Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What I Learned Reading Courtney Milan's PROOF BY SEDUCTION

The Story
Jenny Keeble survives by posing as a gypsy fortuneteller saying the things her clients want to hear. One of her clients, a vulnerable young man, brings his skeptical older cousin to prove to him of her validity. The cousin, Gareth Carhart, Marquess of Blakely, sees her as nothing more than a charlatan to bilk his cousin of money. 

To prove her spiritual validity, she challenges Blakely with tasks to enable him to win the heart and hand of a random woman chosen at a ball. Ned, the cousin, does everything he can to ensure that Blakely's tasks succeed. The results? All three find their world view and self-image challenged.

From A Reader's Perspective

Several pages passed before I warmed up to Milan's style of writing. Initially, I found the characters rather bleak and almost unappealing, but then the story unfolds...

Reading Milan's Proof of Seduction can compare to viewing a simple spiderweb. The characters stories all interweave and very slowly, Milan lets out silken thread to weave light into these characters. I especially loved Jenny: not for all the love in the world would she let go of her personal ideals. By the end of the story, I admired Jenny and found in her an amazingly strong female character I'd remember for some time. 

What I Learned as a Writer

Subplots = good in the correct hands.

Milan wrote as if this was a stand-alone, a rarity among romance writers these days. She literally wove three stories using the character Jenny as the center (even though the two characters in the subplots are related to Blakely) and used Blakely to spin the threads out. Do I make sense?

Jenny stood at the center of each story: she's the one who draws that character out: Ned, fighting debilitating depression, Laura, fighting insecurity and filled with self doubt, and finally Gareth, a man who takes his responsibility so seriously he's lost himself within his own life. 

Milan could easily have written a linear novel, leaving Ned and Laura to sequels. By including Ned and Laura's stories as a whole, the characters of Jenny and Gareth become multi-dimensional. The subplots bring layering to a rather simple and oft-told story. This layering of subplots sets apart Milan's story from all the other "young woman driven to larceny in desperation" stories. From here I derive my own lesson.

I've read too many books where the subplots set up sequels, with Milan I've learned how a subplot should actually bring depth to a novel. The subplots actually complement the main story and assist it to a satisfactory end. As a writer, I need to not assume that my book needs or deserves a sequel. If I introduce a secondary story, I need to ensure that I dovetail it into the main story: it should complement the story, enhance the main story.

BTW, I wouldn't mind reading more of Ned, if Milan chooses. I loved that character and the way Milan dealt with his depression....but that's another blog post about the creation of minor characters.

Thanks, Ms. Milan, for a wonderful lesson.

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