds like an event narrative then shifting to a romance becomes a character narrative. A romance coming up suddenly in an ending might lack prepositioning or foreshadowing.

Readers are invested in the event narrative and get to the ending and the story abruptly becomes about the romance. I'd guess the indictment of "erotic" is a gut reaction conclusion from abruptly having a gay romance thrust on readers expecting something else, like feeling tricked into reading a gay romance and politely not saying so directly.

A general principle related to prepositioning and foreshadowing is a narrative can get away with one coincidence early on in the storyline; maybe, maybe two, maybe. Coincidences in endings might not be deus ex machinas but they are in the same genus of widely frowned on final crises outcomes. In the given circumstances, it sounds to me like two novels put together without a denouement of the first one's main dramatic complication that's set up and efforts strive to address, and without complication introductions and efforts setting up the second one's denouement.
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Evelyn
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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by Evelyn » November 7th, 2010, 1:58 pm

Hi Craig,

I struggled with some of the same things in my novel, so I feel for you. This is harder than it seems, isn't it?

I have some thoughts regarding the things that you mention. Regarding the "too fast" issue, I think the concept is fascinating. I wonder if you can make it work by showing something similar happening earlier in the novel. If, for instance, you have your character instantly "falling in friendship", or having an immediate and intense empathatic response to someone who is injured, or some such thing - then when he falls in love in a matter of minutes later on in the novel, you will have set it up as a possibility.

I do have a big problem with this scene:

"Lucas's broken, and barely still living, body. They get him on the vehicle and patch him up and revive him. They return to where they came, to take Lucas to a hospital. On the way, in the back of the vehicle, Jagdeep and Lucas talk -- it's a bit sexy. Lucas says something about collecting on the promise of another kiss. Jagdeep kisses him kinda intensely."

My problem is that I cannot imagine that anyone, anywhere, would be in the least bit interested in sexy talk and intense kisses if they have a broken, barely still living body...

Keep at it! Perhaps knock down some of the intensity, like you said. Best of luck!

Evelyn

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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by craig » November 7th, 2010, 2:08 pm

Hmm...

Some excellent advice so far -- thanks!

Re: Character and event narratives...

I can see how that shift could be a factor in this... The novel in its entirety is very character-driven, though, with character narratives having about equal weight with event narratives. Perhaps in the ending, the character narratives overwhelmed the event narratives... evening out the balance a bit or bringing the event narrative back to the forefront might be a key step. (And a big step in that direction would be to lessen the "eroticness" of the scenes, so it's not more memorable than the action.)

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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by craig » November 7th, 2010, 2:10 pm

Evelyn wrote: My problem is that I cannot imagine that anyone, anywhere, would be in the least bit interested in sexy talk and intense kisses if they have a broken, barely still living body...

Keep at it! Perhaps knock down some of the intensity, like you said. Best of luck!

Evelyn
Thanks! I think I might have over-exaggerated the "brokenness" of his body in my post... given the context it's not as bad as it sounds....

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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by polymath » November 7th, 2010, 2:35 pm

A principal distinction between event narrative and character narrative is the degree of internal complication. Event mostly external motivations; character mostly internal motivations. Narratives that are a weighted balance of both tend to merge the two into a coherent whole related to a central dramatic complication. I don't see a clearcut related main complication in what's given. Connecting chasing a bad guy on the run and a romantic interest are a best practice for related complications, but I see quite a challenge merging them into a coherent whole.

It's been done though. In Romanticism's epic quest, a hero defeating the bad guy and saving the love interest from the bad guy is a traditional convention. More event narrative than character narrative though in the heyday of Romanticism. A recent novel does an extraordinary job of melding the two, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, a reimagination of Homer's Odyssey.
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craig
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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by craig » November 7th, 2010, 2:48 pm

polymath wrote:A principal distinction between event narrative and character narrative is the degree of internal complication. Event mostly external motivations; character mostly internal motivations. Narratives that are a weighted balance of both tend to merge the two into a coherent whole related to a central dramatic complication. I don't see a clearcut related main complication in what's given. Connecting chasing a bad guy on the run and a romantic interest are a best practice for related complications, but I see quite a challenge merging them into a coherent whole.
Yeah, for this post, I really only focussed on what I thought was necessary -- the spontaneous love story. In the novel, everything that happens character-wise, happens for a reason when I write -- so, though my novel tends to be a bit heavy on character narratives, it's often directly related to the event narrative. I try to wind them up so that they make a greater whole. Everything that happens happens for a reason -- to either drive the novel forward or to drive the larger story (if I should have the chance to write sequels) forward.

This love between Lucas and Jagdeep is part of a redemption of Lucas. Lucas spent most of the novel as an antagonist and only becomes a protagonist for about the final 75 pages. This love that develops is partially a way to show that his conversion to the good side is complete -- Jagdeep and Mason are not holding him at a distance with only partial trust. (And, to be completely honest, it was one of those cases where the characters take on a life of their own... I was outlining and all of a sudden wrote, "and then they kiss." It came out of nowhere, but it made perfect sense to me.) As well, this blossoming relationship holds him back from fighting the bad guy to the death, as he has a reason to live. (The plot is a little complex... but, by this point, Lucas is about ready to give up his life due to what he did earlier in the novel, so this newfound love is a little glimmer of hope and light for his future.)

As well, thinking long-term... if this novel should get picked up and if I should have an opportunity to write a sequel, Jagdeep and Lucas need to be in a relationship before that novel starts.

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polymath
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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by polymath » November 7th, 2010, 3:02 pm

Is it about the redemption of Lucas? If so, then what's his central complication? And how does he become aware of it?
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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by bcomet » November 7th, 2010, 3:06 pm

I agree with previous comments.

The right amount of weaving between the character story and the action story, like Polymath pointed out, is important. It's also hard to comment on though from just a partial and brief description of the plot.

Here's a few of my thoughts:

If there is enough evidence of the characters' Intuitive ability earlier, the *instant* understanding between the two characters makes more sense.
(You'll probably hate *sorry* this example, but
Spoiler:
in the last Twilight Saga book, when the character suddenly imprints,
the whole imprinting thing has been foreshadowed in the novel––and the earlier books too––enough to be believable even though it happens instantly.)
Love at first sight/connection happens. It can be electric and sudden. There doesn't have to be a rhyme or reason, but it has to be something the reader feels, so they have to know enough about the character(s) to find it believable.

Also, you don't say whether the characters are "out" or protective of their gayness or aware or unaware.
So that makes me wonder, is this about the character(s) learning they are gay?

If they are already out and comfortable with that, it's about the love connection.
The foreshadowing then is much like other love story foreshadowing and not orientation dependent.

If this is a new development ( their orientation), that needs to be foreshadowed too (so as to not have fooled the reader).

I am most of all––from what you've shared––feeling that the intuitive part may be *key*.
However, it is really hard to comment without having read it all.

Also, if the erotic pieces fit the story, I'd keep them. If they detract from it, soften them up a bit or remove.

I guess I'd ask your beta what they would want added, amended, taken back a notch.

Hope this is helpful. Sounds like a LOT of thought has gone into this, but with you, I'm not surprised. You have always had the most thoughtful analysis on these forums.

Best of luck.
Last edited by bcomet on November 8th, 2010, 12:42 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Any advice on my novel's feedback?

Post by cheekychook » November 7th, 2010, 3:21 pm

I can think of tons of storylines where, at a tense moment, the male/female duo will exchange a somewhat unexpected kiss as a "reason to come back" from a dangerous mission, so I can't help but think that perhaps your beta reader's reaction was slightly colored by the fact that this moment was even more unexpected due to the fact that she wasn't aware that either character might be thinking of the other in that way. In other words it may have been more an "I didn't see that coming" reaction rather than a judgment or an issue of timing.

I understand your not wanting sexuality to be "the" defining part of any character, but sexuality is "a" defining part of everyone. I have no idea how the earlier part of your book/characterization progresses, but if it's as character-driven as you indicate and characters are reading the thoughts of others and focused on their own internal thoughts, it seems you'd likely have several opportunities to at least hint at the fact that same sex attraction is a possibility for these characters. That doesn't have to put the focus on their sexuality, but it will leave the door open, so to speak.

I'm also left with the impression that you and your beta have differing opinions/criteria for judging "hotness" in a scene. If it's as G/PG as you seem to think it is, then I have a hard time understanding how it could be too much too fast, as she indicated she felt. Have you had any other readers comment on this? It's never a good idea to take one person's opinion and assume that everyone will react the same way. It might be time to get a few more betas. If the same pages receive the same comments from several readers, then you know you have some rewriting to do. If not, it may just need a little tweaking or it could just be the response from this particular beta.
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