When I read and review a book, it falls into three categories: I love it; I liked it, but won’t read it again; or it had so many flaws, I can’t say anything good about it. I finished a book that was filled with turnoffs, but instead of writing a horrible review, I want to point out the mistakes that made it a book I wanted to put down long before the final page.
A book can be too long. Most novels are around 300 pages with 80,000 to 90,000 words. If you can’t tell your story in that length, you need to hire an editor to cut it down to size. This 600-page book could have lost 300 pages easily in the bloated middle.
This brings us to focus. A story needs a main theme or point the author wants to convey in the story. This author couldn’t make up her mind. Was it a story about class separation? The heroine takes a job as a servant but that is temporary. Was it a story about illegitimacy? More than one character was born on the wrong side of the blanket, but that label is spread around to so many characters, it loses any impact. What about rape? More than one woman was raped in the story, but the impact isn’t explored to any depth beyond the shame of the incident. The author seems to choose independence, but the heroine never achieves independence even when it is offered, and the hero remains under his guardian’s thumb until that man’s death.
The heroine doesn’t know what she wants. If she doesn’t know, then the reader doesn’t know. Every main character needs a goal that is hindered by a problem. This heroine inherits a great deal of money, but instead of listening to her lawyer, she declares she doesn’t want the money and runs away to work as a servant. This is the first indication of her stupidity. How can she have independence and security without money and a home of her own, which she discards?
The hero is a beta male, which means he should be the best friend instead. Heroes need to be alpha males in a story. They can bully, be rude, arrogant and all the negative things about an alpha male if they grow and change because of the woman they love. But a beta male doesn’t stand up for himself so how can he stand up for the woman he loves? This male does whatever his uncle wants even though others tell him to grow a spine.
The heroine has been under the guardianship of an abusive uncle. All her relatives are cruel and greedy but one, who appears to want to use her, does grow more likeable. There were so many awful characters, it was hard to figure out how the heroine would overcome their abuse, and her low self-esteem keeps her from happiness. The hero’s household has just as many cruel and abusive people living in his home. The story is oppressive because there is little hope through much of it. Every hero needs a best friend to cheer him/her on. The “best friend” in this story was self-seeking and the female version appeared sporadically.
Another problem is the poor way the hero and heroine are kept apart. She refuses to talk to him no matter how often he tells her they need to talk. She also thinks he fathered an illegitimate son when he was 14. How dumb can she be? He isn’t much smarter. He has finished his education at Cambridge but doesn’t have or seek a job. The aristocratic young men receive the best education in their country but don’t use it. What a waste.
Try to make your main characters intelligent and resourceful instead of spineless victims. It’s difficult to support someone who doesn’t fight for respect or have gumption. It also increases the conflict by pitting the hero/heroine against the villains. And don’t wait until the last page for this miraculous change. Characters need to change and grow throughout the story. The changes can cause problems that must be solved until the final climax and happily ever after.
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