But I wound up thinking about all the sturgeons running over those shelves. Book after book of undiluted crud. Me being me, of course, I stacked up all that data and looked for patterns.
1) A lot of series books these days are utterly unmemorable. They're formulaic. They're so similar that once I've read a book or two in a series, I often can't remember which ones I've read and which I don't have yet. This of course makes me less inclined to buy more. It's not worth the time it would take me to hunt through what I have at home and make a list. No, this isn't a series problem in general. There are older series that I carried in my head, for years, which ones I was missing and wanted. So if a series isn't good enough that I can remember what I've read and what I haven't, off the top of my head, fuck it. I may fill in the gaps if the books are a quarter each at a yardsale or bargain box, but that's about it.
2) Sexual empowerment does not mean dressing like a slut, angsting over two or more guys who are frankly unreliable unlikable dicks with feet, and staggering from crisis to crisis. I'm starting to wonder if all those urban fantasy books are either written by or paid for by people who just really want to fuck bad girls. Listen, if the world needs saving, I am going to look in the library not in the principal's office. Sexual empowerment means doing what you want with your body, yes, with or without a partner of mutually agreeable interest -- as part of a healthy lifestyle overall.
3) Which brings me to gripe number three, the appalling dearth of healthy relationships of any kind. It's not just that characters don't understand how to begin a successful romance. They also don't get along well with their coworkers, their parents, their mentors, or anyone else. Even encounters with random strangers are often dysfunctional. If two characters have a comfortable relationship, that's a sign that one of them is about to die or they're about to become estranged to Start The Drama. Just no. I'm tired of reading this. It's only fun to torment characters emotionally if there is some contrast going on. Otherwise it gets predictable and boring. I want to see some stories where people have healthy relationships of various kinds. I've been writing more of this myself and now I know part of the reason why. I'll have to try and remember to request it in prompt calls too. I can't be the only reader who wants to see characters that aren't emotionally constipated.
That gave me another interesting insight. There's a branch of fanfic that is sometimes just its usual fluffy nonsense, but occasionally goes into quite deep psychological territory: the fixit. These stories rely on taking a pivotal moment and pivoting it to turn out differently. Now, the standard plot structure in a western story looks like this, a long rise to a peak and then a short drop. A fully developed fixit story is the opposite: a brief summary of the canon, the big disaster scene with its crucial alteration, and then a long sequence of scenes showing how the characters work through their various issues until they reach a resolution.
The drawback to this is, of course, that it's fanfic and usually requires familiarity with the source material in order to work. The drawback of the mainstream plot design is that it tends to shortchange problem-solving. You hit the big crisis very late in the story and then everything is supposed to be resolved very quickly. How many times have you been dissatisfied by an author handwaving away important relationship challenges or other unresolved issues?
So then I got to wondering, what would it look like if this plot concept were moved from fanfic to canon? The plot structure would change. It would introduce the characters, set up some escalating issues and early attempts to solve them, have a big explosive scene in the middle, then follow the characters as they methodically worked through the problems and found solutions step-by-step, ending at the conclusion. I'd enjoy seeing this in action. It would be new and different.
Has anyone else noticed similar patterns, or other ones? Stuff you're sick of seeing in almost every book? What would you like to be reading instead?