Monday 27 October 2014

Romancing the Reader

If you write a book what you would like is for the reader to fallen hopelessly in love with your characters and their adventures. Ideally they should be smitten the moment they read the title or catch a glimpse of the book cover.

As a reader, this has probably happened to you at some point. The thing you’re looking for and the thing you find intersect in a wonderful manner and you feel like the universe is tilting in your direction. Hurray!

However, forcing someone to fall in love at first sight is as impossible with books as it is in real life. It happens when it happens and, unless you’re a master hypnotist with no scruples, beyond the control of mere mortals.

But a love affair doesn’t always require an aligning of the stars and planets. Sometimes people take a little time to come around, sometimes they rush in and regret it later. And our relationships with books are no different.

So you do your best, you try to be true to yourself and hope that someone out there will appreciate what you have to offer. Although it doesn’t hurt to present things as polished as possible. You want to make a good first impression. Nobody goes on a first date in their everyday scruffy attire. Sure, later you might relax and let them see you with bed hair and in an old pair of sweats, but initially you dress up and make sure you look your best.  

Of course, you can end up trying too hard. Trying to please everyone usually ends up pleasing no one. Doing what everyone else tells you, changing your point of view to suit others, going along with whatever’s in vogue can all seem a bit needy and desperate. 

As writers we are bombarded with advice and all of it seems pretty reasonable, but it can end up overwhelming our individuality. And if someone is prepared to fall in love with that, do you really what them to?

Sometimes the answer to that question is yes. In fact often people join in with fashion trends just because everyone else is, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You dress like your peers, listen to the same music as them, hang out at the same places. Can you tell the fashion victims from the people just enjoying themselves? Does it matter?

Whether the flavour of the month is books about vampires or zombies or dystopian love triangles, as long as they make reader hearts beat a little faster, the story is doing its job. In fact it’s during those sudden swells of popularity of a particular genre that love at first sight is at its height. Readers are hungry for more. Will those love affairs last? Probably not, but a short, torrid, passionate fling is no bad thing.

Still, there are those books you feel quite dirty after reading. You feel ashamed and don’t want anyone to know. You try to convince yourself it wasn’t so bad, just a guilty pleasure, but deep down you know it was wrong, wrong, wrong. What you can’t figure out is why it felt so good.

Other times a love affair starts out great. It fulfils your wildest dreams and then some. But slowly the magic fades. The memories keep you hanging in there, well after the spark has gone. You know you should walk away, but you’ve read the first sixteen books in the series and the seventeenth could be a return to form, couldn’t it? Probably not, but hope springs eternal.

And then there are those times we are betrayed. We used to want the same things, held the same values but suddenly our love is headed in a new direction, and we’re expected to follow. Not likely. Even the greatest love affairs end. People drift apart. Bestselling authors start writing big piles of crap. It happens. But then it’s better to have loved and lost...

If you found this post useful or interesting or just not unpleasant please give it a retweet. Cheers.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I've never written to a trend or tried to follow what was popular. (Obviously - I wouldn't write what I do if I did that.) We just hope enough readers fall in love with our work to matter.

Unknown said...

Guilty! I felt I had to give it a shot with the trendies. And I'm not really sure what *my* writing style/genre is anyway. All my WIPs have been different. Maybe I'll figure it out eventually. Great post! :)

mooderino said...

@Alex - sometimes a trend becomes so pervasive you fall into it without even realising, like a bad haircut. Or legwarmers.

@Lexa - Thanks.

dolorah said...

I have some authors I have torrid affairs with; sometimes wondering why I keep picking up the novels, other times saying "sweet, this is exactly what I love." As you say Moody, sometimes the writing isn't as good or too trendy.

I enjoyed the theme of this post. Nicely presented :)

Unknown said...

This sounds really difficult to do in a book. So not up my ally.

mooderino said...

@dolorah - thanks, presentation is key (my dad tells me).

@Lilith - love is hard.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I've actually had some experience with this from an author perspective, and my research has been interesting to me (if not for anyone else). The fan mail I've collected about my books has all been about how someone connected with my character because it reminded them of themselves, physically, emotionally, and sexually. So I'm inclined to think that to get the kind of connection that you speak of, you just have to be true to a character and someone out there will connect with it, but not everyone. It is the rare person that can do so on a broad scale. A theory might be that you have a better chance at doing so if your characters are very young and obviously written for the very young, because at that point, most children want/desire the same thing. The older your protagonist gets, the older your audience gets, and the more specific the traits are thereby winnowing down your ability to connect.

It's just a theory, but one that I believe in.

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