Friday, March 21, 2014

Understanding Expectations

So you can establish a common ground

Learning to understand what readers expect is an important part of being a writer.  Because if there’s a fundamental disconnect between how you’re saying something and what they're expecting, you can’t hope to effectively communicate your ideas.  And that will be frustrating for everyone.  Even if you want to subvert those expectations, it’s important to meet your reader where they are first – establish a common ground.

There are particular conventions with books based on what publishers think readers want.  Whether they’re ‘right’ or not doesn’t matter, they’re the rules books tend to abide by, so they set a standard for what readers expect.

Now there’s nothing necessarily wrong with trying something unusual, but the truth is it’s difficult enough to do something well according to convention.  It takes real genius to do something that confounds expectations without creating confusion.  I think it’s best to learn to do things the ‘normal’ way first, before attempting to do something different.

Look at book descriptions.  There’s a certain format and style to these, familiar to readers.  They may seem boringly similar in their way, but they serve the purpose of helping you understand what a story’s about.  They can be done poorly or well—and doing them well according to convention is an art form in itself.

But let’s say you want to be creative, and rather than the standard format, you decide you want to describe your story in the same way you might recommend a good book to a friend –

‘The main character’s called Dieter, see, and he’s really cool because…’

Which might be a good way to describe the book to a friend, but to someone reading this on the back of the book or the inside flap, it’s likely to be disconcertingly unfamiliar – even off-putting.  Is it worth being different if it means a person who might enjoy your book never reads it because they couldn’t get past the unconventional description?

Since I’ll officially release the description for Slowpocalypse book 2 soon enough anyway, here’s an advance preview.  Maybe it’s not daringly different but I think it does the job of describing what the story’s about so you know if it’s something you’d want to read or not –

Mysterious power outages, disrupted communications, and a rash of illness among the guards are only the beginning.  Soon FURC Security Chief Anthony Nelson and his small, mostly inexperienced staff are overwhelmed by the hacking of the local network, the contamination of the food supply and a seemingly impossible murder.
    Rookie officer David Belue is trying to solve one of those mysteries when he comes under investigation for another, because he’s one of the few who had the means and a motive to murder.  Which makes Officer Lisa Courdray’s job much more difficult—now she has to prove her own partner innocent while also uncovering a hidden saboteur within the community.
    Lt. Katherine Miles can’t help—she’s far from the FURC on a secret mission of her own and unable to contact them with a warning.  If she can make it back at all, she’ll be bringing even more problems along with her.  A perfect storm of trouble is on its way.

What do you think?

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