Monday, November 15, 2010

The Writer-Reader Contract

First, a couple of orders of business:

If you prefer Blogspot to LiveJournal, you can now follow my blog here. I've started cross-posting my content. I have no plans to leave LiveJournal; this is just to make life easier for those readers who prefer Blogspot. And you can comment at either place, since I will check and respond to comments at both sites. However, I currently have Anonymous commenting enabled only at LiveJournal.

On Tuesday, November 16, Holly Cupala, C.J. Omololu and I will be sharing secrets on Twitter at 8 PM Eastern (5 PM Pacific), using the hashtag #YAsecrets. We've all written books about secrets, so please join us for a "secret" Twitter chat if you're available then! By the way, my Twitter name is @JennRHubbard.

Now for the writerly talk:

I was thinking today about when I was little and cartoons were my favorite TV shows. Once in a while, a new show would come on that used cartoons in its title sequence, and I would be enraptured, thinking the show was animated. Imagine my disappointment and confusion when the show featured actors, not cartoons. They only used cartoons for the opening song!

I was thinking about this in the writing context because of the writer-reader contract we set up at the start of any piece. If we start out funny, the reader expects us to stay funny. If we set up a mystery, the reader expects it to be solved. A writer who breaks that contract risks the reader thinking that the writer either doesn't know what s/he is doing, or the writer is being needlessly manipulative.

I once asked a person in the publishing field, whose critical eye I greatly respect, how large a sample it took to know that any given writer's work had potential. The answer was: a few sentences. At first that surprised me, and then I realized how often I've found it to be true as a reader. I felt it when reading Heidi R. Kling's book, Sea, and again when reading Alexandra Bracken's Brightly Woven.* In just the first couple of pages, I could tell that these were writers who knew what they were doing, and I trusted they would tell a good story, and they didn't disappoint.

When readers buy into our fictional worlds, we make certain implicit promises to those readers. We owe them something. I think my own writer's vow is: I will make this journey as interesting as I can; I will try to leave you with something true and meaningful; I will follow the rules of my own imaginary country.

*In the interests of full disclosure, I will say these writers are both in the Tenners group with me, and I first read their books as ARCs lent by the authors. However, my opinion of their writing is independent of that fact; I would not compliment them here unless I could do so honestly.

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