Thursday, April 7, 2011

The wine between my legs

I can be a bit of a wine snob.

I’m also a cheapskate, which you’d think wouldn’t mesh with the wine thing. In truth, it just means I’m skilled at finding bargains on good stuff.

When it comes to red wine, I’m a big believer in decanting – pouring wine from its bottle into a receptacle that allows it to breathe. For older wines, it’s a good way to separate out sediment. For younger wines, the act of mixing the wine with oxygen brings out its best characteristics.

I see the non-wine drinkers among you yawning, so I’ll get on with the story.

If I’m bringing a wine to dinner party and I know it will be served early in the evening, I’m faced with a dilemma. It makes sense to pour the wine in my decanter and drive slowly to my destination with the receptacle anchored between my legs.

But like most states, Oregon has an open container law. I’ve read the law, and I don’t disagree with its intent. I’m as eager as the next person to reduce the number of folks swigging from bottles of Mad Dog as they cruise the streets looking for transvestite hookers.

I also know I’m not going to be drinking straight from my decanter. Aside from the physical impossibility of it, it’s unlikely anyone would be refined enough to bother decanting a wine but gauche enough to guzzle it behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.

Let’s all pause here for a moment while we finish laughing at the fact that I just implied I’m refined.

Nevertheless, the open container issue is something I’ve considered. If a police officer pulls me over, I’m technically in violation of the law. I recognize that, but can’t help but wonder if a cop would be a little understanding. It’s not like I’m slurping it through a twisty straw, and I really can’t throw the decanter in the trunk to roll around with my spare tire. I'm also a stickler for making sure I don't drive home later in the evening if I've had more than a few sips.

In truth, I don’t spend a ton of time worrying about this. I usually just opt for wines that don’t require decanting, or make sure the wine I bring won’t be served until later in the evening. Problem solved.

But I do think about this in the context of writing rules and when it’s OK to break them.

In romance writing, there are plenty of subjects and situations authors have avoided over the years. While the implied rules have loosened and plenty of authors break them, it's still risky.

For instance, in a love story where the hero and heroine will end up pledging eternal devotion to one another, it's tough to include earlier scenes where either character is bumping uglies with a different person. There are plenty of reasons for doing it, but it takes a careful hand and an acceptance of the risk that some readers might lose sympathy or question the central relationship.

But some authors can smash the rules so beautifully you forget they're there at all. I’ve been re-reading Jennifer Crusie’s FAST WOMEN for the millionth time, enjoying the humorous look at divorce and relationships. 

The fact that Crusie can write a funny book about divorce is one of many reasons I worship at her altar. Another reason is that the book includes a glorious scene in which the heroine sleeps with the hero’s best friend, cousin, and business partner (that’s all the same guy – it’s a fling, not a gang-bang).

The scene is there for a lot of good reasons, and it moves the character development in ways that couldn’t have happened without it.

But talk about risky.

I’ve reread the scene a lot, not just because it’s hot, but because it’s a good study in how to get away with something most authors wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

While I don’t know that it’ll help me much if a cop pulls me over with a decanter of wine and a transvestite hooker in my car, I do think it’ll help me the next time I decide to break an implied writing rule.

Are there times you’ve found yourself breaking rules for a good reason? When is it justifiable and when are you just being bratty? Please share!


Alice said...

I'm an elitist brat.

I gleefully break rules left and right and centre. Biggest one I've broken with this novel is the POV-switching rule.

For example: my main character is a cocaine addict who got on a Tube train to go home and wound up getting off at a stop in a fairy tale. She's a wee bit cranky about this fact.

So she indulges in her secret stash that she has about her person, to the point where she has a little freakout, and the POV swings wildly all over the page.

It was an exhilarating, terrifying chapter to write. I found it horribly difficult to pull a string between the POV of someone who's really on a drug binge and the (presumably sober) reader without veering into Bret Easton Ellis or Trainspotting.

But oh my, it was so worth it!

I actually wrote a blog post about this exact chapter, which with your indulgence I'll link here:

Matthew MacNish said...

Personally, I drink Franzia or Gallo out of a pint glass, with ice.

Shain Brown said...

Personally I'll take a pass on the MD 20/20, there are just too many bad memories associated with that, though none of them say transvestite hooker. I have relaxed in my old age and now I opt for the fruity goodness of a cold bottle of Boones Farm, no decanting required.

Sarah W said...

Turns out I've been breaking the Write What You Know rule in a couple of crucial scenes . . . luckily, I have wonderfully smart readers who are inexplicably willing to save me from embarrassment!

Anne Gallagher said...

Hadn't thought about it until you brought it up, but I guess I did break a writing rule.

In my latest Regency, the hero shags a bee-yotch to get her father to commit to a business deal but never lays a finger (only his lips) on the heroine.

Wonder if that will be a deal breaker.

Alexa O said...

Sigh. As an editor and a teacher, I spend a lot of time thinking about this question. The thing is, in order to be GREAT, you have to break a few rules. For instance, the one that says you don't write a 1,000 page-per-book 7-book epic for children (Harry Potter) or the one that says your character can't have two great loves in one romance (The Outlander series).

BUT the fastest way to write a train wreck of a book is to break rules willy nilly.

I say: Know the rules before you break them. Then break just one biggy. It's like dressing for a job interview: Do just ONE unusual wardrobe thing, and do everything else "right."

And speaking of rule breaking, I like to give advice on other people's blogs when they haven't asked for it.


Anonymous said...

"Show don't tell." It's like the open container law. Noble in intention, but occasionally someone very classy needs that direct, intrusive narrative voice to move a scene without getting overwrought.

If I ever find that someone I'll let you know. My blog's mostly been naked football player butts lately.

Linda G. said...

I think you can break any rule you like, as long as you're good enough to get away with it. That goes for both life and writing. ;)

Now I think I have to go look at naked football player butts at Geoffrey's blog. Who can resist a tease like that?

Heather M. Gardner said...

When I'm done laughing about how one explains red wine in a decanter and a transvestite hooker in the backseat to the cops I'll get back to you about writing rules!

Trina said...

White wine in a box. Problem solved. Including the cop one--no one wants to know what's in the clear plastic bag sitting near your bladder. Transvestite hookers are partial to wine of the boxed variety too... or so I hear. And who really cares what your friends think? If they love you, they won't judge.

German Chocolate Betty said...

I am, sadly, pretty much a goody two-shoes, driving the speedlimit,etc. So no good stories about transvestite hookers or similar.

Can give you a tip from a friend of ours who owns a wine shop selling good-to-excellent quality French wines (which, over, are not all that expensive). Of course, whites and rosés generally don't need to breathe. Reds are better if they do. Our friend says, just opening the bottle is sufficient to serve the purpose. If you want, have a small nip, lets a bit more air in. Can let the bottle stand for an hour or two, but then you can recork and take it along. Voilá, no more worries about spending the evening in jail instead of partying...

He does not decant his reds. Nor do we. But we always open the bottle an hour or two ahead of time.

FWIW. Of course, I should tell you that we do look across the Rhine Valley onto the vineyard where we buy our white wines. The light dry wines from the Rhine sparkle on your tongue and cost almost nothing. You guys in the States get the icky sweet white German wines that we won't drink over here. Hahaha. Come visit, we'll show you.

Trisha Leigh said...

I pretty much feel like rules are written for other people, so yeah. You're better than me. If I have a "good reason" (according to me, of course) for breaking a rule I will do it and (maybe) think about the consequences later.

Which is perhaps why I don't think I could be a successful romance writer. And also because I like people to die tragic deaths in my books.