Can I give them what they don’t want?

A post over at Musings of Mistress of the Dark Path entitled Important notes on what readers do not want to see in a story got me thinking.  You see, her list of things readers don’t want to see in a book sounds almost exactly like the list of problems readers are finding with the book my son and I are writing.

Her list of things readers don’t want includes:

1) A weak beginning

2) Poor editing/proofreading

3) Slow Pacing

4) Bogging down the story with too many details

5) Weak Dialog

6) Misrepresented Characters

First of all, I should say that our book has not been accused of having all these failings, but we seem to have hit most of them.  And we have tried to correct some of these, but others make me wonder.  Do we really need to follow this guidance or can we give readers a few things they might not think they want?

The obvious answer someone is waiting to shout out is, “No, if you don’t care about selling your book, you don’t have to pay any attention to this at all!”

But, equally obviously, we would like to sell our book, so we need to think about these things.  But I think we need to make our own decisions about what we want to change and what we don’t.

The weak beginning is something we have struggled with.  It’s funny how many of the problems with the book are with things we have added because someone said we needed to do such and such.  We needed to show our character in his non-stressed condition so the big problem would look problematic.  So rather than start with the chapter that introduced the problem, we added a chapter that explains a little about Katsuro and his life in the castle as well as explain why he wasn’t at home when the problem took place.  It makes for a slow beginning but it introduces the reader to the character and to the environment.  People who have read the introductory chapter either like it a lot or don’t like it at all.  Do we chalk that up to differences of opinion or do we follow the more traditional view that the first chapter has to grab the reader with excitement?

Slow pacing is another problem we have.  We spend time in the thoughts of the main characters.  We tell rather than show sometimes.  The main characters talk to each other and it doesn’t all advance the plot.  But it gives insight into the characters.  Part of this material was added when people wanted to know more about the characters.  I was fine with that.  This is not an action book as much as a book about people.  If you don’t know the characters and care about them, why read the book?

Weak dialog isn’t precisely the complaint we have received, but readers have stated that some of the dialog is stilted.  And it is.  But it is intentional.  The main character is a very traditional samurai.  We have him speaking very formally.  And it sounds odd to those of us who speak in contractions and fragments all the time.  But we believe out character would not speak the way we do — so he doesn’t.  But will readers accept this?  Will they understand?

For me some of this comes down to the question of whether we should write the book we want to write or try to write the book we think readers want.  We are sticking with writing the book we want to write.  So far, at least.  But I wonder if we are limiting our audience by doing that.  Can we give readers some of these things they don’t want and still sell books?  I guess we’ll see.


9 thoughts on “Can I give them what they don’t want?

  1. I say of course write the book you want to write. But I also believe there is a compromise to be found (somewhere in the deep dark depths of writing), or a balance. Maybe we can’t get rid of all those things readers don’t like, but I believe we can temper them. Too many details can be easily interspersed with dialogue. If the stilted dialogue is intentional, maybe you can add physical behaviors or thoughts not constrained by formality to help the reader make the personal connection they’re looking for. But really, I think it’s better to keep in mind what your goal is for the story, and write in order to achieve it.

    Also, I think reader expectations can vary across genres. What genre are you writing? And then what genres do the people you’re asking for feedback read? My uncle was sweet enough to read my paranormal romance, but he’s a science fiction guy all the way, so his feedback came from sci-fi expectations, which I obviously couldn’t apply to my book. Oh dear, I’m rambling. Great questions highlighting the great tension we writers have to deal with!

    1. Thanks so much, Angela! You made some excellent points and raised more questions for us to consider. I would not have thought about the genre “bias” you refer to, but it makes total sense!

  2. I would have to see your book to know for sure if these are really problems or not. Also, as Angela said, the specific genre has a lot to do with it. When I wrote that blog, it had to be very generic since there are all kinds of writers who follow it. I may, in the future, write blogs that go into more specific suggestions tailored to each genre.

    About the slow beginning problem, it is not necessarily a bad thing, if done in a way that engages the reader. My best recomendation is to look at your favorite books in the same genre. What did those authors do that made you keep reading? Take notes on this.

    As for stilted dialog, it is fine if the person speaking this way is not your main character. I specified that in my blog. It is just important to not force the reader to see it on every page. In your case, it is the main guy. That makes it hard. I can’t tell you the right answer, as I haven’t really read a book where a samurai is the main character. Maybe look for successful books that have the same character type and see what they did.

    There are also going to be times when only conversation is taking place. That is normal. You just have to ask, is this conversation important to the book? It doesn’t have to advance the plot if it is helping in character developement. So long as it is advancing the story line in some way, you are fine. Just always keep in mind any opportunity to show rather than tell. Also, watch how other authors handle dialog, particularly in your genre. I have learned a lot from paying attention to other’s methods. Of course, that is why reviewers can be so hard on writers who don’t follow the guidelines well. We know it can be done.

    Listen to Angela as well. I have read her book and she had none of my complaints in it. At least not in quantities worth being concerned about. That means she was doing something right because I stayed engaged in her book the whole way through.

    Hope this response helps in some way 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I think that I will have to give this all a lot of thought. And, as you suggest, looking at books I like in the genre.

    2. You are welcome! I’m really thinking that you looking at other successful author’s methods will help a lot. Feel free to let me know of your progress. I will be curious!

  3. My main point is to thank you for sharing this. It keeps on on our toes whether all is relevant or not. I like your quote,
    “Weak dialog isn’t precisely the complaint we have received, but readers have stated that some of the dialog is stilted. And it is. But it is intentional. The main character is a very traditional samurai. We have him speaking very formally.”
    You have done a good job matching the customs and language if the period. Your book is as much about historical fiction as it is a fantasy novel. Good historical fiction attempts to describe scenes as they would have appeared at the time and language consistent with speakers station in life. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Rich! Your point about the book being as much historical fiction as fantasy is very true. My son/co-author and I have talked about Katsuro’s manner of speech a lot, and we are comfortable with the way he speaks, so that is how we are going to leave it.

      I need to remind myself sometimes that it is historical and strives to have that level of authenticity. It isn’t going to present an exaggerated samurai who is always out killing. There will not be blood just for the same of blood. Hopefully it will find an audience, but if not, oh well!

  4. Depends who you’re writing for. I write for me, not really an audience. But now I want people to read what I write a bit more, I have to consider these things. Weak beginnings are difficult if they’re “necassary”. I quite often change my beginnings on hindsight. Introducing a character with the problem. What a character is REALLY like shows up better when they face difficulty than when everything is easy for them.

    1. That’s the rub: I want people to read this novel, so what they want and expect is important to me. I am still not sure how the book will start. Lately I am thinking that this whole book should condensed into a few opening chapters of the next book! We’ll see what happens, I guess!

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