Why the writer should listen to the reader

A row is brewing over on Amazon. A petition has begun circulating asking founder Jeff Bezos to help protect authors from what is described as ‘bullying and harassment’. Its even garnered the support of Anne Rice. But then she is no stranger to speaking up against poor reviews. Is that what this is? Disgruntled writers, the tender bruised ego sulking in public? Or a justified request for a fairer and more open system?

I’ve written myself that it often feels as though the public latch a hold of your work as though they had the right to not only possess but to destroy. As a writer that terrifies me.

I don’t believe the fan owns anything of the writer, nor that as an individual the writer is beholden to the fan in any way more than covered by your basic statutory rights. But neither is the fan beholden to the writer. If you buy a product you believe is sub-standard you have the right to speak out – loudly.

We speak of writing for ourselves yet the second we get the chance we yank those bad boys out from the bottom drawer and fling them as far and wide into the big bad interworld as we can. Writing for ourselves it would seem doesn’t satisfy.

simpsonsedited

We write true to our own passions. And that is where good writing lies. But the problem is when our passions as writers overwhelm our passions as readers – the very needs and wants that first led to us picking up a pen buried under the hubris of ‘artistry’. Good writing owes a great deal to the balance between both writer and reader.

Here’s a few occasions when it might be worth resurrecting the fan within.

The stick to it no matter what 

One series that has recently come to an end and received a great deal of criticism from its once loyal fanbase is the Sookie Stackhouse Novels, which inspired the TV series True Blood. The fans feel that the ending betrayed the characters they had come to love. The author maintains that the ending was always in her mind from the very beginning. But that ending seems to run contrary to the way the series developed and undermined everything they had invested in over the course of 13 books.

Even within the course of one short book characters don’t like to behave. Beware you aren’t forcing a conclusion that doesn’t fit just because that’s how you originally planned it.

The shock ending

Another recently ended series that almost managed to clock up more one star reviews than five on Amazon – and from the once-devoted –  is Allegiant, the final instalment in the Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth. *****spoilers**** It didn’t end well.

Shock endings are too, too tempting to authors. We live in the era of the twist. Blame Sixth Sense. Blame Da Vinci Code – even though we all knew the end before we even began. We’re remembered more, talked about more and put in the news columns more if we shock more. And its getting really hard to shock when entire blogsites are dedicated to guessing the ending..

Problem with the shock ending is nine times out of ten, its a cheap trick which doesn’t satisfy. As a one off, it might pass, but if you ask your fans to invest time and emotion, allowing for their anticipation to build between each instalment, they will often end up knowing your story as well as, if not better, than you and see your cheap ploy for the cheap ploy it is. The test now is whether they will stay true to their threat and never pick up another book by this author. If you’ve already made your millions you can stand to lose a few fans, but for the 99% who don’t achieve this I’d say in fiction as in life, you need a very good reason to kill.

The deeper meaning/realism argument

A great many books are guilty of this – Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, even Divergent.  And hey they got away with it, but again only after they had gained success and a loyal fan base. Realism and theme have their place. But theme should not be slapped like a parental approval sticker on your prose, rather woven through subtly. No one picks up a book to be preached to.

As for realism the only world you need to be true to is the one you have created. You have altered reality where and how it suited you thus far, why suddenly shackle yourself to it? For what purpose – artistic merit? The literary accolade of ‘searing insight into the human condition? You write about a boy wizard…

The unedited tome

Ah this one – I can feel the resistance of every writer facing the next edit, in thick sticky hateful waves..

Stephen King rereleased the directors cut of The Stand, turning a doorstop into a door block. Surely this means readers want a ten tonne read? He’s the Golden Goose, he can lay them as big as he wants. Publishing companies have admitted publically  they give the big names pretty free reign. Don’t you ever wish they wouldn’t?

Life is unedited. So is Big Brother for the truly demented fan. Both have an extraordinary amount of dull moments.

Its an old adage but a really really smart one. Always leave them wanting more.

But this isn’t about writing by committee.  This is a craft, skill, talent, whatever you want to call it and not everyone – indeed perhaps very few – can do it.  When it comes to fans desires its often a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Sexual tension may make us believe we would like certain characters to get together but the result is very often dull, as The New Adventures of Lois and Clark, showed us all – painfully. This is why when we do find someone whose voice we are willing to trust to take us on a journey we keep coming back for more.

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