Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Ideal Reader: Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour #7

This is one of those subjects that really should be easy, right?  Authors should know who their ideal readers would be . . . except it isn't so much about them as it is about us.  And we're not always as good at looking at ourselves as we are at looking out into the boundless dark where readers lurk, just beyond our reach.

We are our own ideal readers.  If we can't first please ourselves with our work, how can we possibly hope to lure any of the rest of you into the pages of our make-believe worlds?  I know what pleases me, even if I don't articulate it well.  (Such a sad thing for an author to say!)  But even though I enjoy what I write, I do read other material, too.  I don't expect an ideal reader to want to read nothing but my work.  Even I would get bored! Which means I know there isn't only one way to write stories.  But there is a best way for me.

I do have my own slant on writing (as do we all).  I think you'll find mine a bit different from a lot of what is out there, though there isn't a any single factor I can point to.  The pieces add up to what is uniquely mine.

My characters are, of course, my own.  They are where I start and finish, but a character is nothing without a story to tell.

I write -- and read -- adventure stories.  I want characters who find themselves in unusual and dangerous situations and fight for the right reasons.  I'm not interested in dark characters who might be only marginally better than the bad guys.  I'm rarely interested in tales of ambiguity where you really can't tell (and often don't care) which side should win.

I have been told I have a good young adult 'voice' for writing.  I write a good deal of YA material, but not always.  People (including publishers) have sometimes said that if my main characters were younger, the story would be a good YA book.  However, if the characters were younger, then the story would not be the same.  That's made me wonder why adult characters can't have adventures of the same type as YA books.  Yes, there is a line of knowledge and experience that is crossed (which is why just changing the age of a character will not automatically make the story work).  However, does that mean every 'adult' aged character can't face problems a young adult would face and have to deal with them in much the same way?

Sex is not the answer to everything.  It does not make an adult.  And yet there seems to be a rule in the publishing world that once a character crosses a certain age line (25 to 30 at the tops) they must be more interested in their love life than they are in saving the world. (Yes, I am being facetious  here.  I know it's not always that way.)  I have had people dislike my work specifically because I don't play up the romance and sex side of an older character and I had one say that because they are not 'children' my friendship relationships were unrealistic. 

Actually, what we were dealing with was reader expectations.  They expected a certain type of behavior based on age and on all the other books they've read.  They are not, obviously, my ideal readers.

I am not a romance writer.  I might have a romance in a book now and then (not all of them do), but it is not my focus.  Adventure, remember.  Strange places, interesting people, obstacles to overcome.  Friendship is a very important factor in most of my books as is loyalty.  That doesn't mean every character will epitomize these virtues and many of them have to find the path to such beliefs.

Ideal reader?

You are out there.  I hear from some of you now and then.  You find something enjoyable in my books and for a little while we share an adventure.  Many of you treasure stories of friendship across genders and tales of people who do the right thing for altruistic reasons.  You are people who do not need every book they read to follow the same pattern, and sometimes find a rousing adventure (whatever the genre) a nice escape.

I look forward to hearing more from you and hope that others join in.

If you want to get to read about nearly twenty other writers, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Be sure to read tomorrow's post by Sharon Kemmerer


Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

Even with just two fairly obscure books to my name, I've been faced with readers' expectations. Romance, if there is any at all, is a side issue. Sex rarely enters my stories and if it does, it's suggested rather than graphic. My description should make it clear that readers shouldn't expect sex, but it's happened, at least once, so far. And that seems to have something to do with genre. One reader expected my novel about slavery to have lots of hot sex.

Maybe we need to make it part of our writing practice to deliberately confound expectations. Otherwise, we help strengthen stereotypes, as in the belief that over a certain age, the characters must be centered on their love lives.

Zette said...

I agree: Let's keep confounding reader expectations and pleasing the readers who are not looking for the same things in all books! (grin)

B.C. Matthews said...

Hi Zette!

I think that people have expectations about "lighter" adventure stores and heavy romance aspects, as if adventure stories aren't interesting enough by themselves without the characters wanting to rip off each others clothes. I like it when sexual tension isn't constantly used as a motivator for everything the hero/ine does. There are other types of love out there to explore in fiction, and friendship is a great one.

I think you hit it on the nail that we write what we love to read, and hope that other people love it as much as we do.

Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

B.C., I'm slowly working out a story that would ordinarily be in the male/male BDSM genre, but I'm turning it on its head. No whippings, no sex. It's about exploring one's own needs and building a relationship that defies the expectations of people in that lifestyle.

Alex F. Fayle said...

I say I write YA because I write about coming of age and finding oneself and yet I have many characters who are adult because many adults haven't yet come of age or found themselves.