Come listen to Episode 5 of my podcast, 12 Minutes (or less!) with the Author. The subject? Writing to Readers’ Expectations: Yes, no, maybe? Transcript and link to the Spotify podcast episode below.
Episode 5, on Spotify: https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/NkQv3kfkCzb
This podcast episode is available on YouTube as well. Find it here: https://youtu.be/oR8YJQ9xGoY
Hey there, today’s episode is called Writing to Readers’ Expectations: Yes, no, maybe? While this episode might be geared more toward writers, I think readers will find this to be an interesting topic, too.
And if you are a fan of my Bellerose Witchline adult dark fantasy series, I’ll give you an update on where I am with writing book 3: Walking a Fine Witchline.
The update: It’s going slow. Even though I have my plot in place – and yes, I’m a plotter and not a pantser – there are a couple of Ginormous Decisions I need to make. One involves a character’s death – or not – and the other involves whether someone is honest and follows their heart – or not. As I’ve written, I’ve kept these options in mind, and so far, I’ve been able to work on the work-in-progress (WIP) because I don’t need to make these decisions – yet.
But honestly, this is the longest I’ve taken in years when it comes to writing a story.
Let me be clear; this is no writer’s block.
It’s complete and utter indecision.
A few of my close writing colleagues know a bit about what I’m struggling with as I write Lucie Bellerose’s third book. Some know more than others. A couple have cast their votes with their desires – and I like knowing what they think. What is pretty interesting to me is that these other writers are not all voting one way. They, too, have different leanings on who does what, who might stay, and who might go.
Readers have weighed in with their wishes, too. There is certainly a Team Templeton and a Team Rabbit. I’m happy to be able to say there is also a Team Sebastian. Wild, but true!
I’m fortunate to have a husband who is incredibly supportive. He is my Alpha reader and gets to see pages before anyone else. I ran a possible Bellerose Witchline series ending by him – it’s the darkest, most shocking, horrific ending. A solid finale. No turning back. THE END.
And frankly, that ending is really good. It’s exactly what a courageous writer would pen.
My husband agrees.
But here’s the secret: I just can’t do it. I just can’t. I don’t want to break reader hearts, character hearts…Or my own heart.
So, that’s a bit of an inside scoop on where I am with writing the Bellerose Witchline series, and it’s the perfect segue into today’s topic: writing to reader expectations.
Honestly, in my opinion, there’s no right or wrong answer. I think some authors do, and others don’t. Both choices are valid.
And I believe we all do to some extent…even if it’s only a little bit. It might even be a subconscious act. But I think – whether you do or don’t write to readers’ expectations – writers excel when they write the story they want to tell.
Certainly, there are some genre constraints – and the last episode of my podcast delved into that with a discussion of including sex scenes or not when writing. For example, it would be unusual to find explicit sex acts in a traditional cozy mystery. It would be odd to find monsters, gore, and horror in a more traditional rom-com novel. Readers often gravitate toward particular genres because they have certain expectations of what the books in that genre will deliver. There are certain tropes, themes, and story arcs that follow patterns readers trust to find in their preferred genres and from their favorite authors.
Let’s look at this topic of writing to match readers’ expectations from a different angle. What if you don’t? What if you write a scene – or an ending – that you know will cost you readers? Would you do it? Would it be worth it? Maybe not – but then again, maybe it would be worth every lost reader and every negative review because it’s the truest path the story can take.
Whatever you might decide, my advice would be to stay true to your characters and the story you are telling. If you do that, whether you give readers what they expect or not, I believe you are writing the best version of your story.
I do think about my readers when I write. I’ll look at some reviews to learn what they think. Sometimes I’m really surprised by what I read! That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good or bad… Just sometimes I’ll think: where’d they get that idea? But that’s okay. My point is – I DO think about my readers and want them to enjoy reading my books. And at the same time, I don’t want to compromise my stories.
I think that’s the key. As long as you are honest in the art you create, the right readers will stick with you – even when you go in a direction they might not want to see.
I have an example of an author I love who wrote a book in her series that I was not on board for, so I didn’t read it. The author was the late great Sue Grafton. Grafton wrote private investigator mysteries – maybe a little hard-boiled, but certainly NOT cozy mysteries. If you like darker mysteries, I recommend Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mystery Series. There are 25 books from A to Y. (NOTE: Grafton died before her last planned book was written.) But back to my point. Grafton’s 20th book is called T is for Trespass, and it features elder abuse. I want to be clear: I did not read the book, and therefore I cannot judge it. It might be great. But what I do know is that as much as I trust Sue Grafton’s writing, I just would not be able to read the book. So, I skipped it and went on to read the next in her series.
I don’t know if Sue Grafton wrote to reader expectations. If yes, certainly not always considering the themes and darker shadows of the human soul revealed in her books. I might guess that sometimes Grafton knew she was taking a big risk and wrote the story she wanted to tell anyway. I would call her an author with courage.
Let’s circle back to the subject of this episode. Writers, do you write your stories according to what you know – or believe you know – your readers want? If you do, are you satisfied? Or do you wish you could break out and write the story differently? To be clear, I don’t mean switching genres – which is its own risk. It can be done. I’ve done it, and that’s a topic for a different day. What I’m specifically asking is in your genre – maybe in a later book in your series – do you think about writing a story your “art heart” wants to tell, but you worry your faithful readers might not be ready to read? Do you want to take a character in a different direction and worry your readers won’t be on board?
Do you flirt with killing a character, knowing that, at the very least, you’ll disappoint readers?
Oh, so many questions! I just want to get you thinking, that’s all. No right or wrong answer here. But I’d love to hear from you. If you are listening to this on Spotify, you should find a question section below this episode, and you can leave a comment. My podcast is also on YouTube, and if you go to YouTube and search on TLBrown – all one word, TLBrown – my YouTube channel should come up, and you can leave me comments there, too. Please remember to subscribe, like, and share! I truly appreciate it. Links to my social media channels are included on my Spotify profile and also on my website at writertracybrown.com. A transcript of this episode is also on my website.
Alright, over to you! Writers, are you telling the stories you want to tell in the ways you want to tell them? If not, are you feeling penned in by readers’ expectations? How are you handling this? And readers – what do you think when an author does a changeup and delivers something you did NOT expect?
I’d like to hear from you. Drop me a note in a comment – and remember, I might publish your answers.