I just finished a suspense novel by a multiple bestselling author, female, whom I won't name because I found the book completely lacking in character development. Her protagonist is a cop who is supposedly tough and suspicious but falls in love with the female lead (about whom readers are kept guessing till the end as to whether she's beleaguered victim or lying villain) at first hardening of the you know what. She is beautiful and supposedly is guaranteed to make every man who looks at her think of sex sex sex. Do you know anyone like either of these fictional folks, male or female? I don't. In my reasonably broad experience, many, many relationships between attractive people have nothing whatsoever to do with sex. In the five decades since junior high, I've had many friendships based on affection, shared experience, and common interests that have had nothing to do with the friend's sexuality or mine. The same is true of everybody I know, including the most charming and physically attractive. When I read about characters like those I've described--whom we never get the slightest sense of as people, apart from their lust for each other and the fact that they live happily ever after at the end--my inner skeptic has an immediate ho-hum reaction. How about you?

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Quite right, but genre fiction is about readers' wishful thinking. Frequently, it's also the author's wishful thinking. In this case, getting high and having a best seller conveniently coincided for the author.

And by the way, male authors get high on incredible action scenes where the protagonist overcomes improbable odds and proves to be better than any other man in the world. Reacher, for example.

I suppose that means that women are turned on by romance and men by violence.
I think for a lot of people, initially there is a level of attraction that makes us want to talk to a complete stragner for the interest of coupling. For some it'll be about sex. I know a guy-- perfectly intelligent, nice guy-- but he's very open with me about how often he's checking out a girl's cleavage or tailfeathers. He definetely thinks about and is attracted to hot girls.

Most guys I know (which is also most of my friends) are quite aware of a woman's sexual attractiveness. That's often what they notice first, whether or not they ever get to know the woman.

When it comes down to relationship, that can only be built with something deeper. If the relationship makes it past the initial EXCITEMENT (in more than one meaning) then it's going to need something beyond physical attraction. But a lot of people put a LOT of stock in that initial excitement.

If I don't see anything beyond sexual attraction between characters in a book, yes, I get a ho-hum. I know it's complete fiction. Or fantasy. But many relationships start with appearance-- which may well mean sex sex sex. At least in my experience.
Naomi, you're welcome to guess in a private message to me. :) So far no men's reactions. I wonder if they're assuming that the book in question is romantic suspense and thus not their department? It's not; the author is considered a thriller writer.
Allison Brennan?
My feeling is that a best-selling author who turns out a bad book deserves to be criticized. When the publisher pays a cool million per title, and the readers rush out to spend 25 bucks for a book that's lousy, the whole world ought to know about it. On the other hand, in the case of Patricia Cornwell that sort of bad criticism doesn't seem to have made any difference to publisher or readers.
Hey, sex sells! We all know that. We also know that it's an easy crutch to use when your story or characterization falls short.

Look, there are some great things about being a bestselling writer, but there's a couple of not so great things, too -- one of them being the pressure. You're "under the gun" to do it again and again, like clockwork, year in, year out -- to crank out a book that's hotter than the last one and hit a homerun every single time. (I love mixed metaphors.)

I'm sure that authors under this kind of chronic pressure get tired. And a tired author writes a tired book. S/he reaches for the easiest "tricks" in the goodie bag: sex and violence. Forget character development. Forget backstory or motive or any kind of psychological complexity or nuance. That stuff takes time. And when you have an agent and an editor breathing down your neck, pushing for "the Next Big One," that's just what you don't have: time. You need to get the manuscript over and done with.
Finally, you turn it in. You experience this great feeling of exhilaration, and then your publisher shoves you back on the treadmill and the whole cycle starts all over again.

I also just read a "thriller" by a longstanding bestselling author or, should I say, tried to. The characters were so flat and the prose so prosaic that I had to put it down. There was nothing inspired about this book. I had to wonder whether it was done just to fulfill the terms of the author's contract. No matter what, I couldn't finish it. If it had been a submission by a newbie, then it wouldn't have gotten past the agent, much less made it up the food chain to reach bookstore shelves. Like you, I wondered. Was the author exhausted? The publisher either didn't see a problem with the book or maybe didn't care. Why not? Was it because this author is so established that no matter what s/he writes, the name on the cover guarantees big sales? Was it because this author had worked long and hard and built up a flock of loyal readers who would buy no matter what?

However, there could be a totally different explanation:

Six months ago, I read a novel (not by a bestselling author, but still a very successful one) that also had zero character development. The characters were unapologetically two-dimensional puppets, with each representing a different viewpoint about one obsession, which involved an ethical issue. My reaction was the same as yours. Yawn, yawn. But then it occurred to me that the story was allegorical. This was the author's way of exploring the issue from different angles and conveying his final judgment. Now, I've never liked allegories, but I accept them as legitimate art forms. I still didn't like the "style" of non-dimensionality, but I made peace with it. Perhaps, if you view this "sexy" suspense novel as an allegory, you'll find it more digestible, too. :-)
Without reading other member comments first, I will reply.

Sex has its purpose. None of us would be here if were not for sexual relations. In fiction, however, too much emphasis on sex can "kill" a book for me. If it seems that a steamy scene has been added for no real reason, then I will lay the novel or story aside. There are too many good books to read for me to waste my time on trash. Of course, different strokes for different folks! :-)
I see what you mean, Elizabeth, and very good points everyone.
I love novels with richly drawn characters because I don't feel that, that sort of depth takes anything away from a tense plot or the action. If anything, for me anyway, it makes the story far more enjoyable. I hate flat characters.
As for sexual attraction--well I think it can be wildly exciting. It's like a fever. It happened to me once when I was very vulnerable. I must say that it helped me wonderfully to get my self-confidence back after a disasterous marriage to an abusive man!
it didn't last, I knew it wouldn't--and it didn't matter (after a while). as the entire matter was put into perspective.
btw I like to use the feelings I had in my writing! not for sex scenes, don't write those--not in detail anyway. but it was a rather inspiring experience, I have to say and like all hugely emotional experiences, it can be summoned up from our memory to be used for our writing. And besides, why not remember something pleasant and exciting as the years pass?!
There are all kinds of relationships between people, some of them completely sexual, some of them asexual, many of them somewhere in between. It is certainly possible for two people to immediately have an intense sexual attraction between them even when they don't know anything at all else about each other. Sometimes that develops into something else, sometimes not. The thing that makes characters and their relationships in a book interesting is the strength of the writing no matter what their interaction is. If the relationship between the characters was dull or uninteresting, I'd blame the writing, not the type of relationship. Trying to generalize in any way about human interactions is simply an exercise in futility.
I just saw Will Smith's new movie "Hancock. There is a scene where Hancock kisses his friend's wife (white). There is chemistry there, for sure,
but it is not until other facts are revealed that the reason for the attraction becomes clear. I could see this scene being deleted in the South, but the kiss is important to the plot. Will Smith does a great job, by the way.
Wow. Just Wow. Where to start on this one?

You're saying the South has better black-white race relations than the rest of the country? Really? This is a joke comment, right? If you're serious, then history might like to have a word with you.

I've lived in Kentucky my whole life, and I have heard all those racist terms you described, and it was from locals. I'm curious what "Northern-generated" TV shows and movies you're referring to.

You know why there are different ethnic communities? It's not because they hate everyone else. It's because they're in a new, strange country so they congregate with others who speak the same language and share common ground because it brings a sense of comfort.

Go to the college campus in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I live, and see how all the Taiwanese students hang out together, how all the Indian students live around each other. Is it because they hate other races? No. Of course not. It's because they are more comfortable being in a strange place with people they share common backgrounds with.

So to say that these communities just "tolerate" each other is utterly ridiculous. And the South "accepts" blacks, but the Bosnians just tolerate the Italians (for example)? Are you kidding me?

Yeah I guess the South hasn't ever been segregated. I mean, the slaves lived on the master's plantation. Definitely not segregated communities there. Oh, except they lived in separate quarters. But things got better. Later, the blacks were freed and then they just had separate schools, water fountains, seats on the bus, restaurants, do I need to go on? How many lynchings happened in the North?

There aren't black communities in the South? There aren't black churches?

"And they did it by choice, nobody forced them to."--This is really funny. Yeah, blacks didn't have a choice; they started out as slaves. They were forced to. And that's better?

Give me a break man.
I thought they stopped doing that years ago.
My Dad commented on a scene once in a film--it was I think from In This Our Life. He saw it down South during the war, before being shipped out.
the scene was between an African American man who worked for a prominent family but was studying to be a lawyer. there is a scene with Olivia deHavilland. that scene wherein he tells her about his studies wasn't shown in the theater where my Dad saw it. that was terrible, i certainly think that sort of thing has changed!


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