Pub Rants

It’s Monday–So Partial Madness

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STATUS: Beyond crazy since I was out of the office on Friday. Finished a contract, signed a new client, smiled thinking about my great weekend in Dallas.

What song is playing on the ipod right now? DIDDLEY DADDY by Chris Isaak

Once again, great aspiration to get this blog done early. Didn’t happen as you can tell. I’ll work on that.

I had a great weekend in Dallas. April is definitely the time to visit Texas. Low humidity. Temps in the 80s. I broke out my sandals and got the toenails painted hot pink just for the occasion.

I can’t tell you how many writers came up to me to say that they read my blog. It’s so nice to meet some actual faces behind the readers so thank you for that.

I also have one little tidbit of advice gleaned from the weekend. Announcing that romance is “fluff” while attending a romance conference and sitting in on a workshop that tackles the genre might not be the best way to win friends. I could feel the room temperature physically drop a notch after many cold stares were thrown the speaker’s way.

Might want to avoid that kind of social gaffe in the future. You’ll get more out of the conference that way.

I’m sure I’ll have a few more tidbits to share as the week unfolds.

But it’s Monday and you know what happens on Mondays. It’s time for some Partial Madness comments.

I’ve got two for you today since I have romance on the mind.

I’ve been noticing an interesting trend for openers in the romance partials I’ve received lately. And to be honest, this is merely an observation and certainly not a rule as something to avoid. You might want to keep them in mind just in case there’s a better way to launch your story. This might also be a personal taste thing and what doesn’t rock my boat might be a favorite thing for other agents.

If any other agents read this (or editors for that matter), feel free to pipe up in the comments section.

1. Launching into your narrative via a dream sequence.

Now, I understand the motivation for this. It allows a writer to leap into some action immediately. Usually the dream sequence is a nightmare or something unusual, which makes for a gripping start.

The problem for me is when the dream scene ends and the next scene is fairly mundane. It’s such a let down after the intensity of the opening. It’s like a false promise of what will be the story and then the reader realizes that oh, it’s just a dream. Not real. And there is a level of disappointment in that.

For the most part, if your character is dreaming, then she’s in bed. I find the next scene will often involve the heroine waking up. Not too many places to go in the narrative giving the narrowness of this perspective. She might get up and shower or something like that and suddenly, the story has lost a lot of momentum. Have you defeated the point of your opening?

2. Heroine waking up alone to find a strange man in her room.

Yikes folks. This is most women’s worst nightmare. I’m often surprised at how often this is an opening scene in a romance novel (usually a paranormal or something where time-travel might be involved). Often the stranger is going to be the hero but I can’t help thinking that it doesn’t show a lot of good judgment on his part to awaken a sleeping woman in this manner. How can she be anything other than terrified? Also, it doesn’t allow the heroine a whole lot of room to develop either. In reality, this would be beyond frightening and I don’t think it would matter how gorgeous the intruder happens to be. If a woman thinks her life is a stake, such a thought on physical beauty would be incongruous. For me, opening scenes have to make sense and this set up is something I can’t quite wrap my mind around.

Now I’m sure there is a bestselling author out there who wrote this and got away with it. I’m thinking if you’re a bestselling author, you can get away with just about anything.

However unfair, the standards are way higher for a writer trying to break in.

27 Responses

  1. Stephanie said:

    In my first short story writing workshop in college, the professor revealed a few of his “top no-nos.” One of these happened to be that one should never write a story where the character wakes up in the end. As Ms. Kristen explained, it is disappointing for the reader to realize none of the excitement was real. It also seems to be the easy way out for the character to resolve a conflict, or actually to resolve nothing, since the conflict was fabricated. As an opening to a novel, it seems the reader would also feel cheated in a way. Although I took that class 15 years ago, I’m still extremely cautious (overly so, I’m sure) about using dream sequences in my fiction.

  2. Anonymous said:

    A couple of an ex-college-roommate’s friends decided it would be funny to throw things at me while I slept, to see how long it would take me to wake up.

    I did, saw two strange guys holding beer bottles in my room (the roommate wasn’t there), and I—well, I pepper sprayed them. Which I still think was a pretty rational reaction, considering the circumstances. I certainly didn’t stop to admire the grace with which they held the Budweiser, or some such nonsense.

  3. Anonymous said:

    I just read a partial this evening that opened with a dream sequence. Two paragraphs later the female protagonist wakes up, which is when I wanted to go to sleep. In my mind, the author promised me something sensual and surreal in the beginning and instead I ended up reading about a lonely and slightly neurotic insomniac. Oh well, on to the next submission.

  4. Anonymous said:

    What about a dream scene that jumps into action right after the protagonist wakes, because of the dream. Aren’t there exceptions?

  5. Vivienne King said:

    romance is fluff! hmmm…I think this speaker just shoved her foot down her mouth bigtime. who in their right mind would say that at a romance convention?

    and I really hate when people call what we do fluff. honestly, what’s so fluffy about love? don’t we all, (or most of us) dream of finding it? doesn’t the world really revolve around it? Love for a child, a parent, a lover.

    Fluff indeed. Grrrr…somebody get me a latte, my blood pressure’s going through the roof.

  6. pennyoz said:

    Romance writer equivalent to

    “It was a dark and stormy night…”

    Do you think that the person who dismissed romance as “fluff” was trying to commit suicide? It’s a bit like trying to set up a hamburger stand at a vegetarian convention.

  7. Bernita said:

    Exactly, Anon.
    And good for you!
    I’d be heaving lamps and yelling my head off, at least.
    This “overcome by his manly beauty” stuff, as Kristin says, just boggles.
    Same thing when hero finds limp female on his hands.
    First reaction would probably be either irritation or horror.

  8. bonniers said:

    I woke up to find a strange man in my room once. My husband didn’t know that I had gone back to bed (I was in the early stages of pregnancy) and let the exterminator in. He was spraying under the radiator. I sat up and said, “Hey, who are you?”

    He screamed and ran, leaving his ant spray behind.

    Heh. Might work for romantic comedy, I guess?

  9. The Beautiful Schoolmarm said:


    Steph wakes from a vivid, horrifying dream to discover a strange man in her room. He has a gorgeous broad chest, which is good–it makes a great target when she pulls the Colt .45 from the nightstand and plugs him.

    For an added bonus, she can then step over the body and through a portal. 🙂

  10. kathrynoh said:

    As a reader, I’d feel pretty ripped off if I got into a book then found out it was a dream sequence. It’s just like that dodgy season of Dallas…

  11. Bruno said:

    hee hee hee. I’m with bernita. Becca that’s priceless. All we need now is to find her on the other side of the portal in a forest, gathering herbs. Sigh. Thanks, I needed that.



  12. Shanna Swendson said:

    The “fluff” person was even more suicidal than y’all are imagining.

    It was a man. A man who, in a room full of romance authors, dismissed romance as fluff.

    To be somewhat fair, it was in a session on chick lit, so perhaps he thought he was complimenting chick lit in comparison, but still …

    And not only did he dismiss romance as fluff, he also insinuated that romance readers are less educated. Fortunately, one of the people in the room had the sheet with the RWA survey statistics on the education levels of romance readers.

    In other news, I think my next book will open with the heroine dreaming she’s been sucked through a portal.

  13. Anonymous said:

    Now I’m worried. My story starts with the main character dreaming, but he makes no bones about it being a dream. The dream is ‘foreshadowing’ more then action.


  14. Anonymous said:

    A light sleeper, I once woke up to a man’s voice in the living room of my apartment. I also slept with a gun on my nightstand (that comes from having a cop for a mother). Turned out the man was the maintenance guy talking on his radio, and he’d come into my apartment without knocking first. I gave him the scare of his life that morning, after he’d given me mine.

    I called the leasing office, and he wasn’t even supposed to be in my place that they knew of. He was eventually fired, and I always wondered what might have been without that .38 handy. So I agree with the “strange man in room being” being anything but sexy.


  15. kathie said:

    Is there a formal definition of chick lit? I write books with women in them for whom work and friendship plays the biggest part of their lives. Men are a factor as well. The tone is snappy and light, but the content is meatier than shoes and hair. But, def. not literary. No dead bodies/mysteries involved. Does it matter whether there’s a strict definition? I’d love your thoughts! Love the blog and would have loved to have been at your talk.

  16. Anonymous said:

    Oh, I was freaked, but pretended I was calm. I was young, in my first apartment. I’m just glad he was scared off and nothing else happened, like becca’s scene!

    See, Kristin is right: waking up to strange man in bedroom – bad.

  17. The Beautiful Schoolmarm said:

    It’s my upbringing–I’m a gunsmith’s daughter.

    The readers/commentors seem to be mostly female today, but I would love to hear a man’s side of things: what if he woke up and a gorgeous (unknown) woman was standing in his room?

  18. down_not_out said:

    This past August I started awake to a man, screaming, in my bedroom door. I was standing next to my bed, taking control of the situation, before reality sank.

    It was the most intense, frightening experience of my life.

    The lesson: I am fiercely solid.

    Good from bad; as with the suggestions posted here.

    Thank you.

  19. Termagant 2 said:

    My husband did this to me, once. I was busy in the kitchen, doing supper or something; the kids were chatting about homework or had the TV on. There was plenty of noise. He got home from work with a headache, said hi to the girls, and crashed. I went in & out of our room several times, never looked at the bed — he wasn’t home, was he, ’cause I hadn’t seen or greeted him?

    About the fourth time I went in, I clicked on the light, and he sat straight up and said, “What’s for dinner?”

    I screamed fit to wake Dracula.

    If I’d had the spatula in my hand, I’d have brained him. He didn’t do it on purpose, but to this day he claims he did.

    Yeah, right.


  20. MB said:

    I had a professor in college who said “Franz Kafka and his cockroach killed it for the rest of you.”