[ARTICLE] The First Full Fifteen: Feminine Secrets

Yesterday, Feminine Secrets became the first story assessed on Virtual Bookshelf to score a full fifteen points. Several previous stories have fallen just shy of 15, so the feat of being first and setting an example of a well-told and written story was high. How did Feminine Secrets make the mark? The answer is straightforward, but by no means simple.

An Unexpected Romance ––

Love stories are commonplace, and truly good ones are far and few in-between. In my reading experience, many romance stories share similar aspects that have caused the genre to become banal. So, a romance taking the spot as the first story scoring a full fifteen was unexpected. Romantic clichés are some of the most prevalent found in stories. Yet, just because a cliché exists in a particular story doesn’t mean that it’s inherently bad and unoriginal. It all depends on execution.

Virtual Bookshelf heavily focuses on execution over originality, which would lean more toward bonus points that can boost up a score. Feminine Secrets doesn’t lack common elements seen in other stories, but it manages to both excel in execution and originality. While it was listed as “Romance Fiction” (note: Wattpad doesn’t not have a genre option) on Virtual Bookshelf, the romance was more of an undercurrent rather than a direct focus.

Instead, the story focuses on the main character’s troubling circumstances of living in the United States as an illegal immigrant girl under the guise of her dead brother. Identity, in various forms, is tackled as one of the core concepts. She cannot live as her true, bold self, and must lie and hide that core essence of her being. As she tackles her “new life” in the States, the relationships she forms, including her romantic one, blossom naturally along with her struggles of living a fake identity. The romance is not forced, but natural in both progression and presentation. Feminine Secrets is at heart, a love story, yet not a love story at the same time. It is this balancing act which is applied toward other aspects of the story which makes it so wonderfully executed.

Highlight Points:

  • no claims to love at first sight nor dramatic/expected confessions that leads to sudden, unrealistic shifts in behavior toward one another or changes in daily life
  • no stereotypical romantic molds such as “bad boy and good girl” or vice versa but both balanced characters with flaws and well-defined, clear, consistent personalities through showing not telling that they are this type of person (i.e.: MC is narcissistic, but this is not told but seen through her thoughts and actions)
  • no typical romantic progressions such as “becoming a better person” because of the lover; rather the couple are themselves and see each other for who they are while navigating and accepting their differences and flaws and simply struggling and learning together without the overt goal of “changing into a better person”
  • slice of life events in high school that build relationships rather than filler or for fun/amusement to the reader, making it a believable progression that is both interesting and important for readers
  • romantic scenes and commentary are interwoven into the main plot and setting and not forced to the forefront to catch mainstream popularity of this genre (which is by factual numbers, the top selling)

In a sense, the romance lends toward the identity crisis as the closer the main character gets towards her love, the riskier her situation on all levels become. These are plot drivers that synch harmoniously, building one another stronger while also making it unique and differentiated from typical “gender bender” plots.

Characters Tethered to Plot ––

Continuing off the romantic element, the characters are clear-cut yet human but not in a boring or typical way. They are complex without the text explicitly saying so. It is through their feelings, thoughts, and actions, primarily of the main character as the story is written in first person, that makes a reader understand their difficulties and ambivalence. And as the characters gets to know one another, the reader also gets to know more.

[ Warning: Spoilers ahead yet held to a minimum. ]

For instance, the full backstory to the main character immigrating to America and her life in her home country was only revealed when the “cat got out of the bag” happened in conjunction with mutual trust between her and her love interest. Although this chapter is one which could be criticized for being an info-dump, as her dialogue was mainly in blocks like a summary, it was still a realistic conversation one could envision between someone who wants a confidant and that confidant who was willing and wanting to listen. It was a moment of fragility executed in a consistent manner to the rest of the story. Her personality was interspersed clearly in her conversation, making the dialogue engaging.

Rather than plot-driven, this story was more character-driven. Difficulties arose due to becoming closer to other characters; they faced consequences of their own actions and judgements. One of the main character’s sufferings was having to lie to people she genuinely cared about. So, for readers, the question wasn’t simply whether she’d be able to live freely in America, but how the truth would impact those surrounding her.

As the looming decision whether to flee or stay in the U.S. as either herself or her brother was made, the swift reveal of her identity to everyone popped naturally out of the ordinary blue. In a manner of minutes, she went from attending school regularly to being arrested and thrown in jail. And her experiences while incarcerated were both stark yet restrained. The author did weave in commentary about illegal immigration, and the laws and judicial system, but it was not caustic, not in the face. It was a manner of fact through pure storytelling and perspective of the main character as she struggles to retain and not lose herself. She was now free to be whoever she pleased, but now she was behind bars.

The author allowed readers to question the topic for themselves, given that they came into the story with prior understanding of current events in the United States about immigration. But even without that, the critical commentary was understated yet manifest, a good balance. And again, when she could leave jail, it was not a political victory but a personal one where she could be reunited with her love, her “angel,” the one person whom she could be truly free with in every way. The victory was a character-driven one.

Highlight Points:

  • fluid, coherent storyline of events that build upon one another and naturally progress without holes in what transpired from point to point or confusion about settings
  • consistent, tangible representations of character thought and emotion in every chapter
  • balanced focus on main and supporting characters which included only important and defining information so as to understand all the players but which centers on the main; in order words, no loss or excess character information which doesn’t drive or add to the plot in some way (i.e.: the main character’s friend who was too good for this world and yet could only ruin her with that goodness)

Overall, the story did not strive to be anything more than what it tackled. It was both complex yet simple and executed all that it had set out to do without weighing it down by grappling even more. Thus, in this manner, it was focused, developed, and solid.

Superbly Subtle Writing Technique ––

How the story was written was simple, and simply breathtaking. It was clear without attempting to wow with extraordinary language and voice, yet it still did have parts that wowed with lovely phrasing and flaunts of vocabulary. As the story was told in first person, highly complex and flowery language would not suit it. But the literary instances in which it did delight, the beautiful language was pertinent.

In other words, a person does not stare at objects and then proceed to think in their minds about the lighting, the texture, the feelings evoked, etcetera––this is too much description and detail. First person narrative quite literally shapes the personality and mind of its speaker and thus should be presented in that manner. Third person narrative is better suited for descriptive imagery and language.

In short, the writing style and voice executed the first person narrative aptly while also being attractive to read through charming turns of phrasing and choices in vocabulary without being too much. Due to this, the level of reading is still listed as “High,” yet it was comfortably understandable and smooth.

Highlight Points:

  • appropriate tone and voice for first person narrative which includes adequate amount of thought, emotion, and detail expressed
  • varied vocabulary in language that was consistent throughout without shifts in style or drops in quality while still being easy to read/understand
  • compelling ends to chapters as well as a beautifully wrapped up final finish

The fragility of her situation contrasted with her bold personality conveyed through the first person narrative. And this balance of fragility yet assured confidence in oneself was a running theme throughout the novel.

All together, Feminine Secrets achieved the well-crafted balance envisioned by Virtual Bookshelf’s standards. For Plot Development and Execution (PDE), it was tightly and coherently knit with natural progression driven by character relationships. For Character Design and Development (CDD), it presented distinct characters that matured realistically as a reaction to their experiences. For Settings and World Building (SWB), it depicted a comprehensible past history and present circumstances with appropriate tone and detail. For Technical Quality (TQ), it was polished with few errors per chapter, if any, according to American writing standards. And lastly, for Style and Voice (SV), it encapsulated the first person narrative evocatively and compellingly.

Compare and Contrast with Other Stories––

Feminine Secrets is fortunate and smart in being a romance story. It does not need to delve into settings and world building as much as a fantasy or science fiction story would need. These genres would have a more difficult time achieving a full fifteen on Virtual Bookshelf because they’re often biting off more than they could chew. The stories are highly complex in the variable paths of their plots, arcs, and histories. And along with that, they often have more characters. That is why Feminine Secrets, despite tackling complex topics, is still simpler in comparison to heavier SWB focused genres.

However, owing to the skill of its writer, Feminine Secrets also doesn’t load itself with anything unnecessarily complex. It doesn’t add more characters than it needs to, or dives into certain ones any deeper than is necessary. It doesn’t claim to be philosophical or thought-provoking, comment on gender issues, and critique the social and economic issues in America any more than is necessary for the plot and reader understanding. It doesn’t include chapters narrating the past experiences of the main character (like a history arc) and sticks with a straight timeline as if walking or living through it instead. Thus, it doesn’t get bogged down writing more than what achieves the same job.

One story which came very close to 15, but could not make it due to having excess or lack of necessary writing was Trapped by the Mafia which scored 14. Although it had a 3 in CDD, this doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t have shortcomings for this factor. Virtual Bookshelf commonly ups a stronger aspect of a story while keeping another one low. For instance, a more accurate representation of scores would be 2.4 for PDE and 2.6 for CDD. But even if it were 2.6 for both, it still would not result in a rounded up score of 3 for both as the gaps still technically exist.

Feminine Secrets is different in the regard that it lacks critical shortcomings in how the story was crafted and executed. Comparatively, Trapped by the Mafia has engaging, distinct characters, but the progression of the romantic relationship is not as natural or realistic respective to the plot/events occurring. And even on the character level, the immediate attraction of the female to the main lead didn’t feel as believable as in Feminine Secrets.

Even with a fully “love at first sight” themed romance, a realistic depiction would still retain a layer of resistance or restraint in succumbing to immediate infatuation, especially in first person narrative. Think of how many people say they don’t believe in love at first sight. It might be a matter of perspective and belief, but by having varying degrees––ambivalence––that is what makes it believable and life-like.

Lastly, in PDE, the events didn’t feel as tightly knit with a linear progression. Even if a story includes time paradoxes or follows actions of multiple characters in different places, the progression should be easy to follow where all events match up linearly in the mind and understanding of the reader. Any big reveals or twists should still make sense to the build up within a reader’s imagination/suspense of disbelief as the story moves along.

Regardless, these critiques are nuances and final streamlining and polishing in a novel. Trapped by the Mafia is still well-crafted and written having scored so highly at 14. It has strong points including engaging, comedic thoughts of the main character and strong, clear voice and style of writing.

Additionally, personal enjoyment is not factored into these scores. Enjoyment is different for everyone as it’s simply a preference. Novels are analyzed based on the execution of storytelling and writing standards. Even if I may not enjoy a novel, I can still objectively distinguish its accomplishments and skill displayed by the author.

However, it is these final touches and brushes, close-knit plot events, and well-defined and explored characters found in Feminine Secrets which closed the gaps to fifteen. No excess or lack of storytelling and writing––only balance.

Yet, a full fifteen is not a ‘perfect‘ fifteen. Perfection is arbitrary and many never be truly reached in the continuous process of refinement and change. Just because a novel scores 15 doesn’t mean it’s perfect and cannot be improved or elevated even further. Fifteen is only a line on the bar of great writing and storytelling.

Read More on “What is, and How to Get a ‘Perfect’ Score.”

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