Killing The Reader

As a writer, I try to pay attention to anything that I don’t like.  If it has repetitive words, a monotonous narrative, flat characters, a plot that’s a horizontal line instead of the ascending arch, too much of one element or not enough of another – whatever it is, if it’s something that makes me pause in my reading and think, “that’s off”, I make a note of it.  Why?  Because I don’t want to make the same mistakes.  I don’t want my readers to walk away from my work without finishing it.

Worse, I don’t want them to be so turned off by it that they’ll never read any of writing again.  That’s what I call killing the reader.

Recently, I was reminded of one of the very few times I purged an author from my personal library.  Now understand: I’m a confessed bibliophile, a collector of books I love.  I have a reputation among family and friends for not letting go of any book that comes into my hands.  I treat my books like you might treat antique crystal that’s been passed down through the generations – as precious and irreplaceable.  And I revisit them.  Each book gets read once; the vast majority get read multiple times.

Yet I took not one book, but one author, out of my library.

First, I’m not going to tell you her name.  There are reasons for that.  1) I’m a professional and have desire to bash anyone else’s work simply because it isn’t to my preference.  2) She has a large fan following and I have no wish to alienate her audience.  3) She’s became something of a brand name now; who am I to knock her success?  However, the biggest reason is that she has worked extremely hard to be where she is today.  I won’t undermine that.  She’s earned it, in her way.  That doesn’t mean that I agree with what’s she’s done with her writing, but it isn’t my place to judge.

The catalyst for the purge was the introduction of an overwhelming element in her work.  Her early books were great.  I was as much of a fan-girl as others out there, chomping at the bit for the next book to come out.  Then I noticed the growing trend, wondered at it, tried to stick with it, and finally gave up.  The trend was sex.

Sex sells.  There’s a lot of market data to support that statement, and this author’s continued popularity is proof of it.  For myself, I’m no prude.  Sex isn’t normally a turn off for me when it comes to reading.  Yet when a book’s plot seems to have been regulated to mere staging for the fornication, with the characters’ development suffering for it, I can’t stand it.  As a reader, I need a good plot, solid characters, a logical flow of action.  Sex, romance, danger, it all adds spice to the mix.  This author’s series started out with all of that. 

Then something went (for me at least) horribly wrong.

The main character’s dynamic trajectory swerved way off the course that had been set in the first five books.  She is now ‘sleeping’ with various partners, not just the two men she’d been caught between as of book 2.  The placement of some of those scenes doesn’t make sense.  It felt to me as if the plot had become an excuse for the eroticism.

The sex, what this author did with it, killed me as a reader.

Because the books are part of an ongoing series and have little to no resolution as the main character’s personal life, I found that I couldn’t even keep the books I liked.  The plot would be resolved, but too many other things were left open-ended.  Each time a saw the books on the shelf I thought of wasted potential.  The characters, the setting, the story-lines introduced in those first volumes had held such potential.  That potential hasn’t been realized, hasn’t even come close.

I loved those books.  As a reader, it felt like someone had broken their promise to me, the one they made when they put those words to paper.  It hurt.  Finally I decided that I couldn’t keep them. 

I remember them, but not as the books I’d read and re-read.  I remember them for what they became.

There have been other authors I walked away from, others who ‘killed’ me as their reader.  With them, I never got past that first story.  That’s okay.  Not everyone will like someone’s writing.  I’m sure there are people out there who can’t stand mine.  As readers, we’re entitled to likes and dislikes.  If a writer doesn’t catch a reader, it’s not a failure.  There will be someone else who will become a fan, and making that connection is the hardest part of the job.

Fans are a writer’s life-blood.  They’re what keep us going when things look bleak, what have us stealing time from where we can in order to jot down a few more lines of text.  To lose a fan because my writing morphed into something completely different from what s/he first read…it’s the worst kind of betrayal a writer can make.

I hope that I have never killed a reader who was already a fan.

2 Responses to Killing The Reader

  • Angela says:

    Thank you for your post! I stand on your side with this one – it is sad and yes hurtful to have such a promising series take a nosedive into destruction. I think a big part of that is, as you said, the promise. When a reader becomes in committed to a series they are committed to the writer and what that writer has provided to the readers. By breaking the promise of what the reader loved about the characters or series it does come across as heart breaking and, in my instance, I will never go back to that writer.

    A question to you – as an author yourself, what steps would you take to prevent this from happening?

    • Doris Ross says:

      First, I try to write material that I expect as a reader. If I make a promise, I do my best to keep it. Second, my characters and plots have a mapped dynamic arch, complete with notes on how they change and why — in this, I strive for a logical progression that is loosely based on real-life case studies, situations, etc, no matter what the character species or story setting. Third, I endeavor to keep any extreme emotions or moods that I am experiencing in real life completely separate from my writing. My characters will not suddenly start hating the world and their fellow man just because my car dies and I can’t afford a new one, or my boyfriend cheats on me. Fourth, I listen to my readers. I might not take their advice or altogether agree with what they have to say, but I do gauge their reactions to what I’ve written, and judge how well I achieved my goals as a writer. If I’ve missed my mark, then I go back and redo it. Also, while I hope that my writing isn’t wholly predictable, I do expect to get called on the carpet for abrupt shifts in plot direction or character development. Then I have to fix it — one way or another.

      Hope that answers your question! :-)

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