Does Your Boat Leak? or Thoughts on Readers’ Trust

Many years ago, as a young reader and writer, I had the rather misguided idea that the storyteller’s goal was shock the reader in any way possible. Sometimes I even pictured the emotional reaction of my “readers” with malevolent satisfaction. “Ha! They’ll never see this coming!” It was almost like my imagined readers were my enemy and I had to outsmart and defeat them.

I had probably picked up the impression from my very intelligent father who would harshly discard or critique any plot that didn’t meet his intelligent standard. And there one or two stories that broke my heart with their plot twists, but I upheld as golden works of fiction.

As I discussed with my posts addressing cliffhangers, this theme also seems to be prevalent in modern television. Many shows aim high on the drama scale: killing off characters and making characters act irrationally. Their goal is to be controversial. But I have learned that I do not have the same goals.

There are books where you can tell the author respects her audience, and there are books where the opposite is true. Now, I’m not saying that you write purely for your audience, and if you’ve read my blog at all, you’ll know I frequently preach the opposite. But really it’s just common sense: if you make enemies of your audience, they won’t recommend your book.

I remember watching Jane Eyre for the first time. I had never read the book and didn’t know the story. Bronte does a good job of being creepy. At one point it seemed like there was a vampire in the house. I remember debating whether or not to turn it off. I didn’t want to keep watching it if the explanation was a vampire. But something told me I could trust the author. And in the end it was all explicable.

It may sound exciting to cross genres or throw in shock-and-awe surprises, but sometimes that is just unfair to the reader. If you purchase a book because it is historical fiction and halfway through the author throws in aliens, it can feel like a betrayal.

But this author-reader trust goes beyond “genre crossing.” I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that I want to be an author that readers trust. I don’t want to be the controversial shock and awe author. I don’t want my reader to feel like the boat sprung a leak halfway across the bay. I want to get my reader safely from one shore to the other.

 

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