Disappointing our readers

I recently read the last of a series that I’ve been following religiously since the first book came out. (Joseph Delaney’s ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’ series) I love these books and think that Joseph has done a brilliant job with them. I found myself hugely disappointed with the ending, not because I didn’t like the direction that the author has chosen to take but instead because to me it didn’t feel convincing. Despite hints at it happening in earlier books the biggest turning point in the novel took place essentially ‘off camera’ so I felt somewhat cheated and didn’t feel like I’d been given the chance to absorb it properly. I got me wondering about what happens when as writers we reach the point where we have to make a decision between writing for ourselves and writing for our readers. It’s a fine line to tread and not everyone always gets it right.

The most extreme example we’ve recently recently of what can happen when the two move apart was the public response to the last book in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series. The inability of many of the public to accept the ending and the resulting threats remind us just how important our characters and stories can become to our readers. (In Charlaine’s case the response was doubtless affected by the TV adaptations of her books ‘True Blood’.) Was Charlaine wrong to write what she always felt would happen in the books? I personally don’t believe so, I often feel that unexpected and sometimes unwanted endings to characters can help to teach us to accept a lot more about life in a world where we are so used to the stories we have access to having the endings we want. I have a lot of respect for Charlaine for writing the ending that she wanted to and hope if I ever end up in a similar situation that I have the courage to do the same.

This is not a new issue and one which many of use may have to deal with in our writing careers. In an established writer a book which disappoints their readers may seem less important as they have already built up a following but what happens if one of us who is trying to get our first novel published makes this mistake? One of the first writing courses I ever attended looked at this issue. The idea behind the course was that there are 3 types of writing.

1. Bad writing – writing that is just for yourself

2. Good writing – writing that is for the reader

3. Great Writing – writing that is for both the reader and the writer

In their desperation to get published budding authors run the risk of putting their works into the second category by following rigidly the type of books that they know publishers are looking for, but I think that we all have to work hard to remember how long it may take to get our works into print. What may be trendy and successful now may not be in 2 years time when our novel makes it into print! So don’t be afraid to experiment with your own thing, but equally make sure that you are aware of the books that are currently doing well and what publishers are currently looking for, even just an awareness of this can help to influence your writing!

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