Writing Is A Bad Habit: Give The Crowd What They Want … Or Not? a.k.a. Reader Expectations

The customer is always right and the reader is the customer.  If that is true, we, as writers, should try to always give the readers what they want, right?  We all know that a reader comes into any book with certain ingrained expectations, garnered through what they know to be the book’s genre, any reviews they may have read, the book blurb, and your own reputation as an author.  Now, we have a few choices as an author in this situation.  We can fulfill those expectations, we can subvert those expectations, or we can straddle the fence.

At first, the obvious thing to do would be to pander, pander, pander away!  I mean, you want a happy reader, right?  So give them what they are asking for, yeah?  Well, sure.  Sometimes you should do just that.  However, sometimes you shouldn’t.  After all, if the only experience you deliver, time and again, is one that conforms to all expectations, you can begin to bore your readers and causing them to loose interest.  Also, people have a strange habit of voicing their desires, but actually wanting something else.  They think they want one thing, but find themselves drifting towards something else when the actual situation comes up.  It’s the classic idea of giving people what they need, not what they want.

So there can be a solid case made for subverting the reader’s expectations from time to time.  There’s also a benefit to you as a writer and an artist, that chance to flex your creative muscles and break out of your own mold.  Let’s not mention that you can add some drama and mystery to any work once you start playing with the reader’s expectations.  Are they expecting high fantasy?  Maybe an injection of science fiction or horror might spice up the mix.  This sort of thing is the foundation of fusion genre fiction and can make for some really interesting work.

However, as with all things, you have to be careful with this subversion.  There is a reason that it is effective to pander to your base, so to speak.  If you continually yank the rug out from under the reader, you basically flip the scenario, creating a new expectation of you as a writer while likely alienating those readers who may follow you for the original expectations you created before your constant subversion.  So, the answer, as it always seems to be, is to use such techniques with moderation, pulling it out when the story demands it or when you need a creative shake-up in your work.

What are your thoughts on reader expectations and how to handle them?  Feel free to comment, criticize, or add your own insight to the conversation!  Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!

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One comment

  1. I think satisfying myself as well as the expectations of readers (or agents, or editors, or critics) is an interesting challenge. In some cases, it is possible to hit all of the targets. That possibility has fascinated me for years, and there are examples that pop up periodically.

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