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If you are not 18, please exit stage left. While there is normally nothing naughty here, I do write and review erotica so there are links to spicy stuff and the occasional heated excerpt.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why can't the heroine just wear a skirt?

Good description is the hallmark of a great story. It sets the scene, helps us to picture what is going on in our mind’s eye; it gives us a sense of when the story is taking place. I love reading a well-written paragraph that describes where a character lives or what the heroine is wearing. A good author can really make the tale come to life using the five sense and vivid details. Many times brand names are used, especially in contemporary pieces, to reinforce the description. Unfortunately, this enhancement is often over-used. Using brand names is a big writing peeve of mine.

I don’t mind reading a story that has some brand name products or well-known celeb names, song titles, movie titles, etc. In fact, if I am familiar with these names, it often cements the characters and story for me. What I don’t like is when the author feels it necessary to name-drop in every other sentence. If the character has a particular fondness for designer clothes, an author can get away with a Prada skirt, Chanel blouse and Jimmy Choo pumps on the top of page ten then a Versace gown three paragraphs later.

However, what becomes annoying and in my opinion, lazy writing, is the constant brand name-dropping in lieu of description. I’m talking about a story where the main protagonist pops in the Metallica Black album as he fires up his Ferrari Testarossa. He arrives at Spago where he meets his date, a woman wearing a skimpy Marc Jacobs number and carrying a Kate Spade clutch. He takes her home where they make love on his Ralph Lauren sheets then sip Cristal as they enjoy the afterglow. Wow, really? He can’t throw on some heavy metal music as he fire up his expensive sports car and races off to an Italian restaurant to meet his date who’s clad in a scanty designer dress. If I don’t know what Marc Jacobs’ dresses look like, then I’m going to feel compelled to leave the story to go look him up on the Internet.

Now you might be thinking, “But Melissa, this is a story about a really wealthy guy and they have designer everything.” Okay, then how about this: Our vampire hero throws on his Aerostitch jacket, climbs on his Ducati Monster 796 and races to rescue his vivacious heroine clad in nothing but a silk Victoria’s Secret lingerie set. He’s a vampire for crying out loud. Immortality should put him above being concerned about who he wears and drives.Why can’t the guy simply ride a powerful bike while wearing a fitted red motorcycle jacket? Or how about he just jumps on his bike and races to his lady’s side?

Some of these authors are so over-the-top with name-dropping, that it’s like they don’t trust the reader to even have an imagination. “You will not be able to picture my story exactly as I have written it therefore I am giving you instructions on what you should be seeing.” Yes, we have to be told Levi’s because we can’t picture jeans.

Perhaps these authors are getting corporate sponsorship for product placement. “Pay me $10,000 Armani, and my hero will wear your suits.” Or “Attention Steve Jobs, for a free iPad, my heroine will write her news articles on a MacBook Pro.”

A little goes along way with brand names. It’s okay for characters to listen to country music, they don’t always have to be listening to the latest Rascal Flatts song. What do you think? Do some authors get carried away with brand names in their stories?


  1. EXCELLENT post, Melissa! You're spot on with the over-name-dropping that's become rampant.

    Readers aren't stupid. We do know what designer clothes look like, even if we can't afford them, compared to Wal-Mart specials. Hmm, I don't think THAT counts as name-dropping. LOL.

    I've stopped reading books for that exact reason and have blasted the editors for allowing it to go through.

  2. Thanks, Sloane! I know exactly what you mean about stopping a book right away. Recently, I was forced to quit by page five because the brand names start falling like snowflakes.

  3. Found this post via the Amber Quill readers' loop, and I totally agree. There is such a thing as TOO MUCH detail when it comes to description. I read for escapism (when I have the time to read, that is), not to go brand-hunting.


  4. Hi Mychael! Welcome to the Imaginarium, it's great to have you here. You are so right, I want to escape into a story not read a catalog.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

  5. I think it's good to engage the reader's imagination and let them create their perfect "look" for the story. And for myself, well, I can't tell a Prada from a Hush Puppy, so don't confuse me :)

    KC Kendricks

  6. Hi KC! I couldn't tell you the difference, either. :) I'm with you. We paint a vivid picture that the reader can add his or her own colors to via their imagination. That's part of what builds the bridge between author and reader.

  7. This made me smile, because I've just read a book that's full of it! I mean, I want to know what a character looks like - though it's actually not as important to some readers as we may think, as they like to use their imagination - but I don't need an inventory of their wardrobe!

    My more cynical hubby says they should get paid for all that product placement, like in movies. Maybe this is an additional income generator for us poor authors LOL.

    Have a great weekend! :)

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Clare! I'm with you. I want to be able to picture the character in my mind's eye. I can't do that if I've got to constantly wonder what this particular designer's dress looks like.

    You have a great weekend as well.

  9. M. S. Spencer (ignore the Phoebe) says, Melissa, A great blog--laugh out loud. It's true--I often feel left out when someone names the brand of an item--sometimes without telling you what the item actually is--then figuratively looks down her nose when you venture to ask, "Soooo, what exactly IS a jimmy choo?" I also refused to let my kids wear tees etc. with the name brand on the outside--I figure Old Navy can pay for its own advertising! M. S. Spencer

  10. Hi M.S.!! Thank you for dropping by. I know what you mean about Old Navy. They sure can pay for their own ads. I didn't know what a Jimmy Choo was til I had to look them up during the course of reading a book. :)


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