Hidden Misogyny: Give Me Ripley over Macer Any Day

Hidden Misogyny: Give Me Ripley over Macer Any Day

(Warning: spoilers for Sicario and Training Day.)

I finally got to Dennis Villeneuve’s Sicario in my Netflix queue last week. I was captivated by the first half of the movie. What a taut thriller! I was quite literally on the edge of my seat during the highway confrontation. I wholly sympathized with Emily Blunt’s Kate Macer character. She’s cool and competent in the face of the film’s opening horrors, but not as hardened by the war on drugs as Benicio del Toro’s chilly veteran, Alejandro Gillick. She wants payback for what she’s seen, but not at any cost. When she sees Gillick and the CIA bad-guy setting up an assassination rather than a prosecution, she tries to stop it by going over their heads to her supervisor. That the film gives her idealism short-shrift is understandable. If there’s a moral message to the film it’s that America is losing the war on drugs not because of what we’re doing, but because of what we’re not willing to do.

But the second half of the movie repulsed me. Not because of Macer’s complicity in the assassination of the Mexican drug lords, or the way her own agency and the CIA turn on her. She’s a whistleblower, and a woman. I wholly believed the “old boys” closing ranks on her. What disgusted me was the way the film portrays her as increasingly incompetent. The woman who sent her queasy FBI partner outside for air while she unflinchingly showed her superiors around the Chandler house of horrors is reduced over and over. First she has to be rescued from her hook-up turned hitman. Then she has her gun shot out of her hands in the tunnel incursion and is reduced to watching her (male) partner’s “six.” She ends the movie in trembling paralysis, unable to kill Gillick even after he’s destroyed her career and threatened her life. What happened to the competent kidnap-response team commander?

If the point in eroding Macer’s competence this way was to show what happens to American soldiers in guerrilla warfare, then I just don’t buy it. With the exception of the seduction-turned-assassination attempt, her male partner is exposed to pretty much the same circumstances, and he doesn’t fall apart. Is the hidden point that women can’t hack it in war? Or that a woman’s sexuality makes her incapable of being an effective soldier? What is the film saying in having the (male) character that Macer looks to for guidance and approval being the one who destroys her career? Is it telling that the moment Macer quite literally lets her hair down, dresses and behaves like a woman, she’s attacked and nearly killed before Gillick rescues her?

The final scenes of the movie reduce Macer beyond incompetence, to the point of childishness. Gillick makes this abundantly clear when he threatens her and then tells her she looks like his lost daughter when she’s frightened. She’s tiny, barefoot and weaponless as she confronts him. Teary and helpless as he forces her into complicity with the CIA’s very dark political agenda. In one of the film’s most beautiful lines, Gillick tells her to run away to a small town where the rule of law still exists because she’s not a wolf, “and this is a land of wolves now.” Gorgeous language, but what does it say? Women are lambs? Women must be relegated to small-town America where they can be protected? The language may be beautiful but the message is not.

Would Macer’s character have been so reduced if she was a man? Maybe, but comparing Sicario to another thriller that had a similar message about the moral bankruptcy of the war on drugs, I think not. That movie is Training Day, and although the message is the same, the treatment of the point-of-view rookie character is very different. Ethan Hawke’s character Jake Hoyt suffers a similar erosion of his high moral stance: taking drugs and participating (even if unwillingly) in the murder of a drug dealer. But Hoyt isn’t reduced to trembling inaction. He outwits Denzel Washington’s corrupt veteran and leaves him to a much-deserved fate. That’s a sharp contrast to Macer, outmaneuvered and left stranded Juliette-like on her apartment balcony while Gillick turns his back on her and walks away.

I’m not asking for every female action hero to be Ellen Ripley. And I don’t mind morally murky films. I’m fine with an ending that shows we’re not winning whatever war we’re fighting: we’re just creating more and more victims. What I mind is making the female action hero one of them.

Pulling Aside the Curtain

Pulling Aside the Curtain

The ultimate reveal of the villain is incredibly important in any conflict-based narrative. It’s the pay-off for the reader. They’ve followed all the clues, stuck to the right path despite the red-herrings the author has thrown in their way, and now they get the prize: to find out “who done it” and why. Pulling aside the curtain is usually the climax of a narrative and what readers will long remember if it engages and entertains them.

It’s that moment, the ultimate reveal, that I’m struggling with. The feedback I’ve had on Snowburn tells me the ultimate reveal of the villain, Kison Tyng, was satisfying and surprising to readers. He was not the all-powerful monster that the protagonists had envisioned. He was a dying, struggling old man motivated by the desire to protect his family. He had put the protagonists through the struggles of the story for a reason, and his reason was sympathetic. Readers really engaged with that.

The beta and editorial feedback I’ve had on Throwing Fire tells me the opposite. The reveal is not satisfying. The why of the antagonist’s actions doesn’t click with readers. Maybe that’s because Tyng’s actions in Snowburn were motivated by love, and the villain in Throwing Fire is motivated by hate and the desire for revenge. Is love a more satisfying motive than hate or revenge? I wouldn’t have thought so, but that’s something I’m chewing over.

I’ve been re-watching season one of True Detective over the last few weeks (because nothing is better for you when you’re in a writing funk than getting involved in an extensive narrative of dissipation, dissolution and psychosis – hmm). I think the reveal of the killer (Errol Childress) in episode eight is incredibly effective. In the previous episodes, there have been hints at the killer’s motive, but the viewer has never seen him and never known the whole story. In episode eight, the show’s writers pull back the curtain and give us the killer’s point of view. We see what’s made him: the incest, poverty and twisted religion. It’s a surprisingly nuanced point of view. The killer is a damaged man-child seeking transcendence. He’s a monster, but one the viewer (and certainly the nihilist detective Rust Cohle) can relate to. He’s seeking, on a larger and more deranged scale, the same things we all seek: acceptance, connection (even if violent), and the ultimate reward of faith.

I’ve been contrasting this in my mind with the last two books of the Harry Potter series, which are also an exploration of a killer’s psychology. Voldemort is perhaps a less nuanced character than Errol Childress. Both seek an off-beat sort of immortality, but Voldemort’s ultimate motivation is fear, where Childress’s is desire. Voldemort seeks power on the earthly plane to defeat death, while Childress seeks elevation above it (or below it, since he talks about the “infernal plane” rather than heaven). Coming back to what’s a more satisfying motive, love or hate, if Voldemort’s motive is hate and Childress’s is love, Childress’s is more interesting and engaging to me.

So maybe the key to rewriting the end of Throwing Fire is not the action or resolution, but the villain’s motivation. If I can find something the villain loves, and make that the reason behind the villain’s actions, that might make the moment I finally pull back the curtain satisfying for readers.

Following the Ripples

I’m delighted to welcome fellow sci-fi author L J Cohen to my blog!


Nearly a year ago, E J wrote about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: writing realistic injuries. In the linked post, she chronicles the pain and healing time of a deep cut to her hand as a way to use her misfortune to create better fiction when her characters get injured.

I share E J’s frustration with superhero characters who don’t get injured or who heal without consequence when they do.

In creating everyman characters who are thrust into situations where they get hurt, fatigued and stressed, I need to think through every way those factors would effect their lives. It’s not enough to describe the pain – I have to follow the ripples.

Choosing to injure your character is like every other choice in a novel. It has to exist for a reason. Preferably more than one reason. Does the injury deepen characterization? Drive the plot? Limit your character’s abilities? Force your character to problem solve more fully? Change the way others relate to them?

If the only reason the character is injured is to engender sympathy, then the injury is a thin device and adds little to the overall narrative. One of the dangers of incorporating injury and disability in a story is falling into the cliché of the ‘noble victim.’ Equally problematic is when the character is injured or disabled simply to motivate the actions of the non-injured protagonist. Both choices remove agency from the character and render that person into a plot-device.

But injury and disability can be written well. One of my favorite depictions of physical disability in speculative fiction is the Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold. The protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, was exposed to a poison in utero that prevented normal growth of his bones. He is considered a mutant by many in the rigid conservative society in which he was born for his deformities and has fragile bones. His frailty forces him to compete in a vicious political landscape using his wits and his will. He is both brilliant and insufferable; a wonderful, fully realized character.

A second pitfall in writing injuries is when the injuries serve the needs of an immediate plot point but have no follow through or consequence in the story as a whole. This is something common to thrillers where the hero gets shot only to be patched up by a sympathetic side character and then saves the day when any mere mortal would be writhing on the floor waiting for emergency services. Getting injured hurts. Even if no vital organs are damaged, the shock post gunshot or stabbing or burn can easily take down the strongest, most fit individual.

Shock is a protective reaction by the body and is part of a complex series of reflexes that take place without conscious thought. Typical shock reactions include: decreased blood pressure, rapid, weak pulse, lowered core temperature, rapid, shallow breathing, nausea or vomiting, dilated pupils, and loss of consciousness.

It’s far more likely that your injured character will go into shock than run into the lair of the bad guys, rescue the damsel, and ride into the sunset. And shock, if untreated, can actually be fatal.

I love the phrase E J used in the quote above: Follow the ripples. The moment of injury is the stone in the pond. What it changes is the ripples.

One of my protagonists in Ithaka Rising – book 2 of Halcyone Space – is dealing with the aftermath of a head injury he sustains in book 1. His impairments are disabling. He experiences nausea and vomiting, crippling headaches, vertigo, and is unable to focus on his computer screen or read. His experience of his injury and the choices he makes as a result of not improving drives the entire plot of the story. He believes only a neural implant device will help him, but his young age is a contra-indication. So he finds a black market source for one. There are consequences to his actions, ripples that effect him, his family, and the political landscape.

Another problem in writing injuries is when the author gets the physiologic details wrong. Absent magical healing or hugely advanced tech (and even those need to have limits and consequences), injuries take time to heal. Even the mildest of tendon strains can take several weeks to fully heal. Broken bones can take six–twelve weeks or more depending on the severity of the fracture and the overall health and age of the person. Deep cuts and penetrating wounds are a huge infection risk, as are burns. Infections can be fatal, even in a technologically enhanced world.

I had a 25 year career as a physical therapist before I became a writer. My specialty area was orthopedics and chronic pain management. When my characters get hurt, they are well and truly hurt. This year, I started a weekly twitter chat to help writers be more realistic in depictions of injuries and healing. I’m always happy to take questions. Look for #InjuryWrite or mention me on twitter @lisajanicecohen.


Thank you so much to L J for stopping by my blog today! She’s generously agreed to give-away an ebook of the winner’s chosing from her titles in honour of her new release, Dreadnought and Shuttle. Check it out on Amazon, Google Books, Kobo, B&N, and iBooks.


When a materials science student gets kidnapped, she’s drawn into a conflict
between the young crew of a sentient spaceship, a weapons smuggling ring, and a Commonwealth-wide conspiracy and must escape before her usefulness
as a hostage expires.

Anyone who comments on this post from 13th June 2016 to 20th June 2016 will be entered into the drawing and I’ll post the winner in the comments and email them as well.

Finally, here’s a little bit more about my wonderful guest: L J Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, L J now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. L J is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.


Hunter’s Moon

I’m delighted to welcome friend and fellow author S.A. Hoag to my blog today! Her new urban fantasy novella is Hunter’s Moon.


Here’s an excerpt:

“You don’t look so great,” Tegan says as we whip down the highway.  He has a lead foot.  A new white Mustang convertible, top down, sun high in the sky, temperatures hovering near the comfortable zone, it’s almost a perfect day.

There was dirt road for close to twenty miles, then two lanes of old blacktop for a few more, and finally what I suppose could be considered a real road.  My motion sickness has been here for the entire ride, and I think I’m on my last nerve.


“I didn’t get any sleep last night.  Or the night before,” I tell him flatly.  “I’m like that when there are vampires around.”

“If you were in any real danger, do you think I’d have left you alone?”  He glances over.

“Don’t you do what they tell you?  Isn’t your job to keep me in line?”

He snorts a swear word under his breath.

“And what in the hell is ‘real danger’?”  I point out.  “There are vampires and…”  I glance sideways at him, stuttering off the word before I say it.

“Werewolves?”  he grins, finishing the thought for me.  It’s a derogatory term.

“…out there and humans are too ignorant to see how fragile their place on this planet really is.”

“You see them.  You know.”

“I know vampires.”  All too well.  “Shapeshifters.” I shrug.

“You do know, I’m a shapeshifter.”  He isn’t threatening me, but it comes off sounding like something I didn’t want to hear anyway.

“Of course.”

“How did you know?” he asks.  It’s an honest question.  When you spend god-knows how many years masquerading as something you’re not, it pays to find the little details you might miss.

“Body temperature.”

“Ah the one thing I can’t change,” he nods.  “Now, did you know, or did your brother tell you?”

“I knew.  We did get pretty damned close.  Morgan told me what ‘Samael’ means.”

“Did it scare you?” he asks, amused.  He gets a lot of free entertainment at my expense.

“No,” I lie.

Want more? Get Hunter’s Moon now on Amazon.

S.A. Hoag is also the author of the Wildblood series. It’s a post-apocalyptic adventure that starts with Backlash, a prequel novella. Book 1, The Vista, is available now, and watch for Book 2, Renegades, coming soon!

Be sure to stop by S.A. Hoag’s blog to find out more about my buddy, the “rebellious” writer!

Sabotaged Desires

It’s my great pleasure to welcome Rebecca Airies, fellow SFRB-er and author of the sci-fi/romance Sabotaged Desires to my blog today!
*  *  *

Hi, thank you so much for hosting me. I’m so excited to be here. Here’s my new release:

Susanne is in.jpg

Intrigued? Here’s a sample:

“Get your ass to the hatch and let us out now,” Robert yelled.

Ever the demanding Captain. Robert expected people to follow his orders immediately. He’d behaved like an ass lately. That arrogance set her nerves on edge. His tendency to bark out commands even when on personal time made her want to rebel or strike out at him.

The argument hadn’t stayed within the confines of their quarters. Suz didn’t know how he was surprised that they’d been placed here. At the moment, his yelling was getting on her nerves.

“They won’t let us out. Not until they’re convinced our problems are solved.” She eased to the edge of the big bed. At least, she wasn’t nauseous from coming out of stasis or have a headache any longer.

David strode to the side of the bed, sat beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. “Are you all right?”

His dark blond hair stuck up in spikes, looking delightfully mussed. She only wished she’d been the one to run her fingers through it. Concern turned the corners of his full lips down. His muscled chest was bare offering yet another lure for exploration and he wore only loose, light blue pants which most men chose to wear into the stasis pods.

“The pain has faded. I sort of expected this after our last rotation, although waking up from stasis in this room scared me and for a little while, I didn’t realize what had happened.” She relaxed against the strength of his arm for a moment. Normally, they were left in the open cryopods until they were able to walk. She’d almost panicked when she woke here. Her heart had felt as if it were going to burst through her chest.

The feel of his muscled body against hers soothed a little of the tension and worry. Between David and her, they would find a way to get through to Robert. Even though they couldn’t get out, she didn’t fool herself that this would be easy.

“So did I. I think he’s the only one who thought things could go on as they were.” David smiled and used his free hand to brush the silver blond hair away from her face.

“They should stay out of our business.” Robert glared at her.

His dark brown eyes moved from her to David. He didn’t look mussed or even sleepy as David did, but then again, his close-cropped black hair always seemed to be in perfect order. The dark brown skin of his chest gleamed. Her eyes hungrily trailed over the expanse and down to the white shorts at his waist. Even though anger pulsed through her at his stubbornness, she hungered for his touch. Her body remembered the pleasure he’d given her.

“Our business is everyone’s concern. We’re on a colony ship. There are only married groups here. There aren’t extra women and men and our group will be the only people on the planet until more colonists are sent, which could be years. The crap you’ve been doing can’t continue.” David straightened a little and his eyes locked on Robert.

Want more? Buy Sabotaged Desires here.

And here’s a bit more about the author:

A voracious reader since childhood, Rebecca Airies has always enjoyed getting lost in the fantastic worlds of science fiction, horror, fantasy and romance. When she began to write her own stories, they always had a romantic edge.

Rebecca currently lives in Texas and writes with the help of a couple feline critics. She’s a multi-published author whose muse loves fantasy, sci-fi and the paranormal, as well as strong heroines who are sometimes as stubborn as their heroes. She loves to hear from her readers.

Connect with Rebecca:

Website: http://www.rebeccaairies.net

Email: contactme@rebeccaairies.net

Twitter: @RebeccaAiries

Facebook Page:  www.facebook.com/RebeccaAiriesAuthor?ref=hl

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/115909284303775689058/posts

RHAcafe  FBpage:  www.facebook.com/redhotauthorscafe?ref=hl

Blog: http://rebeccaslair.blogspot.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=178329508

Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/rebeccaairies/

New Release Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bRE0V9

Tied Up With A Bow

Tied Up With A Bow

I find great pleasure in “rediscovering” books I read decades ago. I rarely get rid of books I’ve enjoyed and keep many boxes of books in my attic. This weekend, while putting away luggage from a recent trip, I dug through one of those boxes and “rediscovered” several paperbacks I haven’t read in decades.

One of them was a historical romance (I’m not going to name it because I’m going to criticize it). I remember enjoying the atypical heroine and the realistic depictions of life on the American frontier. So it was with relish that I cracked it open last night, and I enjoyed it just as much as I remembered.

Until I reached the end.

When I closed the book, I felt unsatisfied, and a little disgruntled. The ending was a let-down. It was a typical happily-ever-after-ending, but it fell flat. There was no emotional punch. I’d shed some tears in the middle of the book, as the heroine realizes her own self-worth, but nothing towards the end. Why?

I re-read the ending several times today, trying to figure out what went wrong. What was missing? I was invested in the main characters. I wanted them to have their happily-ever-after. Why wasn’t I satisfied when they got it?

Part of the problem, I’ve decided, is that, in the final scenes, the characters act in ways contrary to their characterization throughout the novel. The heroine, who has been extremely steadfast, runs away from an emotional confrontation. The hero, who has spent the entire novel doing the “right thing,” commits a small betrayal to test his feelings for the heroine. I appreciate that love makes people do crazy things, but these actions were not consistent with the characters developed through the previous 200+ pages. That left a sour taste in my mouth.

But the bigger problem was that the ending was too pat. It wasn’t just happily-ever-after for the heroine and hero, every conflict was resolved. Even minor subplots were tied up with a bow. Maybe I’ve gotten used to modern series where each book contains some unresolved threads that carry on into the series, but I found such a pat resolution unconvincing and unsatisfying. Life doesn’t work that way. I understand the difference between reality and literature, but where the novel has worked hard to build a realistic and convincing world, to have everything resolved so neatly, so tightly, undermined that realism. It broke my willing suspension of disbelief.

Literary trends change over time. This book was published nearly twenty years ago; it was never intended to be part of a series. So maybe the author was following convention and fulfilling reader expectation with such a tightly-tied ending. But reading it two decades later, I find it flawed. Keeping the lessons I’ve learned from this book in mind as I re-write the ending of “Throwing Fire,” I need to stay true to my characters, but I also need to stay true to the realism of the world I’ve built, and not try to tie everything up too neatly in a bow.

In Medias Huh? When Beginning in the Middle Doesn’t Work




(Copyright Ry Young, used under Freeimages.com licence)

In medias res. That’s the fancy Latin term I was taught in my English Lit courses for stories that start in the middle of things – in the action, rather than before it starts. The technique isn’t new. Homer used it in The Odyssey. It seems to come in and out of fashion, however.

Probably because of my love of adventure tales, I’m attracted to stories that begin in medias res. I want to be sucked right into the action. Tell me about how magic broke into our world or Faerie reappeared or mankind fell to the A.I.s in a chapter or two when I’m deeply invested in the main characters. Show me the characters’ initial peril now.

But there are some times when in medias res beginnings don’t work. I read a fairly short (200+ pages) modern romance recently. I’m not going to name the book, because I’m going to tank on it. But in thinking over why I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, particularly the beginning, I realized it was because the story started in the wrong place.

The story was a pretty classic girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, girl and boy overcome social obstacles to being together, girl and boy live happily ever after story. I liked the male main character (I’ll call him Boy) well enough to keep reading, but I didn’t like the female narrator (I’ll call her Girl), and it took me a while to figure out why.

Girl had issues, as female narrators in modern romances often do. She’d been done wrong, done a little time, and was trying to get back on her feet while protecting her very bruised heart. She wasn’t witty or snarky (unlike Marvel’s Jessica Jones, a similar character in some respects but I who found much more immediately engaging). She’d erected some very large barriers to other characters, particularly Boy, which kept them at a distance.

The story began by plunging Girl immediately into a situation of peril, in which she and her best bud (BFF) are threatened by some baddies to whom the BFF owes money. The resolution of this problem was the major plot hook for the rest of the story, so Girl couldn’t shine in resolving it there and then. In fact, she came across as weak and somewhat desperate. I don’t mind weak characters who evolve in the course of the story, but it can be hard to initially sympathize with them. The baddies (who turn out to be not very bad) were more interesting than either Girl or the BFF, so it was annoying when they then disappeared for twenty chapters. I’d have happily read more about them than Girl. Moreover, the BFF had done A Bad Thing in stealing from the baddies, so why would I sympathize with the BFF? Throwing a weak, emotionally-remote narrator and a morally-compromised secondary character into peril and expecting the reader to immediately care about them is a tricky proposition, and this story did not make it work.

Then the author committed the cardinal sin of following the unresolved initial peril with several pages of info-dump. The info-dump was all backstory – how Girl’s heart was broken, how she ended up in jail, how the BFF was the only person there for her after she pushed everyone else away. Because I wasn’t much liking Girl at this point (she hadn’t done anything to engage me), I’ll admit I skimmed the backstory. I went back and read it later, when Girl’s incarceration became relevant to the action, but I skimmed it on a first read because at this point, I wasn’t engaged. Fortunately, the author then introduced Boy, who was interesting enough on his own to keep me reading. That saved a book I might otherwise have put down.

Because I generally love in medias res beginnings, and because most of my own stories begin that way, I’ve been mulling why this modern romance didn’t work for me, and what I can take away from it. I’ve also re-read one of my favorite in medias res beginnings: Kate Griffin’s fabulous The Midnight Mayor, which starts memorably with:

The telephone rang.
I answered.
After that . . . it’s complicated

The Midnight Mayor then launches into an attack on the sorcerer-narrator by some of the scariest baddies I’ve read this side of the Nazgul. If you haven’t read Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift series, stop reading my blog and go read them – time much better spent.

I’ve come up with five learning points (in no particular order):

  1. Engage. If you’re going to start in medias res, you have to have your reader engage with the story’s protagonist from the outset. Readers naturally empathize with the narrator, particularly if they’re in trouble and even more particularly if you’re working in first person point of view. So this shouldn’t be too hard. But the reader can be alienated by a narrator who seems dumb, dull or weak. Why should the reader bother? The narrator doesn’t have to be superwoman (or even Matthew Swift) at the outset, but they have to shine somehow, even if only in their brilliant internal monologue. They have to be a character the reader wants to keep reading about.
  2. Show. I’m always a proponent of showing rather than telling, but it’s really, really important in these sorts of openings. The reader needs to get a crystal-clear picture of what the narrator is hearing, seeing, thinking, smelling and tasting in the initial scenes so the reader connects with the narrator. This is particularly critical if the narrator is going to make some questionable decisions (which Boy does several chapters later when he strikes a deal with the baddies, but by that point I knew enough about both Boy and the baddies to care and keep reading). That doesn’t preclude exposition entirely, but keep it snappy. The in medias res opening is all about action – the narrator better be doing something rather than describing a tree for three pages.
  3. Choose wisely, grasshopper. Pick the characters for that initial scene or scenes of peril carefully. Introducing fascinating baddies who then disappear for twenty chapters antagonizes your reader. (Kate Griffin uses the demon hoodies several times through The Midnight Mayor and each time we see them, the more terrifying they become since Matthew Swift can’t seem to decisively defeat them.) Use characters the reader can glom on to, and who are going to feature in the rest of the story.
  4. Have a resolution, even if it is only temporary. This is what really distinguished Griffin’s brilliant opening in The Midnight Mayor from the modern romance. The narrator-protagonist of The Midnight Mayor captures one of the baddies with the most amazing binding spell ever created (talk about the power of words!). The rest of the story spins off why the baddies attacked him and what has attracted them to him. From a plot perspective, the baddies attack in The Midnight Mayor and the threat by the baddies in the modern romance serve the same function: they set up the overarching conflict for the rest of the story. But what’s so satisfying in The Midnight Mayor ‘s opening is watching the protagonist shine as he binds the demon hoodie. It’s a temporary resolution, of course, since we know there’s a Bigger, Badder Baddie waiting in the wings. But it’s still very satisfying. By not having any resolution to the initial peril, the author of the modern romance denies the reader that satisfaction and makes the modern romance an unfulfilling read.
  5. Avoid the subsequent info-dump. What was so frustrating about the post-peril info-dump in the modern romance was that I could see it coming a mile away. The baddies tromp off, Girl makes sure the BFF is okay, and then, as Girl drives back to her apartment, she tells us her entire life history. It’s not just dull to read, it’s also unrealistic. People don’t review their entire lives while driving home after (what should have been) a perilous confrontation. They’re pumped up on adrenaline. They turn the confrontation over and over in their minds. They wish they’d acted differently or come up with a wittier retort. They consider the consequences. They don’t have a ten-page flashback to their childhood, high school romance, betrayal by The One, incarceration and release. Sorry, no. Maybe, maybe, they consider the peril in light of their personal history – if it’s related somehow. But definitely not the entire character’s backstory, and definitely not in one chunk.

I’m still in love with the in medias res opening. I’ll still use it in my own stories, but I will think carefully about whether the technique enhances my story, and my readers’ crucial initial connection with my narrator, or detracts from it.

Any thoughts on in medias res openings and when they don’t work? I’d love to hear them!