Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Meeting Expectations

Part of writing professionally is fulfilling reader expectations. It’s why we read. We expect to be swept away into a new world, to be endowed with incredible powers, to run the gamut of emotions, gain fortunes while losing everything and to experience that which can not. But what happens when a writer sets up an expectation and then doesn't fulfill it? If the reader is left hanging off of the cliff, ready to fall, realizing that what they had read hundreds of pages for would not come to be?

There’s a great Writing Excuses podcast on this very subject (I think it's here). But I find it just so interesting, I had to post too. When you go to get a burger and fries from your local fast food joint you don’t expect to eat healthy. In fact, you almost demand to eat something greasy, salty, calorie-soaked and unfortunately, very mouth-watering. This is an expectation. If you waltz on in and see all your delectable morsels replaced with sparse salads and tofu patties, I think you would raise hell.

Same goes true for fiction. Story starts, reader expectations are set and if some are not met you are left with an unhappy, grumbly bear of a reader. I think this happened with the sparkle phenomenon for Twilight, where some people went in thinking to see some kick ass vampires and were surprised to see it was paranormal romance.

Naturally, you don’t want to meet all expectations; if that was necessary, then surprise twists would not be so gratifying. Finding that balance and knowing what you’ve promised are difficult things to figure. I know when I re-read a story I’ve written I try and look at it from a reader’s perspective (and reading out loud certainly helps me experience it differently), then I write down everything that bothers me and needs to be tweaked.

What have I promised? What do I, as a reader, want to see come about? This is not easy. We plan so much when we write. Each session of writing brings about new thoughts and storylines and we want to tackle them all and fear more than half of them. Then we shake at the thought of weaving it all together into a cohesive piece. I know I do.

Taking that first draft of wandering prose, half-formed characters set in white rooms and shaping it into a complete piece of fiction that satisfies as it confounds is not for the faint of heart.

It is for the Writer. Read them roar.


  1. Roar! I am writer hear me roar, numbers too big to ignore, and I write too much to go back to pretend (except for when I'm writing speculative fiction, thank you.) Yes, don't lose the reader's expectations!

  2. I'm taking this completely seriously. I hope I have a beta reader who is as thoughtful and knowledgeable when the time comes. You up to it? :-D

  3. I'd love to give it a shot. I'm always a willing beta, not always an available beta, but just let me know and I'll see what I can do.

    What project are you thinking about?


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