… what do you guys and gals think about ‘the BIG misunderstanding’?
I realise I
bitch a lot like to post on different issues that have struck me about the books I’ve been reading.
Despite this, and hard though it may be to believe, I’m actually a reader who’s pretty much willing to be convinced about any theme, plot device, etc, etc as long as they are relevant to the story in question. This includes ‘the BIG misunderstanding’; a trope we see often in romantic fiction.
Recently I read two books which used this device. I enjoyed the stories in different ways; however, my problem was not that both authors used ‘the BIG misunderstanding’, but the fact they used it twice.
All I could think of was ‘why’? Why leave the reader feeling ‘meh-ish’ about the second half of the story when the first was pretty good? I’m telling you, I seriously itched for a red pen.
So what about you? Can you take or leave ‘the BIG misunderstanding’? If you’ve read either of these books, did you come away with the same response I did or are you wondering what the hell I’m talking about?
Oh my! Am I the really the first?
Relativist that I am, how well the BIG misunderstanding works depends entirely on the author's skill. Such is the case with all tropes in all fiction. The reader's willingness to suspend disbelief is part of the “workability” factor, too.
Conflict is internal or external or both. And, let's face it, there are only so many sources of conflict out there…unless a writer gets his/her Weird on. And this could result in characters who, for example, have conflicting fetishes (e.g., one collects soiled underwear and the other is a clean freak).
Really great points, K Z. You should be a writer. Haha.
The light bulb went off when you mentioned the reader's willingness to suspend disbelief. This, I think, was the main problem with the second misunderstanding in both books. One worked reallyed well for me; however, two caused my doubts to come in to play.
Another factor was that – in both cases – the second BIG M was so similar to the first in terms of conflict AND of outcome. My believability meter was really hitting low by the time the second issue/s had been resolved.
“one collects soiled underwear and the other is a clean freak”
Nice imagery. You're writing this story, aren't you.
Not a bit fan of the big misunderstanding, but then again if the two main characters talked things out, there would be no story.
LOL. Very true, KB.
I don't really mind the BIG M because it's something that frequently happens in RL. I can't count the times that I've misundersood something or someone else has taken something I've done or said the wrong way. This lends the device – and getting back to K Z's point – more believability for me.
I haven't read either of the two books you have shown, so I'm not commenting on them specifically, however I'm not a fan of the “big misunderstanding” in general. Well done exceptions are certainly possible, but too often it feels contrived and I end up wanting to shake some sense into the characters and yell “just have a reasonable conversation already!”
There does generally need to be some doubt, and even some level of misunderstanding in the relationship aspect of the story, but there's no reason that whatever is happening external to their relationship journey can't provide the meat of the story.
I'm not fond of the Big M at all. I've read some books that leave me with a sense of 'come on, you've got to be kidding' and wanting to knock one or both of the guys across the top of their head.
But as KZ said, there are only so many sources of conflict out there and so when it's used I'll live with it.
You mean like “two guys want to love each other but since both are blind/deaf/stupid/ignorant, they for some reason assume the other wants just a quickie so they both cry at night and after 300 pages finally one of them says 'baby'”?
Yeah, I hate it.
Addison: I'm with you when you say “too often it feels contrived”. There's a thin line between what actually works for a reader and what makes them roll their eyes, especially when it comes to a BIG M that can be seen coming from a mile away and it just feels like the author is angsting for angst sake.
“There does generally need to be some doubt, and even some level of misunderstanding in the relationship aspect of the story, but there's no reason that whatever is happening external to their relationship journey can't provide the meat of the story.”
Oh, hell yes. Other authors take note of Addison's advice!
Lily: Me, I'm more of a “oh, for fuck's sake where's a spork when I need one” kind of a girl.
“But as KZ said, there are only so many sources of conflict out there and so when it's used I'll live with it.”
I think the point we're all making is when it's used well we'll live with it.
“two guys want to love each other but since both are blind/deaf/stupid/ignorant, they for some reason assume the other wants just a quickie so they both cry at night and after 300 pages finally one of them says 'baby'”?
ROFLMAO, sadly that's so true of some books 😀
Geez, Matthew. I take it you have some issues with this device.
I said in my response to Addison that sometimes with the BIG M it can feel like the author is angsting for angst sake. This was not necessarily the case for the books in the post, but this concept does remind me of all the het romance I've read over the years. Given the responses here, I wonder whether it's a romantic device that works as well in m/m or perhaps, as readers, we're just sick of it altogether.
BTW, did you have to bring up the 'baby' thing again? You know how I feel about that endearment.
Heh, I did it on purpose. 😉
Why am I not surprised. *mutterprickmutter*
Can take it or leave it. Mostly, it induced serious eye rolling.
Yeah, but better the eye roll than another dent in the wall I reckon.
arrrgggh, I just have to reply (and I'm so late to the party!!!) because I've just read one of those and the Big M was one of the things that made my teeth gnash LOL. Several times over, if there's more than one Big M.
I think there is a lot of natural conflict in life – I also think that guys aren't always the best communicators about emotions and feelings. So to me, that gives enough to create a good story in itself *lol*.
But when I can see a trail of semi-manufactured Big M unravelling in front of me as I write, and the suspense of one or other FINDING OUT gets ramped up more and more…arrrgghh. (I'm thinking of one book in particular I read recently that I threw across the virtual room for this!)
Skill in writing it is one thing, which many authors have, but I read mainly for the characters. If they're written as intelligent, attractive, caring people, then they spend 100s of pages avoiding issues, denying truth, missing the point and just downright NOT ASKING what they need to know, I just get cranky. That's where MY disbelief refuses to suspend.
Happy weekend everyone – you can see how mine is going LMAO.
Talk about late to the party. Any booze left people?
Okay, as a general rule I hate the big M (as opposed to the big O) but it can depend. The worst for me are when there are assumption made (you hear a rumour that the guy is married) and rather than just ask “Are you married asshole?” they run away and never tell the guy WHY they ran and he's not married anyway, or was 20 years ago or something. If its a legit misunderstanding I can live with it.
I won't comment on the one book above that I read because I'm saving it for next week, but I didn't find it so much a misunderstanding as “secrets will come back to bite you in the ass everytime” kind of situation. Did he learn his lesson? Nooooooo.
So I've read some where I wanted to smack them silly and others where it worked. But if a simple question would have solved the issue and they didn't do it, then it ticks me off. Sometimes it takes more to clear things up and then I'm content to let them muddle through and angst some. Its the trying to explain scenario where instead of explaining they spend one page saying “I want to explain” while being told “no” that makes me nuts. You don't have to tell someone you are explaining, just freaking do it already and it will be done. Sigh.
I'm not sure how you all define “misunderstanding,” but I rather like a mix of internal and external conflict. Stories that cruise by primarily on the latter often (not always) result in shallow, one-dimensional characters.
And this brings up another point. How many external conflicts are just plain lame? Aside from fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal fiction, in which readers should expect the unexpected or outlandish, there've been plenty of situational roadblocks that seem over-the-top contrived. Those actually bug me WAY more than angst.
BIG Misunderstanding… it depends. Big Misunderstandings are generally difficult to pull off, IMO. Two in one book are probably a little too much, especially if both times we have the same dynamics. I get really impatient with characters that make the same mistake again and again, even if sometimes it is realistic.
I don't like this trope at all when silly BMs led to BIG separations of time. That's because, for me, BIG separations caused by a simple miscommunication are a shameful waste of time, and often they are indicators of immature, whiny, self-centered heroes ahead. How many times have I read a story in which h&h leave each other based on silly assumptions that could have been cleared simply by asking and answering a question? Anyway, luckly this is more frequent in het romances, I believe. I really hope this bug won't spread too much in the m/m microcosm.
Clare: So I take it you've had an interesting weekend. LOL.
Good point about characters behaving, well, in character with how they've been developed or conveyed by the author. In a book I read recently one of the protags did such an about face which in turn created a BIG M that I was left scratching my head wondering where the hell that had come from. I think the author was aiming for some sort of suspense but my response was more of bewilderment.
Tam: We'll argue next week whether it was a 'secret arse biter' or a BIG M. 🙂
Aww, the assumption. Gotta love those slamming doors or phones, never want to see you again moments when 5 mins on a couch actually talking instead of fucking would have sorted out the problem. Granted the story would have been half the original page length, but…
K Z: I can't speak for others, but I guess I define a misunderstanding as a largely internal conflict – something which happens between the main protags (although an external event or secondary character may have also influenced the conflict). For me, the BIG M is usually an emotional reaction to confusion or assumptions, etc being made by the protags, which cause some sort of rift in the r/ship that, because it's romance, all gets resolved in the end.
I also like a mix of internal and external conflict in stories. I'm an equal opportunity reader so ANY kind of lameness, be it external conflict or angst, bugs me. 🙂
Sara: I said to… somebody here… that the BIG Ms were both a little too similar for me in these books. As you say, it's frustrating when a character makes the same mistakes again and again, especially when one of them has only just been resolved. It's eye roll or wall dent material.
The BIG M leading to separation. I agree it pisses me off when it's something that could be sorted out relatively simply, you know, by actually TALKING to each other.
The only time it really works for me is when there is some sort of external influence/conflict as well. For eg if the separation occurred when the protags were young and was partly a result of the family response to the sexuality of one protag. It makes it more believeable.
“I really hope this bug won't spread too much in the m/m microcosm.”
Nice turn of phrase. 🙂
I'm willing to give the big M one shot in a book. It turns into a wallbanger for me when an author just can't seem to let it go and keeps writing in misunderstanding after misunderstanding. It always seems like a copout to me, like they couldn't figure out a bettwe way to end the book or to resolve the real conflict. If you can't figure out a better way, then maybe you need to work on your writing skills a little more.
It depends. (I know, I keep proving I'm a fence sitter, but that's me 🙂 What I mean is, it depends if the misunderstanding fits in with the characters. For example, if one characters is emotionally introverted, and has difficulty expressing themselves, or say has low self-confidence, then I could believe them not speaking up and asking the questions that needs to be asked.
Just read the comments. Clare said better 🙂
Lori: It always makes me think about what their editor is up to as well. Why aren't they picking up repetition in the plot or the conflict or making suggestions about a resolution that may work better from both a story and reader perspective. Although mMaybe I'm just thinking that editors have way more input than they actually do. *shrugs*
Orannia: I think the example you use is perfect for illustrating the 'believability' factor. That is, a misunderstanding that is relevant to both character and story and therefore works for the reader.
I admit to not being a fan of the big misunderstanding if it's obvious that if the protagonists just sat down and talked for two minutes that everything could be sorted out.
But most ( a lot of?) stories rely to some degree on a misunderstanding, miscommunication of some sort. A bit like life really. 🙂
“But most ( a lot of?) stories rely to some degree on a misunderstanding, miscommunication of some sort. A bit like life really. :)”
I definitely agree, Lesley, and it's the misunderstandings that I can easily imangine happening in real life that work for me. But if they are way over the top and seemed to have gained a momentum of their own when they could have easily have been sorted out, as you say, with a sit down and a talk… not so much.
I can take it or leave it. As long as it's not done too badly I can get through it. I'm reading one of the books you mentioned right now so I'll have to keep you posted.
I think it needs to be relevant to the story and also believable to the reader.
I'll be interested to hear everyone's thoughts on the book when it's discussed at Jen's book club.