Have you ever read a book and thought, “I can write better than that,” or “If he can get this horrible story published, surely I can sell my novel”? Yeah, me, too, and I know I’m not a very good writer. If, someday, far, far away, I were to publish a book, it would be something non-fiction, because while I can think of situations and storylines, I’m horrible with dialogue. If I could get away with a novel in which my characters never talked to each other, I would be fine.
Which is why dialogue can make or break a book for me. I just finished Nora Roberts’s latest book Chasing Fire, and I’m starting to wonder why I keep reading her books. I’ve read everything she’s written, and she’s my favorite author (both as herself and as J.D. Robb), but recently, her books have gotten to be more about a formula than anything else. Non-romance readers are probably thinking that all romance novels are formula stories, and you would be right. But I’ve read many romances by many authors and there is some variety in there. There is even variety in Roberts’s early stuff.
But lately, in her stand-alone mystery/romance novels, it’s become extreme. The female lead character has an emotionally screwed up past, usually something from her childhood that makes it hard for her to trust/love. She’s a strong kick-butt kind of girl and no one except a couple of close friends and the new guy in her life understands that there is a fragile little girl underneath. The male lead is confident and falls in love about a quarter of the way through the book. He declares his love right before the female gets kidnapped and/or attacked by the villain. The only suspense is in trying to determine the villain and in Chasing Fire, that wasn’t even hard to figure out.
So why do I keep reading Nora Roberts? Because she still somehow manages to be a good story-teller and she’s great with dialogue. Of course, I also keep reading Diana Palmer, but that’s more a of a train-wreck scenario than anything else. I have absolutely no idea how Palmer continues to be a bestselling author when almost every one of her books are slight variations on the same plot. Very slight variations. I have actually read two of her books that I really enjoyed and I couldn’t believe that she actually wrote them. True Colors actually made me think of a Nora Roberts book, although Roberts doesn’t have a book with a similar plot. It just seemed so much more well-written than any of her other books and it doesn’t take place in that ridiculous fictional small town in Texas that’s filled with misogynistic ranchers and former mercenaries and 19-year-old girls who all wear their hair down to their waist.
The other book is The Morcai Battalion, and it’s actually a pretty decent sci-fi novel. In all her other books, the women wear leisure suits and wear butterfly collars and one has to wonder if Palmer has left her house in the last 20 or 30 years. Her dialogue is atrocious. Much like I would probably write, if I were to try. Except that I know mine is bad. People just don’t talk the way her characters do. It’s very stiff and formal and the few times she does try for humor are ruined because she uses the same “jokes” in several books. Again, it makes me wonder if Palmer actually talks to other people, or if she ever reads anyone else’s books. I keep reading her stuff, because I have found two good books in the whole mess and I keep thinking that if so many people are buying her books, there must be something I’m missing. If there is, I’m not sure I’ll ever find it.
I read books from all genres and some I really like and some are just okay. There are very, very few that I feel were a complete waste of my time. Anytime I read a bad book and think, “I could do better than this,” I pick up another book, and remember, “Better than bad is not necessarily good. Stick to reading.”