Saturday, November 29, 2014

10 Things Readers Want from Authors

Readers want to be taken away from the moment and engrossed in a story. Aching to know what will happen, they want to be pulled from one chapter to the next.

That's no small order. And even the most finely crafted novel won't work for everybody.

As an author, my thoughts are with my readers when I'm writing a novel. I have fans on my email list who will buy an ebook as soon as I publish it. I don't want to disappoint them.

Here are 10 things that I consider as I write and edit novels.

1. Readers don't want to be bored. This is a constant challenge, especially when creating a half million word multi-book series that requires a lot of literary infrastructure like world building and character development. The trick is to always have something happening while all this pipe is being laid.

2. Readers want to be surprised. I strive to inject unexpected twists and problems while moving a plot forward. Even when there's nothing shocking happening, things like a sparkling exchange of dialogue can delight the reader along the way to the next crisis.

3. Readers want to learn something. This could be anything like history or psychological insights about humanity. Within my fiction I often prod people to see greater truths about power and human behavior. What people want to believe about people and society is often not reality.

4. Readers want to feel for the characters. When they have to put the book down and go to work, they want to think about a character all day. They want to worry and anticipate getting back to the story. 

5. Readers want a strong and intriguing start that leads to a rousing finish. In my life as a reader, I've too often encountered books that start out well but go nowhere. Sometimes in a series a first book has to hint at big things to come. If it must end as a cliff hanger, it's important to have lots of action occur before it. This way the reader still gets an experience and hopefully becomes wrapped up in the challenges faced by the characters. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien is a good example of this. Nothing is resolved in the novel. The breaking of the fellowship offers the climax and leaves the reader craving more.

6. Readers want to know what's going on! People can only stay curious for explanations for so long. And for pity's sake answer at least some of the questions posed by the story. Sometimes things can be left shrouded in mystery, but I always aim to let my readers have clues about what's going on and what's coming. Suspense is not created by withholding information. Suspense comes from suspecting what will happen and wanting to find out. For example, I was not too far into reading Pet Sematary by Stephen King when I realized that the little boy would die and be raised from the dead. Dreading this horror, I read on and loved every bit of it.

7. Readers want someone they can relate to. This is somewhat controversial for me. Although I've created lots of relatable characters, I don't believe they are essential. Readers can be fascinated by someone who's not like them. I can't relate to Conan the Barbarian, but I can love his adventures. I have nothing in common with the reprehensible Michael Corleone, but he's unforgettable. I've often pondered his motivations and tried to understand him. A good novel expands a reader's perception of the world.    

8. Readers want to use their imaginations. Writing advice, especially fiction writing advice, often advocates for being sparing with detail so readers can fill in the scenes themselves. I prefer to say that details need to be chosen carefully. They build a framework that readers can decorate with their imagination. The better the frame, the more inviting it becomes to the reader. In my education as a journalist I was taught that details are the stock and trade of good journalism. Things should not be left to the imagination in news reporting. One needs to be clear. With fiction, however, this detail-centric form of writing can be adapted. Details are essential to crafting vivid images and emotions. But don't beat readers over their heads with them. The needs of every reader cannot be met in this regard. Some will relish every detail and immerse themselves in the experience. Other will deem the writing long winded.

9. Readers want a book to be memorable. I know a book was superior when I keep thinking about it after I'm done reading it. Some books stick with me for years, and that's the mark of a great read.

10. Readers want to love your book. Every time a reader chooses a book to read, he or she wants it to be amazing. They are ready and willing to enjoy the experience. And when authors deliver this thrill to readers, it's a beautiful thing. We can keep making it happen by always reading more books.

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