Stop Pulling Punches

By Poison Ivy,

I know someone who has nothing better to do in the morning than read a lot of newspapers in the Internet and then e-mail his friends all the articles relating to our shared interest in comic books. These days, there are a ton of them (which is definitely a change from when I was a kid and comics were clearly considered trashy reading. Come to think of it, romances still are). Even a hint of a new movie about a Marvel or DC Comics superhero merits an e-mail. Plus, everything that is written about the new Indiana Jones movie, about the new James Bond movie, or about the next movies or TV shows featuring comic book characters gets forwarded. Most recently, this has meant that I have received more than a half-dozen e-mails alone on the superhero costume exhibit at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Just how interesting can such an exhibit be? My friend says he thinks it is the novelty that there is a comic book costume exhibit at all in such an august establishment, one that is famous for having extensive collections of elaborate ancient Egyptian and Greek artifacts.

I guess he’s got a point. But not only has he become a willing part of the viral hype machine, but sometimes he’s sending me articles with spoilers. And I don’t know they contain spoilers until I open them. Just yesterday there was one about somebody managing to crack the Spielberg-Lucas dread security on the new Indiana Jones movie, and reveal the plot. Why do I want to know the plot in advance, for gosh sakes? I don’t. I want there to be some surprises left by the time I get to the theater.

Today I was reading an old manuscript evaluation I did for an author in which I advised her to stop pulling her punches. She’d reveal something dramatic at an undramatic moment in the story. And then at a dramatic moment she’d tell it all over again in the same detail. By then it was no surprise to the reader and thus the impact of the emotional confession was lost. As a romance reader (or a movie viewer), I want some surprises. Not a lot of surprises, that’s why I read genre novels. I want to have a guaranteed happy ending in a romance, for instance, or see the murderer brought to justice in a mystery. Is this too much to ask?

But there are some people who like genre stories, but still want to check out the details in advance. I might read a back cover blurb describing a romance or a mystery. They read the last few pages of the book itself. I couldn’t do that. It would spoil all the surprises. Of course once I know who the heroine and hero are, the happy ending isn’t really a surprise. But I want to go down every emotional and plot path the author leads me on along the way to that happy ending.

Thus for me, even seeing a promo for a new movie is a problem. I don’t want to know about every pratfall in the movie in advance. (And don’t let me get started on how difficult it is not to get blindsided by spoilers regarding upcoming plot twists on “Lost,” the enigmatic TV show. That’s a whole other area of frustration.) I certainly don’t want a romance cover to give away plot details. I try to pick up books based on less information than is available. Because even when the author isn’t pulling her punches, the publicity machine is. As I read the romance, it might take many chapters and many thousands of words for the author to develop the key conflict of the story. But the person who writes the back cover blurb summarizes it in 250 words or less. And sometimes reveals major surprises in the plot, too. I hate when that happens.

And it is not necessary. A book (or a movie) can be enticingly described without every single clever moment being detailed in advance. But increasingly, that’s exactly what movie trailers do. Sometimes I’ve seen trailers so lengthy that there appears to be no point in actually returning to see the movie. When I read reviews of the movie later, they refer to those moments and precious little else. So because the movie ads pulled the punches, I walk away informed and with no compulsion to see more. Book covers haven’t gotten this bad, thank goodness. But inept amateur book reviewers make this mistake. There are a lot of romance reviews available on the Internet today, and most of them are poorly written. They usually detail the plot, when what they should do is allude to it and then critique the author’s execution of it. But then these reviews are also driven by the typical genre reader’s desire to read a certain kind of story. So the reviewers, by describing exactly what happens, do actually give the reader what she wants, a blueprint of the plot that reassures her that this is the kind of story she’ll want to read.

Still, all these reviews and promotional trailers are kind of like somebody chewing my meat for me. The result of too many pulled punches is lack of tang.