The Big Mis
Okay, so here’s a comment I’ve had, in various permutations, from some of the contest judges who’ve read my first 25-30 pages and synopsis. It goes like this:
The conflict in GOTH is too weak to sustain a full-length book because there’s a Big Mis.
In a way, they are right. Yes, there is a Big Mis. And if it were the sole source of conflict, it would indeed be insufficient to sustain a whole book. In actuality, this particular misunderstanding only persists for less than 1/3 the book, and there’s plenty of other stuff going on meanwhile.
So first – I realize my synopsis is failing to adequately communicate the nature of the Big Mis, and the fact that their misunderstanding is a symptom of their conflict, rather than the cause. Yes, in the end, it’s a conversation and “I love you’s” that make for an HEA – but they can’t have that conversation until they each work through their own internal conflict. They’re misunderstanding each other because they’re misunderstanding themselves – their strengths and worth as individuals, their capacity to love and be loved. I have to work on revising my synopsis to reflect this, which shouldn’t be too hard.
Second – The synopsis could evidently do a better job of reflecting the tone of my book. The Big Mis is but one of many absurd plot devices in GOTH. The entire plot depends on a series of misunderstandings, ill-timed interruptions, and strange coincidences. My intention was to write an over-the-top comedy with a layer of authentic romance that ultimately transcends the silliness. So, how do I ‘wink’ at the reader of my synopsis to say, “Yes, I know this is ridiculous. It’s meant to be a bit silly, but the romance is real.” That’s a challenge.
Third, however, there seems to be an implication in the judges’ comments that a misunderstanding can never be a legitimate conflict. It’s like another Rule of Romance that’s sprung up – any book with a Big Mis is an automatic wallbanger. And sure – fans of angsty murder or espionage subplots will not be drawn to GOTH. It’s just not that kind of book. But I take exception to the notion that a Big Mis is always a Bad Idea.
At the risk of hearing you all groan, “not THAT again!” – I point to my perennial example, Pride and Prejudice. There are a few villain-ish characters in P&P – Wickham and Aunt Catherine – but they aren’t the true antagonists. What really keeps Elizabeth and Darcy apart is their own internal … well, pride and prejudice, as reflected in the ways they continually misunderstand one another. Moreover, the plot of P&P is pushed along by all manner of absurd coincidences – Elizabeth’s cousin just happens to be the vicar on Darcy’s aunt’s estate, she just happens to visit Pemberley on the same day Darcy arrives unannounced; of all the officers Lydia could have run off with, she picks the same one who nearly ruined Darcy’s sister….
Now GOTH is no P&P, don’t get me wrong. But if a Big Mis worked for Austen, why should it be off-limits to the genre she inspired?
Can you think of other examples of novels, romance and otherwise, where a Big Mis works? I’m thinking that near the end of Gone with the Wind, for example, there’s a point where the only thing keeping Scarlett and Rhett apart is a misunderstanding. She’s sick and wants to call out for him, but she resists, thinking he doesn’t love her. All the while, he’s waiting for her to call for him, just once – and when she doesn’t, he gives up forever. Siiiigh.