Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Balancing Act Between Reader Expectations and Fresh Writing

by Sparkle Abbey


Reader expectation is a powerful thing.

Especially today when readers can jump on the Internet and express with contagious enthusiasm that what we’ve created has met their expectations. Those reviews rock! Or they can write a scathing review on Amazon when they’re upset with a book, promising to never, ever read that author’s work again. Ouch.

We believe every author thinks about what their readers want. And we love the fans who tell us they really don’t have expectations. They just want to read a good book and escape from the daily chaos of their life. Hmmm...that’s kind of an expectation.

If you’re writing genre fiction, there are a few universal expectations to keep in mind right off the bat.

In a romance, readers want a heroine and hero who are worthy of each other. Readers look for chemistry, tension and a conflict that can’t be resolved with a simple face-to-face conversation. They want an engaging plot and an emotionally satisfying ending.

We write cozy mysteries. There are also basic reader expectations for our genre. The obvious one—our readers expect a dead body. Two? Even better. Cozy readers often don’t want to see violence or anything graphic on the page, but they do want rising tension and a strong conflict. The savvy cozy reader also expects a great puzzle to solve along with the sleuth.

Those are pretty straightforward.

It’s the expectations that come after fans have read a specific author or series that plant themselves in the writer’s thoughts and can potentially derail or bog down the storyline. How do you give the loyal reader what they want and still keep the series evolving?  

Is it possible to add new and fresh ideas and still not disappoint? An author’s voice, tone, theme and characters are part of why a reader returns to a favorite author or series. It’s important those elements remain consistent, but you can still change things up. Add a twist. Perhaps a new challenge or a new character.

We write pet themed cozies—no animals are harmed; only people are dead. That’s an expectation. Could you imagine if we ever put an animal in danger? Talk about blowing up reader expectations. We’d lose most of our audience. So we choose not to go down that path. Is that us being swayed by our reader expectations? Sure, it is. But we’re not really interested in writing that type of story anyway, so it’s a win-win situation.

Our readers of the Pampered Pets series (some anyway) also want Caro and Mel, our Texas cousin amateur sleuths (who are currently not speaking to each other) to make up and work together. Will we change the course of the series to meet that expectation? Probably not. If we did, we’d lose built-in conflict and tension. You know, those basic genre standards mentioned earlier. However we can’t let Caro and Mel rehash the same scenarios over and over, or our readers will quickly tire of the conflict.

To maintain what readers want and yet keep the story new, you have to throw in some surprises. Still it’s important to note that while surprises are good, twists that come out of left-field are not. You want a spin that logically flows from the characters’ journey, not a jarring bolt from the blue. A revelation, not a bombshell.  An unexpected development, but one that feels exactly right for these characters.

To do that a writer must walk the line. It’s a balancing act. Sometimes a tight-rope balancing act. You must find that intersection where the story continues to provide the experience that made readers fall in love with it in the first place. And yet, you must mix in something fresh and new that provokes readers and makes them wonder just what you’re going to be up to next!

What do you think? Authors, do you take into account readers’ expectations as you’re writing? Have you ever been influenced by fans to alter a storyline or a character? What methods do you use to keep a continuing storyline fresh?

Readers, what kinds of expectations do you have? Any things you love or pet peeves about stories in a continuing series?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!
Mary Lee and Anita aka Sparkle Abbey



Here's a little more news from us:
We are busy working on books nine and ten in The Pampered Pets Mysteries.

Also, if you're missing any of our backlist this is a great time to catch up so you're ready for book eight. Details on all the titles are available here.

And if you want to make sure you're up on all the Sparkle Abbey news, stop by our website and sign up for updates at sparkleabbey.com

This blog first appeared on The Seekerville blog in August of 2014.

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