Bad Drama – Is there such a thing?

While convalescing (when my son allows) I’ve been engaging in the sport that is reading romance.  Having been on a literary bender for more than a year now the only romances I’ve truly endeavored to read have been few and far between and in most cases ones I had already read.  Yes, when I get into a comfort read state of mind I go all out and read old tried and true stories.  This time, as I had already exhausted my rereading of certain chapters from various books, I read a new one that had been languishing on my TBR shelf for the last six months or so.  It was a fun read but, as is often the case, I felt the author over played their hand.

Let me be clear:  I don’t have the same expectations of pop fiction as I do literary fiction, however, I can’t help but wonder about what passes for clever these days.  The tale in this instance was far less explicit than I had thought it would be and amazingly well researched leading me to have some respect for the author but, truth be told, I’m sure glad I didn’t go out and buy more than one or two of her books way back whenever it was.  The reason was all the pop references AND an ending so hoaky it had me thinking almost longingly of that overly emotional, ridiculous epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I’ve read some romance novels where this wasn’t the case (yes, all THOSE books were published prior to 1995) and am somewhat disappointed that this is where the genre has evolved to.  All the mentions of Brad Pitt and The Matrix aside it was this compulsion to be “cute”, or perhaps “cool”, that struck me as very frustrating.  I don’t like reading Greek Gods like Aphrodite and Athena saying things like “kick some ass” or what have you as it diminished the drama of the black moment – that wonderful space where the reader is engaged and genuinely concerned they won’t get their happy ending and there it was:  Soap Opera.

That worry I have as a reader is something I expect an author to capitalize upon, to give some extra oomph to make me flip the page with dread and hope in my heart not have me roll my eyes.   But roll my eyes I did.  Just as I would have when watching a scene in a film/show where things are so over the top, the actress going into a faint with her hand, palm facing outward, to her forehead and saying “The room is spinning, please catch me my darling!” then promptly falling into the arms of nearest flavor of the day.  It left me, the viewer/reader, asking what the author was seriously intending.

If it is bad drama that was the goal does that mean the bet is being made the majority of people won’t care about the quality?  Or that they will and they like that quality?  Or, worse still, that it doesn’t matter because genre readers are genre readers and the books will sell anyway?

What is the limit for you, as a reader or writer, in the use of poorly executed drama (intentional or not)?  Is it more acceptable in certain mediums?  Perhaps just specific works or even just specific moments in certain works?

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8 responses to “Bad Drama – Is there such a thing?

  • Anna C. Bowling

    Though I can only speak with authority on the historical side of things, the 1995 dividing line is something I have noticed for some time. :fights urge to climb on soapbox: and I’m not so sure the divide is a good thing.

    Not that there aren’t some really really good authors putting out really really good genre romance these days – look at my TBR blogpost, for one. I gravitate towards the romances that don’t try for cute or cool and instead tell the story of two people finding their way to a future together in a world of their time.

  • Jes Mauldin

    I find I prefer books that have a much later copyright. I am finding that anything written recent, bores me as a reader. I can’t get through the book, or figure out the plot line prior to the end.

    Or I do my ” glance over read’ until I get to a good part.
    I did find one piece that managed to hold my interest: ‘An American Wife’ was a gripping read, about a woman’s struggle to find love and acceptance with a political opposite, who eventually becomes President. The characters did have substance.

    Now I am on to a newer novel ‘A Reliable Wife by Rick Gool’….I may have to donate it to the office bookshelf for some unlucky other reader to find. The man character has been obsessing over a train being late for the past 5 pages. -Any one got any good summer reading suggestions?

  • Hart

    I should start off with… I’m not a romance fan, so I’m coming from a different angle. (in particular, I DESPISE that what makes a happy ending is coupling. I’m married. I know differently and as a good feminist it makes me hostile.) *cough*

    But I have a few observations. ONE, is that in the genres I do a lot of my writing in (suspense and mystery), I’ve gotten DARNED PICKY. I spot things I never would have before I started WRITING. I recently reviewed a mystery and the reaming of the book reads very parallel to what yours does. “too easy, reduced the tension, used cliches” I think this is GOOD, because seeing what works and what doesn’t with a more critical eye will improve MY writing. Possibly this is SAD for me as a reader… I don’t lose myself the same (though with YA or fantasy I still can), but it is good for the writer.

    But as for what is over-the-top… I agree the current cultural stuff dates the work, and to me, feels like ‘name dropping’ ANNOYING.

    Campy actions are okay with me if it is consistent with the character–so if they are ALWAYS campy, they can act campy when the tension is high. If it breaks character, then no. Generally I prefer my overdone drama in a book that is MEANT to be overdone (Tom Robbins is one of my all time favorites, and everything he does is over the top–intentionally). I also find I am more tolerant of overdone if the book is relatively funny–a lot of genres can include humor, and I forgive a lot if I am chuckling a bit.

  • Jemi Fraser

    For me it all depends on my mood and the time of year. Right now (crazy busy June) I prefer lighter books with happy endings. I can deal with deeper books at other times – but one of the side effects of getting older is that I don’t enjoy overly flowery, deep thinking books. I find myself rolling my eyes at the pretentiousness.

    I do enjoy a well written romance or romantic suspense story. Sadly, I’ve put down a few when it’s not about the characters or if the characters aren’t real.

    • lyndalepress

      Same goes for me. It completely depends on what mood I’m in, and my expectations for the book. If there’s unexpected bad drama, I’ll probably hate the book. But if I go into the book expecting it — books like romances, ‘chick lit’ like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books — then it’s (sometimes) excusable, even enjoyable.

  • sara

    Hi Kim. Dawn recommended your blog to me I hope you don’t mind that I’ve been poking around a bit. I have been enjoying reading here and I think we have some similar interests.

    For the past year or so I’ve been enjoying reading Wendell Berry. Right now I’m in the middle of one of his nonfiction works but the first of his that I read was Hannah Coulter. If you’re up for a wonderful, intelligent love story go ahead and read it. It is part of a series but stands alone well. Just don’t tell me if you don’t like it. 🙂

  • Al

    I can’t believe how remiss I’ve been in keeping up with your blog. I haven’t even heard (read?) about your poor foot until today.
    You have my total sympathy. I have broken my foot once, and a toe another time = total misery.

    I am more picky about writing than I was before I wrote seriously. I’ve read a bit of Jodi Picoult recently. She has the most amazing ability to paint a character in a few phrases, BUT by her plots could do with a bit of judicious trimming.

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