Rambling on Genres, Romance and Action

Posted on February 25, 2015 by Richard Goulter
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Lately, I’ve been reading lots of RASalvatore. Specifically, his Legend of Drizzt series. I’ve read the first 11 books so far.

I enjoy them well enough. They’re sword-and-sworcery stories, falling roughly under action/adventure and scifi/fantasy genres.
What I don’t enjoy is RASalvatore’s characters, for the most part. And so generally any monologue Drizzt has, or any morality consideration (usually early on in the books) is pretty awful. – By the end of the book, the action & adventure is fantastic; unputdownable. Yet at the start, it’s unpickupable!

I’ve heard somewhere, can’t remember where, that the Romance-Novel genre does characters really well, but plot not so much. It seems here that RASalvatore does plot (at least, action/adventure) well, but characters not so much.

There’s more to story-telling than plot + character. e.g. setting comes into it. And these things aren’t discreet, but related & all. (I mean, how d’you have a plot without any characters?). Sure.
And I’ve read RNs which have poor characters. Sure.

– I wonder if a ‘best of both worlds’ is possible?

RASalvatore does try ‘romance’, too. It doesn’t really work. e.g. the main characters Drizzt and Cattie-Brie go adventuring with each other for many years; despite admitting to each other they have feelings for each other, they put it off (for some reason). – Clearly the love between them isn’t the kind which is so passionate so as to defy “what’s for the best”. Zzzzz.

On the other hand, the plots I’ve read in RNs, in terms of action/adventure, haven’t been earth-shatteringly exciting. The cliche is that there’s a kidnapping at the end.
– I have read RNs where the characters had to get away while under enemy fire. But in terms of the ‘action/adventure’, let’s go on a quest, rollercoaster of osbstacles-from-nowhere and rescues-from-nowhere, RNs don’t invest much.

That’s not inherently a bad thing; that’s not to say that RNs are inherently without tension.
– Sure, in recent RNs you’re guaranteed that the Hero and Heroine have a Happily-Ever-After. But in action/adventure you can be sure the good guys win in the end. Even killing off a main character in S&S/SFF, you can probably bet that the character will be brought back.

Perhaps worth mentioning is Sherry Thomas. I’m not sure if she’s a unique candidate in this position, but Sherry’s written many RNs. Recently, her books have been a wuxia-epic-thing (in two parts), as well as “young adult” adventure/SFF.
I thought the wuxia was a bit of a miss; but her SFF series is top notch.

In “The Perilous Sea”, Sherry keeps the plot going by alternating between “present” and “past” events. Moreover, in the tradition of magical-flavoured adventure, builds up a repetoire of “this magic does this”, so the climax of the narrative can get resolved in what would otherwise be cheating.
It’s good.
But more than “the characters don’t suck” (which is a pretty low bar to set), Sherry’s characters do alright with a romance.

– I suppose the trick is this. In a typical action/adventure story, there’s plenty of time early on where not much is happening. (Perhaps not in the last book of a trilogy/quartet, but anyway). Sherry uses this space for introducing the conflict in the romance of the characters, then slips in the sweet (& bittersweet) developments in the romance during the narrative.
I’m not sure Perilous Sea can stand on its own as a Romance Novel; I’m not sure there’s enough meat to it.

In contrast, I don’t think Salvatore sits on his arse. Of the stories I’ve read, it’s been interesting to see him narrate the dark-elf city Menzoberrenzan (or whatever, who cares), and the political tensions & intrigue of the city. It’s got vitality. His establishing descriptions of Important Places such as Calimport create a vivid setting.
But definitely the crafting of character isn’t done as well as Sherry’s.

Perhaps it’s just that Salvatore sucks at writing character (mostly), but this weakness hardly matters in an action/adventure story. Similarly, where plots in RNs are less than thrilling, it’s not a large impact to the quality of the story as a whole.

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