I hear a lot of novelists talking about writing to entertain themselves. While I agree that the author herself is the first audience and you can't write a good story if you're getting no enjoyment from it, I also believe that the end consumer, the readers most likely to plunk down their hard-earned money and invest their valuable time, should be the writer's most important consideration.
Yes, that sometimes means putting their tastes ahead of your own personal preferences. Sometimes, it may mean back-burnering your personal point of view on controversial topics so as not to jerk the readers out of the story and alienate them--or at least not clobbering them over the head with your agenda when you're writing the kind of story people pick up to entertain them. Always, it means being aware of the reader's emotional investment in the characters and story and not abusing it.
All of this, of course, depends on the audience you're dealing with. When I'm working on a book that's closer to a mainstream thriller than a romance, I know (from reading tons of books in the genre, along with lots of reviews, online chatter, and communications from readers themselves) that the reader expects to be kept in suspense, surprised--sometimes even horrified or challenged. It's all part of the experience, though you're generally going to hack off much of your audience if you cross certain lines (the killing of a viewpoint character the reader identifies with, a lovable/helpless pet, or child, or the use of offensive stereotypes as short-cuts.) When I'm writing for an audience that's going to be more invested in the romance or is looking for a shorter, more escapist read, I heap on the action-adventure and keep the suspense quick, punchy, and a whole lot less bloody, since these readers want and expect a quicker release from their tension. I'm also careful to quickly force the romantic leads together and keep them together, because their interaction and the tension between them is what keeps these readers coming back for more.
In my opinion, it's a matter of respect. Respect your reader, respect her time and preferences, and never, ever talk down to her--because a reader can smell condescension miles away. If you write with her in mind, she will definitely reward you...by going out and purchasing your backlist, along with the next book that you write.
It Doesn’t Have to be Either/Or - photo by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes I was sitting at my desk last Monday, working on my new manuscript (okay, kind-of working, kind-of surfing the internet) ...
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