We writers spend a lot of precious hours dreaming about and worrying over contracts with agents, editors and publishers, but today I want to focus on the most important contract we’ll ever make—the one with our readers.
Since most of us are both readers AND writers, let’s look at this from a couple different perspectives.
As a Reader
When we open a book, whether we think of it or not, we automatically expect several things from its author:
- To be entertained
- To read about believable characters we can love or love-to-hate
- To be surprised and intrigued without being lost
- To not be let down by major outcomes (character deaths, love triangles, etc.)
As a Writer
There’s a big difference between honoring your readers and “caving” to the market. So how can we create a unique story with our own characters, twists and ups-and-downs without losing readers?
- Maintain an engaging novel throughout. We can’t have a spitfire beginning and then sputter, and we also can’t afford to build to the big finish without hooking the reader from the first page.
- Don’t write bland characters. It seems simple, but if you’re going to err on characterization, you’d be better going overboard than not giving enough. Readers LOVE their characters – great characters lead to book club debates, t-shirts and more. Just think of how people focused on JK Rowling’s divisive characters of Snape and Umbridge.
- Be thoughtful in your plotting
- Avoid twists that come completely out of the blue – they often leave readers lost, and readers will see through twists that are there solely for the sake of “shock value.”
- Set up the proper reasoning and stakes ahead of time – without context, the reader doesn’t have a reason to care about your story, your characters or their choices.
- Fill in any plot holes – this one should be pretty obvious. : )
- Balance character changes, deaths or romances with reader expectations. No matter how much weight you put on the “artistry” of your writing, you still need to write for your audience to a certain extent. Try to find that “sweet spot” where your story doesn’t follow the first, obvious resolution but also doesn’t veer into the absolute worst case scenario.
The good news is we have a LOT of leeway to play with the details!