Resisting the Bad Boy by Violet Duke
We're vacationing in Sweden right now, and between the time change and the midnight sun, this translates into lots of uninterrupted reading time... ideal circumstances for genre reading, mostly romance. I've long breezed through my "book books" and have move into e-book explorations. What did I do before there were e-books when we traveled to Sweden? I think I stared at the ceiling until the hour was decent, but my memory is a little foggy.
I've been exploring iBooks' feature "First in a Series," where genre authors can give away their first book in hopes of attracting readers and maybe getting them to purchase further books. I'm working my way through the offerings, and they range from sexy to boring to dark--really dark. But beyond that, I've noticed that many of these books aren't just the first in a series; they're first in a serial, ending with a cliffhanger or game-changer that makes the temptation to buy the next book even stronger.
So this is the topic for today: the serial form and how it works... or doesn't.
Now, we're focusing on romance serial, so let's be reminded of the most basic tenants of romance stories: Happily Ever After (HEA), or at least Happily for Now (HRN). However, because by definition a serial is not a finished story by the end of Book 1, we might not get our HEA or even HFN yet. Most of these writers have wisened up to the fact that readers want to be forewarned about the serial nature of their book, so as a reader I was warned from the beginning. But how does an author write a satisfying ending for these books, one that keeps us invested in the romance but leaves us wanting more?
I wouldn't have even thought to ask this question if I hadn't run into something that really didn't work. But Resisting the Bad Boy tried for a twist that, for me, ruined what was otherwise a fun book. In fact, if I has stopped reading the story on the second-to-last page, I would have liked it. This is a well-paced romance filled with good dialogue that I could learn from. So what went wrong?
First , let's look a little closer at Ms. Duke's plot and approach. "Good girl" Abby meets the brother of her long-time (male) friend, Connor. Through twists of plot with a strong focus on dialogue and lots of alone time together, they get together and relutantly enter into a deep relationship. But when the circumstance that have thrown them together end, they have to decide whether to continue. It's clear that they both want to be together but...
But what? The serial romance usually leaves us here, throwing in a big "but" at the end. Often, at the end of other Book 1 serials, the heroine leaves the guy under distress, but there's a hint that it's not forever. This book tries something different: Ms. Duke ends the book with the best-friend/brother suggeting that they should try a relationship instead, and Book 2 is called Falling for the Good Guy. What?? I read this book yesterday, and I can't even remember the brother's name without looking it up--that's how small his role in the book was!
This book didn't just take away the HEA in the name of a cliffhanger; it took away the PROMISE of a HEA in the future. I don't want her falling for another guy after just investing myself in this other relationship, and I have absolutely no interest in reading a whole book about her new potential relationship. Instead of a plot twist, this felt like the rug was pulled out from under me.
So what does the reading writer learn from this? Though the heroine can (and often does) choose between two men, you can't introduce this plot twist on the very last page! Explore it before the end and have her come to a tenative decision by the end. For the purpose of the serial, this doesn't have to be the "right" decision, but it needs to be within the boundaries already set up in the book. Otherwise the plot twist can simply feel like a ploy.