A posting on the excellent A Pleasant Book blog got me thinking about how important belief is in a story, both for the reader and the author.
In many books the reader is invited to suspend disbelief. For example, Stephen King book Lisey's Story (a fantastic book for anyone who hasn't read it - if you are planning to read it skip the text directly after the close of this bracket as it contains a spoiler) asks the reader to believe in an alternate universe. In fact, every Stephen King book asks the reader to immerse his/herself in disbelief. Mills & Boon Modern / Harlequin Presents books regularly invite the reader to believe that gorgeous billionaires with a social conscious exist and will fall in love with an ordinary woman as opposed to falling in love with Giselle Bundchen.
Ah, you may be thinking - on what planet could Stephen King ever be compared to a Mills & Boon? I'm sure Stephen King could create such a planet! My admiration for his story telling skills is infinite*. The man is a genius. It doesn't matter how other-worldly a particular story may be, at the root of them - especially those published in the past ten years - his books contain an enormous dose of love and heart. Most importantly, when I am reading his books, I believe. He draws me into the worlds he creates. And so do the vast majority of Mills & Boon authors.
I am not going to lie, there have been some stinkers published under the Harlequin brand. There have been books where I have ground my teeth all the way through because the characters were, for me, awful. There have been heroines so pure and good I want to puke. The hero can treat them exactly as he likes and they put up with it and fall in love with him anyway! Naturally, these heroines are virgins. The good news is these kind of Harlequins are becoming relics of the past. I don't mean the virgin heroine. There are still a few of those dotted about in the monthly releases and, luckily for my grinding teeth, even the virgins have the balls to stand-up for themselves. But where I used to adore the virgins, now I need a damn good reason to believe that a fully grown twenty-something woman would, in the twenty first century, be a virgin. Which is where the author's skill comes in. It is the author's job to make me believe. And the only way the author can do that is by believing in her (or his) characters, to bring them to life and make them breathe.
So far I have not written a virgin heroine. One day I would love to write one but before I can do that I need to come up with a reason that I can believe. Then, and only then, will I attempt to write one. Because let's face it, if I the author do not believe, what chance does the poor reader have?
*Except for the Dark Half, Christine, Pet Sematary and the Dark Tower series, all of which I loathed. Sorry!