1. Spend time with the characters.
When I think of The King, I remember the scene where Beth is picking out ice cream to split with a friend. Beth is stressed and we are treated to her innermost monologue that includes her concerns, how she chooses the flavor of ice cream, and what she’s thinking as she dishes it out. A scene that could have been so terribly boring was absolutely fascinating. Reason number one: I could empathize with her. Am I mated to a blind vampire that doesn’t want to risk having children? I think you know that answer. Have I stood with my ass hanging out of the freezer while I rummage for some frozen comfort? On a monthly basis. The way Ward wrote the scene blended beautifully with real life and gave us deep insight into the character and the story.
2. The main plot complication doesn’t have to be complicated.
The lessers want to kill vampires. The vampires want to kill lessers. In Ward’s Fallen Angels series (dude, I think I loved that one more than the Brotherhood series) it was a race for the most souls. The most out of seven wins, the rules were simple.
Of course her stories are more in depth than that, but they don’t begin that way. She doesn’t burden her words with describing the plot. She lets the character’s conversations and actions tell us what’s going on, what needs to happen, and what the danger is. The top reason I lose interest in a paranormal novel is because I get bored. The top reason for the boredom: the author bogs down the story explaining her new world. IMO, a good plot is simple, but gains in complexity like snow ball rolling downhill.
3. The characters aren’t perfect.
We see this all the time. Most stories have tortured characters, that’s what makes them good. However, it can be abused. There’s one well known PNR author that I quit reading even though one of her books started my love of vampire romance. But her characters had been through all kinds of torture and hell, and the heroine stubbed her toe; therefore she knew his pain. I’m exaggerating, but that's how I felt. In Ward’s heroes, the males have issues and we are brought along as they deal with their baggage. Their issues don’t have to be centuries of torture in a hellish prison. If a character happened to experience torture and imprisonment, Ward is a master at detailing why it’s affected him, why he’s a hot mess. It can be something like V’s BDSM fettish and why he feels driven to it. Her hero/heroine’s pain isn’t taken lightly, it isn’t described with a cavalier attitude as many authors tend to do.
4. Don't need formal writing.
Doooode. Shiiiiit. She writes it like they say it and think it and I love it. Those techniques and using metaphors instead of complete descriptions brings Ward’s writing alive for me, yo. (If anyone reads her stuff, you’d get what I just did). I read a review that dinged The Bourbon Kings on overuse of that, but I like it. It sets her writing apart and if I get the reference, my mind can create quite a vivid picture.
5. Heroes have weaknesses.
There was contemporary romance author I loved. She wrote tough, military alpha males and it was hot. Then she started a PNR series. Started out hot…until it was clear magic had no rules. The book lost my interest, the ending was disappointing, the whole basis was weak. Where’s the story when the hero’s magic can fix everything?
Another very well-known PNR author, the one I mentioned earlier with the extremely tortured heroes and the heroine with the sore toe, completely lost me as a reader. I diligently read every book in the series until I got to the one where the god-like character we see in all the books found a way to unkill everyone. Don’t. Do. That. And especially, don’t do it to the couple from the book that started my PNR affair. I don’t care that you brought them back. I care that you thought to kill them and their little girl off in the first place. Then arbitrarily bring them back? If scenes like that need to be written, tread carefully. Readers have bonded with these characters. Killing them in two sentences and bringing them back in one sentence does not do the story justice. It could've been powerful, it could've been meaningful. Instead, it was dead, not dead.
PNR worlds need rules. They need weaknesses. Ward’s vampires are sexy, macho, and strong. But they can be killed, though not easily. They have a lot of money, but they need to remain hidden. They fall in love, but can’t procreate without great danger to themselves. Each weakness makes sense, and like an earlier recommendation, it’s simple.
I'm a picky reader and I have a short list of PNR authors I read, mainly because they fail to do one of the above. JR Ward certainly isn't the first writer to incorporate these elements, but she does it in an effortless way that really ties me to her stories. Her work makes me strive to be a better writer.
Watch for the next post, #6-10, where I cover the deets in her books that endear her stories to me.