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Single Experienced Male

awnlee jawking

A lot of stories have the premise of a single, experienced male, well past his hobbledehoyhood, belatedly meeting the love of his life. Perhaps I've been reading too many stories but it's now very rare that I see an innovative way that the protagonist avoids the 'all the best ones are taken' cliche.

The usual favourites include:

Ex-wife died eg drunk driver or cancer

Ex-wife moved on for money or fame

Ex-wife cheated, subsequent divorce

Ex-wife became a lesbian

Nerd protagonist

Playboy protagonist, not intending to settle down

Do-over, protagonist in new body

Can you think of any additions to this list? I'd particularly appreciate recommendations for stories incorporating such a twist.

AJ

KimLittle

@awnlee jawking

Ex-wife went in another pick up / refused to go in a pick up / went off with someone else at a pick up (thinking of the "swarm cycle" universe here)

ustourist
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

Leaving a monastery after a change of belief? I am sure they get sexual experience in some seminaries. (The ex-nun was covered by Tony Stevens in Put Me In, Coach!)

Ex military is a feature of Dual Writer's stories.

I can't think of any offhand, but I am sure rache would have come up with some variation on this theme, and had a twist to it like transgender.

edit to correct name of Tony Stevens

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

Can you think of any additions to this list? I'd particularly appreciate recommendations for stories incorporating such a twist.

Hell, my stories frequently focus on characters meeting 'the perfect mate' either completely at random (in my "Great Death" series) or from someone they've known their entire lives (Alex and Cate in my "Catalyst" series).

There's still plenty of room for creativity. I suspect what you're seeing are author's copying each other, rather than creating their own worlds.

You get trends in literature, like everywhere else, where everyone jumps on a single bandwagon, ignoring all the other alternatives. That doesn't make for great literature, but it helps sell the most books with the least effort. People (i.e. readers) prefer what they're already comfortable with. Once they've bought into a premise, they don't mind revisiting it in other similar books.

awnlee jawking

@awnlee jawking

Another one I omitted and just remembered because I'm using it: wife dies in childbirth.

AJ

Lostlady

@awnlee jawking

You may have left out the most obvious reason; sometimes a marriage just ends. It may be boring but unhappy couples do decide it's time to call it quits, often leaving both with feelings of failure and/or inadequacy to deal with. Kind of dies with a whimper not a bang (that pun wasn't intended, but I'll take credit for it).

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Crumbly Writer

If you want a twist, go with the "She just ... disappeared". It happens often enough in real life. The police assure the distraught husband that his wife just 'ran off with some other dude', but more often than not, she was raped and left somewhere in a dumpster, and the police just aren't interested enough to look for clues.

While depressing, it can provide some interesting conflicting emotions for the survivors: 'how could you leave us when we needed you so much?', 'I/we miss you so much?', 'how can I possibly find you?'

If that's the backstory for another story, it can provide some interesting conflicts when someone new flirts with the guy, or he sees his life in every half-identified face.

awnlee jawking

@Lostlady

Good point. A couple of my friends have recently split up, having decided to call it quits. Fortunately they're still on good terms and there are no kids involved.

AJ

fhjohnauthor

@awnlee jawking

Is a twist in this regard really all that important to you? I ask, because I'm curious as a writer to know how readers think.

I also ask because if I were going to write a story where I wanted or needed the wife to be out of the way, I may not put very much thought into how or why she isn't there. To me, the only way the means in which she wasn't in the story would matter, is if it would (at some point) make a difference in the story line.

I wouldn't, for example, have her be abducted by aliens, unless I was going for some kind of alien story. If the rest of the story had absolutely nothing to do with aliens, having her disappear from the story this way would be a waste of creativity. (In my opinion).

I also wouldn't have her be a nun in a convent, who seduces a pastor, or have her be bitten by a werewolf, unless those explanations had something to do with the storyline. I would only offer a twist in her disappearance if I also wanted that twist to play a role in the story later on, or cause a change in the direction of the story right from the beginning.

If I didn't want any of these things to effect the story at all, I would simply write some kind of 'cliche' disappearance, so as to not draw any unnecessary attention to it, but when I read your opening post, I have to wonder if there are readers out there who would be annoyed by the lack of creativity in that kind of opening.

Any further input from multiple sources would be welcomed.

richardshagrin

@fhjohnauthor

You probably should kill off the wife rather than leave her around to possibly be a character, if you aren't going to use her in some way. The gun over the mantle objection, although that is for drama, not stories.

Historically some sort of plague or illness is likely or death in childbirth. Or put her in a hospital, the operation was a success but the patient died.

If they just divorced but she moved to Australia (chosen as a place a long way from here, I could use New Zealand but that is harder to spell) you can justify her absence from the story. But then the temptation, at least for the reader, is to think about bringing her back, to be an obstacle for the heroine and the hero getting together. And then you might as well write a Romance. A form somewhat less popular with SOL readers than the general public, who buy stories instead of reading them on line.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@richardshagrin

Historically some sort of plague or illness is likely or death in childbirth. Or put her in a hospital, the operation was a success but the patient died.


You mention that she's dead so readers aren't wondering if she'll show up. I see no reason to mention how she died unless it is important to the story somehow.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

You mention that she's dead so readers aren't wondering if she'll show up. I see no reason to mention how she died unless it is important to the story somehow.

She was killed in a horrible go-cart pile-up with the kids.

She sneezed while eating a popsicle, poked it through her eye and froze her brain.

She was killed in a fatal paint-ball accident. The family recovered millions after a protracted legal dispute with the 12-year-old who shot her.

She was feeding the pigeons in the part when a bear escaped from the zoo, who mistook her arm for a handy flying snack.

Take your pick, I've got thousands more if you need them!

fhjohnauthor

@Crumbly Writer

I guess my point was more about keeping the wife's events simple as to not draw unnecessary attention to her non involvement in the story. While I think your ideas are creative and lean toward the humorous side, none of them would go unnoticed, which would be the goal, unless you specifically wanted to draw attention to it for one reason or the other.

Replies:   ustourist
ustourist

@fhjohnauthor

The cause of death can have a beneficial side effect in that it can explain why the widower has more money (from insurance claim) or is intolerant of drunk drivers, or whatever, so the reason he is single can be important to the background.

awnlee jawking

@fhjohnauthor

As a reader, I find it rather weak for an author to simply recycle the usual cliches such as drunk driver or cancer. There seems to be an awful lot of both in the US and it strains credulity.

There's also the possible problem of consistency. If the protagonist is a sex god, why would the wife cheat, leading to a divorce?

AJ

fhjohnauthor

@awnlee jawking

Not that your points lack validity, but does using cliches really mean the writer is weak? Can the writer not use those cliches and prove himself with the other aspects of writing?

Once again, I only ask, because maybe it's the author's intent not to draw attention to the wife at all. To make her part of the story as obscure as possible so that he can focus on whatever the story is about. By being creative with her absence in any way, the story automatically draw the reader's attention away from either the plot, or the story and make her disappearance or absence a focal point. What if that's what the author is trying to avoid? Would you still be annoyed and judge him/her poorly?

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Take your pick, I've got thousands more if you need them!


I don't. She's dead. why/how isn't relevant to the story.

Replies:   fhjohnauthor
fhjohnauthor
Updated:

To add to my prior point, I think there are times when a writer should use cliches. To me, it's the same thing as (for example) showing versus telling.

I don't think either of these are rules should be followed in an absolute sense. Certainly, I agree that it is better to show than to tell as a 'general' rule, but there absolutely are times when an author should tell as opposed to show. I think the same thing applies to cliches. For the most part, cliches probably should be avoided, but guess what. Sometimes, cliches should be used. These times should be carefully chosen, but when chosen correctly, they can fill in a void without drawing unwanted attention to it. It's okay for an unimportant character to be a 'bubbly cheerleader' if she's an unimportant character. Why not?

And it's okay for a wife to die of cancer if your story has nothing to do with the wife and the only important thing about her is that she is 'no longer' in the picture. Throw out a cursory reason for her not to be there and move on, so you can get to what the story is really about. Why draw attention to the wife when she really has nothing to do with the plot or story at all.

fhjohnauthor

@Dominions Son

I don't. She's dead. why/how isn't relevant to the story.


Exactly. Well put.

Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

There seems to be an awful lot of both in the US and it strains credulity.


Why does it strain credulity? Both are significant causes of death in the US.

In fact, in the US for women between the ages of 35 and 84, cancer is the leading cause of death.

The next most likely cause of death for adult women in the US is heart disease, so maybe authors should throw in more heart attacks.

http://www.cdc.gov/women/lcod/2013/womenall_2013.pdf

DUI related vehicle accidents kill almost 10K people in the US annually half of that number would be women.

http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/impaired_driving/impaired-drv_factsheet.html

Ernest Bywater

@fhjohnauthor

I also ask because if I were going to write a story where I wanted or needed the wife to be out of the way, I may not put very much thought into how or why she isn't there.


You may want to go with one of the more mundane reasons: suffers from post natal depression, gets pissed off with looking after the baby, then packs up and leaves home to go to what she sees as a better job elsewhere, leaving hubby with the baby. She gone, bye bye.

Watch out though, in some countries it's her financial advantage to come back and get the kids through the courts once she finds out how much she can get that way.

sejintenej

--Parallel 'wife' suggestions with 'mistress'
--Taught by an older woman for whom he
babysat / did odd jobs / ..... before going to prison
--taught by nurse when in hospital / clinic / ......
-- Learned the Kama Sutra / from porn films / whores

awnlee jawking

@fhjohnauthor

At the risk of belabouring what is a minor point, I think you should consider the two extremes.

Some SOL authors produce a slew of very similar stories, and if their technical quality is good, they can get very high ratings. General readers learn to avoid them because there's little new in each story, whereas fans of the author and genre reward the stories with approbatory scores. In their case, reusing familiar cliches is good because it adds to their readers' comfort factor.

At the other extreme, authors who aspire to bother dead-tree publishers need all the freshness and originality possible in the hope of gaining an edge in a dog-eat-dog market. In their case, avoiding cliches is good practice, even if their current story is destined only for SOL.

For most SOL readers it probably doesn't matter much whether the wife died of cancer or DVT, although I hope I'm not the only one nit-picky enough to notice.

AJ

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

At the other extreme, authors who aspire to bother dead-tree publishers need all the freshness and originality possible in the hope of gaining an edge in a dog-eat-dog market.


From what I see on store shelves, in terms of popular fiction, the dead tree publishers love formulaic crap.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son


From what I see on store shelves, in terms of popular fiction, the dead tree publishers love formulaic crap.


Sadly there's a lot of truth to that. No sane publisher is going to risk a new author (eg Robert Galbraith) when they can chuck out yet more money-spinning James Patterson drek.

And yet there are opportunities. An agent told me not long ago that the market for American teen vampire stories is beyond saturated, but publishers would be queueing up for a decent, original, British vampire story.

AJ

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

An agent told me not long ago that the market for American teen vampire stories is beyond saturated


And yet they still keep publishing them.

Crumbly Writer

@awnlee jawking

There seems to be an awful lot of both in the US and it strains credulity.

Wait a minute, it "strains credulity" to reference common events that happen to people all the time? You'd prefer the woman gets struck in the head from a toilet set from the space station?

Yes, there are credibility issues with inconsistent ideas: a wife cheats because she's so tired of all the great sex, but I think your problem (in your question) is with the lack of believability. If someone doesn't act grief struck, then it's hard to believe his wife died of cancer or was killed by a drunk driver.

@fhjohnauthor

Once again, I only ask, because maybe it's the author's intent not to draw attention to the wife at all. To make her part of the story as obscure as possible so that he can focus on whatever the story is about.

In that case, you'd simply say 'he and his wife gradually drifted apart', explaining his apparent lack of concern with her disappearance. Not all explanations are consistently logical. Remember the KISS philosophy: Keep It Simple Stupid. Don't add complexity to something you want to slip under the radar. Doing so raises questions you don't want to answer.

In this case, 'showing' would include demonstrating how he feels by how he reacts. But giving details about how the wife died is purely 'telling', you're telling the readers what happened to the wife rather than fully exploring the topic.

fhjohnauthor

@Crumbly Writer

In this case, 'showing' would include demonstrating how he feels by how he reacts. But giving details about how the wife died is purely 'telling', you're telling the readers what happened to the wife rather than fully exploring the topic.


I'll say this once again, I'm not one of those authors who believes that 'telling' is never appropriate. Quite the contrary (in my opinion). I think it is perfectly okay to 'tell' sometimes. In the case of the dead wife, I guess my presumption is that she died a long time ago (I write sex stories, so if she died recently and the protagonist immediately went out and started screwing other women, he would automatically cast a shadowy and evil persona to the reader). Because she dies 'a long time ago' I wouldn't 'show' any emotions from the protagonist. I would simply state, 'she died of cancer X number of years ago', or something to that effect. In this case, I see no reason to 'show' anything. Telling is sufficient to get the job done and makes quick work of establishing the protagonists current environment without making it a drawn out ordeal, which would only serve to slow the story down unnecessarily.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@fhjohnauthor

I'm not one of those authors who believes that 'telling' is never appropriate. Quite the contrary (in my opinion). I think it is perfectly okay to 'tell' sometimes. In the case of the dead wife, I guess my presumption is that she died a long time ago (I write sex stories, so if she died recently and the protagonist immediately went out and started screwing other women, he would automatically cast a shadowy and evil persona to the reader).

That's why I prefer the KISS principal: keep the backstory as simple as possible. Why introduce cancer when 'lack of interest' is easier to accept. In the case of a traffic accident, I'd expect the husband to respond oddly whenever they went for a drive. By tossing in a throw-away line, you're potentially introducing unanticipated complications in the readers' minds.

Time is also a central element when a story involves children. If a child is only seven, then Mom can't have died ten years ago. If she died four years ago, it would have had a significant influence on the kid in the intervening years.

fhjohnauthor

@Crumbly Writer

That's why I prefer the KISS principal: keep the backstory as simple as possible. Why introduce cancer when 'lack of interest' is easier to accept. In the case of a traffic accident, I'd expect the husband to respond oddly whenever they went for a drive. By tossing in a throw-away line, you're potentially introducing unanticipated complications in the readers' minds.


I guess I'm a little confused now. My mother died of cancer four years ago. When it happened, I was distraught. I loved my mother very much and I grieved for her deeply. Now, it is four years later. I still think about my mother, but my grieving process is over. To me, stating that she died of cancer is a matter of fact. It is not complicated in any way and I accept this fact easily. It is not a point I would belabor if I were telling someone a story about myself. If her death was pertinent to the story I was relating, I would simply state that 'my mother died of cancer four years ago' and then I would move on.

I actually disagree with your statement that 'lack of interest' is easier to accept. lmao. If I had a wife who left me because of 'lack of interest' I think that would bother me for a long time. If I were the one who 'left her for lack of interest' I would think that would raise questions as well. I don't think that is a simple explanation at all. Quite the contrary. I think that explanation demands more explanation than using a cliche that most people can relate to. Having a loved one die of cancer is something so common, that there are probably not many people who couldn't put themselves in that pair of shoes. Having someone leave them because of 'lack of interest' is far more unique. I've never heard anyone say, "he left me because he lost interest. I guess that means I'm boring." Ouch... that hurts.

richardshagrin

@Crumbly Writer

It would be a unique story if the child were born 3 years after the mother died. I have heard of women giving birth after they were declared brain dead, kept alive with machinery, but to conceive a child after death would be very rare. A uterus on life support, using eggs from a dead woman to form the embryo would be science fiction, as far as I know.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

If someone doesn't act grief struck, then it's hard to believe his wife died of cancer or was killed by a drunk driver.


My presumption would be that the wife died some years before the story starts, so he has had time to recover from the grief.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

I'd expect the husband to respond oddly whenever they went for a drive.


If he's still reacting like that in a way that would be obvious to complete strangers more than a year after his wife's death, he needs psychiatric help.

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