2/16/09

Reader Expectations vs. Author’s Creativity

I enjoy reading romance novels that are part of a series.  From Nora Roberts’ series, such as the Chesapeake series or the Irish trilogy, to J.R. Ward's Blackdagger Brotherhood series, it’s great fun to fall in love with characters and have them reappear again in later stories.  For me, it’s a completely different kind of satisfaction to see those beloved characters continue to be happy or continue to deal with obstacles in their lives, even after their “main” story is told.  And I like the liberties that the author is able to take with characters when they appear in several books.



However, I’ve noticed that this can be a slippery slope for authors, especially where avid fans are concerned.  It seems that some readers, after having read several books in an author’s series, develop certain “expectations”.  And while it’s true that after reading several books in a series, a reader can, with some degree of accuracy, make predictions about the characters’ behavior or the direction of a particular plotline, it’s important to remember that no matter what, it’s still the author’s story… the author’s characters… the author’s prerogative.  No matter how much time a reader has spent reading and re-reading a series of books, it’s a safe assumption that the author has spent considerably more time with those characters.


Of course, for the authors, I’m sure this is a delicate balance.  I have the privilege of knowing several authors who have published books in a series, and believe me when I tell you that they want to please their readers. No author ever wants to alienate readers, but the characters an author envisions eventually take on personalities and tendencies of their own, and the author sees the logical progression of their story as only the author can.



However, I think, as readers, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that our expectations cannot trump an author’s creativity.  J.R. Ward’s last two books in the Blackdagger Brotherhood series have drawn criticism from readers who didn’t like the ending, didn’t like the direction of a certain plot, did think enough time was devoted to a particular character.  Suzanne Brockmann’s most recent additions to the Troubleshooters series have also come under fire from readers, some of whom have even gone so far as to accuse her of completely changing a character’s personality or trying to trick readers by eluding to a pairing of characters and then not delivering.  I won’t say I haven’t been guilty of some thoughts along those lines, but I like to think that I can respect the author enough to remember that she/he is the expert when it comes to these characters… not me.

It’s important for readers to be passionate about the books they love, but it’s also important to remember that, as readers, we can’t impose our own ideas or expectations on the author.  We must remember that the same creative mind that created the stories and characters that we loved in the beginning is the same mind that continues to create the subsequent stories and characters in the series.  We should have faith in the author, and if we can remain loyal, even through the books we may not love, before long, there will be another story that takes our breath.



Our expectations should never stifle an author’s creativity. 

That’s my opinion… what’s yours?

4 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Amy. I'll try to reply strictly from a reader's perspective. :o)

    I understand author loyalty very well. I followed several authors for their entire careers. I still mourn the fact that they stopped writing, but all my favorite authors have, indeed, retired. :o( One of them, who shall remain nameless, maybe should have stopped before publishing her final 3 books. Loyal reader that I am, I bought all 3 of those books and, after reading them, I wanted to rewrite all the endings. It was like she ran out of steam. In the instance of one book, the entire premise was screwy, but the reader didn't find out until the end of the book. I had a real what-the-hay moment and felt sad for the author and cheated as a reader because the entire story was rendered meaningless by the ending. Also, I think the current market affected her a great deal. She started being careful. Her heroines started having the exact same characteristics that had produced bestsellers for her in the past. On the other hand, her heroes all became Mr. Perfect.

    Before I wander too far into the twilight zone, let me answer your question. Yes, I believe an author should have free license to write the vision she has for her book. On the flip side, as a reader, if she disappoints too many times, I will stop reading her and look elsewhere. I'm speaking in general, of course. I believe in author loyalty, but no author should expect her readers to blindly follow her into the murky swamp filled with gator traps and sink holes and not expect to hear some bitching about it.

    That's my opinion.

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  2. P.S.- please excuse the harsh sounding tone at the end of my comment. I'm afraid I tripped over my soapbox as I was attempting to close it out. But, you know me... soapbox is never far away. ;o)

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  3. No worries, Devon! And I understand your point of view on the subject... and I agree. In many instances with series books, there is something to be said for "quitting while you're ahead". In those cases, you're absolutely right... an author runs out of steam and/or starts writing toward the market, rather than following his/her heart and voice. And I'm with you, if I'm disappointed to many times, especially in a row, I'll stop reading. But that would be the extent of my "upset" over it... as it would be for you, I'm sure. In this digital age, I've seen no shortage of author's being completely slammed on message boards or on book reviews on amazon.com or bn.com. And I think that's a real shame, and something I would never participate in. No matter how strongly I might dislike a book, when it all comes down to it, it's my opinion, and other people might not share it.

    So... yep, I agree... about too many disappointments. And I also agree about readers not being expected to follow blindly.But I also agree about an author's free license to write!

    Thanks for the comment!

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  4. Amy:
    You know I'm a follower with several authors series. Including the ones you used as examples today.
    I'll usually stick it out and finish the series even if the last book isn't as good as the first.
    Your memory for character detail amazes me where you are able to remember every character's name and every story line. Which I have to confess, I can't. But when I move on to the next book, I have the rest of the series to go back and read through to jog my memory.
    I've stuck with Nora Roberts aka JDRobb Death
    series because I do love the characters but also because the plots are about 70 percent suspense, so each story is totally different.
    And thats the reason so many other series fall flat, the plots aren't different with each book, a lot of times its the same plot just different characters. I think to be successful with a series you have to allow the characters to move on between each book so their circumstances will be completely different when the next book picks up.
    Can't wait to read the next JR Ward. Haven't got it yet. But I bet I'll have it by next week.
    Teresa

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