Sunday, April 28, 2013

Clear & Present Danger?


Should You Write To the Needs of the Novel or to the Needs of the Reading Experience?
I just made a writing discovery last night.
This experience demonstrates the difference between writing to the ‘needs of the novel’ as I think most  authors do (and editors demand) and writing to ‘the needs of the reading experience.’
I believe that the mega selling authors write to the needs of ‘the reading experience’ and this allows them to violate many writing rules. These authors write to make the reading experience the most enjoyable possible on a page-by-page basis.
You be the judge:
I’m now reading a book by a very good author who I have enjoyed reading very much in the past. This book is not an enjoyable reading experience.  It is full of depressing events. I feel bad most of the time I am reading the book. Think about that. Do we want our readers to feel bad most of the time they are reading our books?
I am even reluctant to pick up the book again after putting it down because I don’t want to feel the way I know it will make me feel. (I read romances for the enjoyment and not as an educational assignment.)
Here’s the point:
There is nothing wrong with the book from a writing POV. Indeed, this book might be loved by the critics. It could get many stars by reviewers. Indeed, the book meets the guidelines for a publishable novel. It’s all there:  GMC, ARCs, etc. It’s just not an enjoyable read.
I did not enjoy reading “The Grapes of Wrath” but it was a great novel. It is something an educated person should read.
Of course, I know the book I am now reading will have a happy ending and all the unpleasant situations will be redeemed by the grace of God and the ending of this book will be happier than it could have otherwise been without all the suffering. I know this will happen. OK. The lower the lows feel, the higher the highs will feel in comparison.  I get it.
But I think reading a romance is like eating a seven course meal. Don’t we expect each course to taste good? What if the seven course meal had six bland or even poor tasting courses but the desert at the end is the best ever because it gains by comparison to the food that went before it? Would we like that meal?
I think a writer should have a ‘feeling meter’ on each page indicating what the reader is currently feeling as she is reading that page and if that feeling is unpleasant for a good part of the book, then the author needs to be aware of this.
I think writing in a way that makes a reader feel bad or depressed is a clear and present danger to the reader finishing the book and/or buying the author’s next book.
Do you have an opinion on this? Do you like a book that makes you feel bad most of the time as you are reading it? As a teenager I enjoyed reading dystopias that made me feel bad. But I don’t enjoy romances that make me feel bad.
Are you as a writer aware of what your reader is feeling as she reads each given page and how those feeling stack up in relation to the entire reading experience as a whole?
Here’s an additional danger: such a book could get good reviews while at the same time providing a dismal reading experience.  This in turn could cause the author to write some more books of the same nature. But then the world is full of authors who get great reviews and weak sales reports.


  1. I agree with you, Vince.
    I have read books--romances--that made me feel bad the majority of the story, and I never wanted to read anything by that author again. In fact, as a teenager, it took me a while to figure out sometimes why I was in such a bad mood and/or depressed. Then one day I realized my mood was directly related to what I was reading. While the book may have ended happily, the journey to get there ruined my day/s and affected those around me because of my attitude. I have since become VERY picky about what I read. I want to reach happily ever after but I don't want to be mentally beat up when I get there. :-)

  2. Hi Clari:

    I agree with you 100%. Right now I am writing a follow-up blog that shows how it is possible to write about sad things, while making the reader feel good at the same time.

    Ruth Logan Herne does this to perfection in the first pages of her new book, “The Lawman’s Second Chance”. The hero is very sad to see all the pink flowers at a nursey because his wife, who he dearly loved, died about two years before of breast cancer. You can feel his pain the writing is so vivid. Yet, the man has changed his life. He has moved. He has vowed to spend more time with his three children. He has taken a safer small town police job. He loves his children and he is about to meet the heroine.

    Yes it is a sad situation but it is embedded with hope. Already you see the light at the end of the tunnel. So it is possible to write about very sad things without making the reader feel bad. It’s just important for an author to know the difference.


  3. I agree, Vince. And I also agree about being mentally beat up, Clari. That's a great way to say it.

    Vince, I'm reading this, hoping it's not my latest you're talking about! :) I know mine starts off with some sad things happening. The heroine is kind of in a bad place, and the hero has an upsetting event. But both are determined to keep going, work harder. And sweet things start happening pretty quickly! I hope the reader feels hope from page one. If not, I'll need to work on that harder next time. :)

  4. Hi Missy:

    I would never identify a book that I have a problem with. After all, I could be wrong. I like more telling than the critics do. I also like backstory up front so I can be invested in the story quicker. You might want to read my follow-up post above but consider any similarities between it and any book you might have encountered before to be purely coincidental. And remember: you are one of my favorite authors! Even my wife loves you. : )


  5. Oh, I wasn't asking you to identify it! I'm with you. I'd never talk negatively about a book I don't personally care for. Because we all have different tastes.

    I'll quit fretting. But I do want you to know I always value your opinion. :)