Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What are your signature moves?

Falling in love with a new author is such a bittersweet moment. You will never love her in the same way you do as you finish that first book. Either you'll mature into a steady relationship where the heady days of roaring through the back list are traded for the long wait between books or the flash of emotion turns dull after another book or two, leaving you back on the market. One of the hurdles towards that long term relationship is discovering your new love's signature moves.

I recently discovered the marvelous Lynna Banning (who graciously donated books to our conference). I love a good western romance, but I'm very picky. Our own Paty and Linda Lael Miller are some of my favorites. I rushed right into a second Banning book, but I was slightly disconcerted by certain plot similarities, especially in the black moment and resolution. Decision time: Do I give her the critical third date? Is this a little quirk that I can live with? Am I too picky?

While wrestling with these weighty questions, I happened to be re-reading a Suzanne Brockmann book. It always helps to consider one's new paramour in light of past loves, after all. This allowed me to place my little tiff with Banning's plotting in context. ALL authors have signatures. Banning has dueling bullets. Brockmann has the hospital bed proposal. Jennifer Crusie has the best friend pow-wow. Lori Foster has the mock-kidnapping. Suzanne Elizabeth Phillips has the "moving on/but not really" time jump. Sometimes, I get tired of an author's signature--it's like watching too many Smallville Episodes in a row--just too predictable. I need more excitement, more passion.

Luckily reading is the ultimate polyamorous relationship. When I get too bored with one author's signature moves, I simply find someone new. In fact, that's how I discovered all of my favorite authors. I found "the one," but then decided that I needed to sow a little more oats before committing. Occasionally signatures become so predictable that I let a relationship die a natural death, no angry break-up, just no repeat reads. I stop getting excited about new releases and gradually shift my attentions to a new face with new moves.

Except that like with serial monogamy, eventually all relationships come back to that sticking point. Is it too predictable? Is it a signature move or is an annoying quirk? When do you draw the line? When do you move on?

Do you have signature moves in your WIPs? Do you try to avoid being too predictable? Do your favorite authors have them? When is it a signature move and when is it a lack of creativity? Thoughts?????


Genene said...

Hey, Wavy!

Interesting question. I hadn't thought of a favorite author's books quite like this.

However, when I discovered Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series (at about #7 or #8), I was absolutely delighted. So I tracked down all the previous ones and read the pretty close together. Until I got kinda tired of reading the same thing. The names and bad guys would change, but many other things stayed the same.

If I had read these when they came out and had several months time in between, would I have noticed the similarities? Not sure.

One thing I've noticed in my own writing is that I may include a certain type of scene in each story I write (for instance, making love in a bathtub) that I go back and change or edit because I don't want to repeat myself.

Again, very interesting question!

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy, Interesting questions, and as always, so beautifully written....

As for your questions ;

Do you have signature moves in your WIPs?
Yes, I imagine I do. In fact, I know I do. Writing these two books back to back and literally writing the end scenes of the second less than two months after writing the end scenes of the first, I can see all sorts of similarities. I try to go back and change things, but perhaps a signature move goes beyond good guy showing up where heroine is being held by bad guy into something less tangible but just as real.

Do you try to avoid being too predictable?
I do try, but again, we all have styles. When you voraciously gobble up one author's books like they are chocolates in a Valentine box, there are going to be similarities.

Take a box of Sees, a box of Snickers, a box of Whitman's, a box of Godiva. Eat all the Sees at one sitting and you are going to notice the milk chocolate on each piece tastes the same. The centers may differ, but there is going to be a consistency. Same with all the others. Mix them up, say a piece of Sees, a Snickers, a Godiva truffle and you are going to notice similarities -- all sweet on the taste buds -- but different. Just as the Sees is different in that each piece has a separate focus, each of the variety candies is different in a more complex way.

Good Lord, I got lost in my metaphor!!!! Where was I????

Yes, my favorite authors have signature moves. Read them back to back and there they are. They are, afterall, written by the same person.

It's lack of creativity, perhaps, when you don't take the time to go back and get the lovers out of the bathtub and plop them into a lake like Genene does.


I have already shared way too many thoughts, so I'll leave now, quietly, still puzzling over the chocolate thing...

Fun blog!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Alice...all those words and you STILL didn't share your signature moves?!

(Me...shaking my head...)

Genene...too funny about the bathtub love scenes. That's one I don't think I've ever written. LOL Now shower scenes...that's another story. ;)

Wavy, great blog. You're very right. My fav. authors have them too. Cindy Gerard also has that SEP time bump you mentioned - usually where the hero has to take off for a while after the climax to "decide" where the relationship is really going and if he's ready for it. Another sig move SEP has is that the heroine ALWAYS knows she's in love with the hero waaaay before the hero figures it out. That one gets to me way more than the time bump one. And Nora's sig move is that there usually aren't any emotional black moments in her books.

As for me...gosh, that's a hard one. I know I have them. In the last three books I've written there's been that time gap between the climax and final romantic resolution - but not for the same reasons. Two were out of the characters' hands and one was the hero's choice. And though I can't remember the specific scene right now (my brain is mush), I know when I was working on the last book there was a moment where I stopped and said, "Whoa. I did that in the last book. I can't do that here." But heck if I can remember what that was now! It's definitely something I'll be watching for more now though, thanks to your blog.

It was good to see you last night, if only for a little while. ;) Baby steps...

Paty Jager said...

Wonderfully written, insightful blog.

You know if I read books close enough together I might notice the signature moves- but I read so sporadically that I haven't noticed any in my favorite authors.

I would say mine are- I always have a love scene that has to do with water. And a child always says something profound that makes a hero or heroine contemplate their behavior/feelings.

And I always seem to have a double black moment though one may not be as riveting/emotional as the other.

None of these are on purpose, I just seem to do it.

Interesting answers everyone!

Paty Jager said...

Oh, and thank you for the comliment Wavy. It means a lot to me knowing how much you read.

Lori Barber said...

Wavy, Great post and wonderfully written.

I never thought about signature moves or whether I had one, then it hit me. They're like a tell. We all have them; some are better at hiding them than others.

Maybe our own unique writing style dresses and displays our signature moves in the form we deem necessary. Some like a tight fit, others an eclectic fit, and others may prefer the comfort of a roomier fit.

Some readers like their scenes, plot and black moments in a nice neat, concise package. Others like their settings and characters expressed in unusual or unexpected combinations, then are some readers like the same comfortable fit. It warms them to know there will be no surprises and they like the predictable elements they've come to know and love.

Years ago I read a lot of Grace Livingston Hill. Eventually, I could read the title, look at the cover and pretty much know the whole plot and story line. She wrote over 100 books that followed the same signature moves. Some readers may want a predictable read with no surprises, like enjoying a visit with an life-long friend.

I have fallen in love with different series books, then find myself loosing the newborn excitement between the first book or two and the last ones. Sometimes, I find myself skimming the last ones. It's like falling in love and only seeing the good, then, over time little flaws emerge and we realize they are not perfect.

I know I must have signature moves too. Since I'm still learning the art of writing and dabbling in different genres and styles I haven't clearly identified my signature moves, but I'm sure they are there.

Danita Cahill said...

Great post, Wavy.

I guess I don't mind signature moves by authors I love. I've heard readers complain of growing tired of Stephanie Plum's indecision over Ranger or Morelli, but her inability to choose doesn't bother me at all. Janet Evanovich plays up one of the alpha males more than the other in each book and I like it fine that way.

I guess if every story by a particular author followed a same ol' same ol' plot line -- Who's the father? Where's the baby? Will this bride run too? I'd get bored and frustrated.

But in a way, authors do tend to tell the same story over and over again, whether it's a revenge story, a journey of self-discovery or a battle against their own biggest fear. It's the twists and turns of plot and character that keep it interesting.

I'm afraid I'm guilty of signature moves. My stories all wind up as self-discovery/healing journeys. Hope I don't wind up boring my readers with that someday.

Danita Cahill said...

Ha, Genene! I wrote my first comment before I read through the rest. You're one of them that gets tired of Steph's same ol' same ol'. My favorite Plum mysteries are the first one and the twelth one.

Alice, now I want a piece of chocolate...

Elisabeth, I have similarities like that too. Like I tend to use an epilog to finish tying up loose ends. And in my last two books, a child or baby gets kidnapped. I need to make sure and not do that in the next book, or that could get ho-hum.

Mmmm...Paty. You and Genene like those watery romantic interludes, huh? In my last book the H/h finally get together and slip into a bath, right before the door closes and the camera pans out. My WIP has two love scenes. Steamy and graphic. Oh, won't Grandma be so proud. Ha!

Lori, you're right. As readers, and writers, we are all different. I like the clothing-fit analogy you used. Like right now I want my clothes to be loose, big and comfortable. Later, after baby and a few months back at the gym, I may like the tighter fit I once loved. It's the same with reading and writing, I think. What pleases us in one phase of our life, may annoy us in another.

wavybrains said...

Thanks for the compliments everyone!

I agree with Genene on Evanovich--she tends to use very similar plotting/dangerous situations. But, I've found that if I have a nice gap between books I still appreciate her snarky style and sharp dialogue.

Lori--I know exactly what you mean about Grace Livingston Hill. I went through a Janet Oke phase too--have you read any of her books? But I got frustrated b/c each book basically had the same plot with new characters.

I wonder if sometimes writers get bored? Or maybe a tiny bit lazy? You work so hard to get published, then to make a name for yourself, that I wonder if maybe some NYT bestsellers get a little bit relaxed once they reach that point and start to "phone it in" and that's when the plot/character recyling really begins . . . .

Not sure . . .

Thanks everyone for your great comments!

Lori Barber said...

Wavy, Yes, I've read several of the Janette Oake series.

Maybe writers who have reached the top become temporarily disconnected seeking new twists and turns to an old plot; or maybe they find themselves on a party line and hear people jabbering about their book and simply decide to stick with what's worked and garnered them success.