So one of the major pitfalls of being a writer is that it makes it damn near impossible to read anything as a reader anymore. We can’t NOT pull apart everything we read. We can’t UNsee that shallow, pantsed plot or the clunky language choices, or the fact that the author has described what the hero looks like 487 times since the start of the book. All the bad habits (whatever they are) become glaringly obvious. This makes us very picky readers, who are often totally unsatisfied by everything we pick up. Combine that with the raging popularity of some books and series that leave authors scratching their heads over WHY? and you have a lot of authors as readers who kinda don’t GET normal readers.
We’ll pick up those popular books and read them and pick them apart AS WRITERS and completely miss the boat on why they are so popular because we’re too busy focusing on all the dangling participles and redundant descriptions and plots that could have been group-though by a tribe of orangutans that we can’t see what these books give readers.
Susan introduced me to this term last week. It’s generally used for anime/manga, but it’s basically the word for giving the fans what they want and what they expect in any given subgenre. The example she used was that part of what works about Harry Potter is that Rowling is great at fan service and gives some kind of magical, world-special moment in every scene. Which make sense.
So all these crazy popular books that writers love to hate because they are technically imperfect in some way are all SOMEHOW delivering fan service. Readers are getting something they want and expect out of them. Doesn’t matter a wit about whether what they’re getting is what traditional publishing is telling writers THEY want out of our submissions. Doesn’t matter if what those readers are wanting/getting are even legitimate genre conventions or expectations based on everyone ELSE in the genre. It doesn’t even matter if there is no substance to speak of to the book (see, this is me analyzing like a writer again), it’s giving readers what they want. Given that romance fiction generated $1.438 BILLION in sales in 2012, outperforming every other category in the US book market, that’s a pretty damn good reason to get over ourselves and give them what they want.
Anyway, what I was actually thinking about this morning is that writers have much higher and DIFFERENT expectations of the things that they read than the normal reader, so we expect a greater level of fan service, and that’s what’s often leaving us so unsatisfied.
I’m reading two different contemporary romance novels right now. One in audio, one in e. Neither is ringing my bells. Both have aspects of things I like in CR–small town settings, messy families, concepts that I find appealing. But they’re still not working for me. In one, the hero is a Ken doll with a Magic Wang (per Twitter yesterday, we decided that this was the male equivalent of the Magic Hooha). All the women in this book are obsessed with this guy, including the otherwise sensible heroine who, despite her intent to resist him, can’t seem to overcome her hormones and just ended up getting to know him in the Biblical sense against a wall. I have not yet seen what the legitimate CONFLICT of this book is supposed to be and I’m fairly certain I’m nearing the midpoint. It seems entirely like braindolls and cutsie little illustrations of the town. The OTHER book has a totally superficial, secret-being-kept-because-that’s-driving-the-plot kind of conflict that’s just annoying me. And the deep psychological issues of both lead characters feel like melodrama rather than legitimate emotion (in the author’s defense…given my field is clinical psychology, I’m hella picky about that). So instead of getting ALL THE FEELS from these books that I KNOW others have loved, I’m getting ALL THE HEADBANGING.
So the question I pose to you, dear readers, is this: Is writing a book for other WRITERS different from writing a book for normal readers? Why or why not? DO writers expect a higher level of fan service than the average Jane?
I wouldn’t think of it as a higher level of fan service. It’s more like… fan service is the elements. The brooding loner, hot handyman neighbor, or complicated executive. The new girl heroine. The struggling heroine. The quirky friend, neighbor, co-worker. The town where everyone knows everyone. The new school. The cabin in the woods. The makeover scene. The girls’ night scene. The number of times Taylor Lautner has to take his shirt off.
Sometimes there are plenty of those elements we, as fans, want, they’re good elements, and they fit into the story. Where we, as writers, can tend to be picky is in how they’re fit together. The story that doesn’t feel deep enough, that feeling that it had potential but could have/should have been more. Which seems similar to going to the puppet show and being disappointed because you can see the strings–even though you know you were looking for them.
I’m struggling with this so much. I wish I could let go and read as a reader, but I can’t. I just had to put a book down after a few chapters because the ham-fisted back-story reveals were making my eyes roll right out of my head. I wanted to enjoy the book, but I can’t turn that part of my brain off. :/
I’m one of those rare writers who doesn’t pick books apart. I can tell there are things lacking sometimes, but if the story entertains me, I can overlook things. I have to 1) feel for the characters, 2) not get bored with the story, and 3) find very few typos/misspellings/wrong word usages. Oh, and one more I might mention…if it’s a romance, I don’t want the characters to jump into bed in the first chapter. I want build-up. That’s pretty much my criteria. I purposely turn off my writer self when I read because I don’t WANT to be disappointed. There are still books I don’t like, but it’s mostly because I don’t stay interested in the story. Some books are just boring. Some keep me on the edge of my seat.
Is it possible that you read books with the same critical eye you use to correct your student’s homework? If so, how are you ever going to enjoy reading anything because, as a teacher, you go in looking for what’s wrong so you can make sure they know the material.
Most of the writers I know write for normal readers unless they’re writing for writers about writing. The normal readers are fans. Since one of the goals of writing is to entice them to buy and read your book it’s probably wise to write for them rather than for writers. (the current zombie/dystopians and fairy tales with a bite are cases in point.)(PS Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Charming is a Zombie and true love’s kiss will cure him if she somehow get the kiss without being bitten and infected herself…WTF?!…Someone just shoot me.)
By “Average Jane” you mean a regular reader, right? A non-writer? (Otherwise it feels like a bit of an intellectual caste system.) Regular readers read a book because they enjoy it. They could care less about the mechanics of story writing. They’re in it for the same reason that people watch reality shows about half naked fat men rolling around in the bayou looking for logs to harvest while their wives cook squirrels over a spit: entertainment. Writers, on the other hand, read for entertainment and to learn how to improve their writing, gather Muse intel for future or current projects, to figure out what’s hot and what’s not and why, and to remind themselves why they write to begin with…they love story telling. Harder audience unless the writer masters the art of turning off the Inner Editor.
Oh yeah I totally don’t mean this as an intellectual thing. I mean non-writer readers. It’s the same way my photographer husband can’t look at an image and not pick apart what the shooter did wrong. Any time you have a professional expertise in something, it makes it much harder to NOT see things that the normal person who doesn’t have said expertise doesn’t see. I’m not necessarily suggesting that we should write for other writers rather than readers (since obviously that’s a much smaller audience). And do I go in looking for mistakes? Not particularly. But I am a teacher, copy editor, and writer with a great deal of craft knowledge–if somebody does anything WRONG on that front, I can’t NOT see it. And yeah, when it’s stuff I consider basic (like more than a couple of punctuation or grammar errors that are obviously typos), then my respect for the author plummets. These are the nuts and bolts of the trade and something that any author ought to know as well as they know their own name.