Monday, May 3, 2021

Reader Expectation

Reader expectation is a powerful force. Effective story openings introduce main characters and the dilemmas they’ll be facing. Themes and settings are suggested. By the end of the story, the reader expects the characters and themes to be fleshed out, and the dilemmas to be resolved one way or another. The reader also expects a satisfying ending – happy or sad – with the loose ends tied up.

Expectations also apply to non-fiction genres, including craft books on writing. Several years ago, when I first began writing, I bought craft books I saw highly recommended online. One of the books I ordered sight unseen was Stephen King’s On Writing (2000, 2010 paperback). The book arrived, and I saw the subtitle: A Memoir of the Craft. On page seventeen, the first page of narrative after his three forewords, King states, “This is not an autobiography.” I stopped reading on page twenty-three. I had expected a craft book; instead, I had purchased a mildly interesting autobiography.

I signed up for a writing course that begins later this month. One of the pre-course homework assignments is to read Stephen King’s On Writing. I pulled it from the discard pile and knocked off the dust. This time I made it to page one hundred-three before tossing it on the ephemeral “Should Be Read” pile. At least I’d found a helpful editing example on pages fifty-six-to-fifty-seven. I’ll read the remaining one hundred-eighty-eight pages before the course starts. In those pages, I expect to find the jewels for which the book is so highly recommended.

* * *

On the other hand, if you want a craft book that shows examples of what not to do from an editor’s point of view, consider How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them – A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman (2008). I chuckled at the Introduction and belly-laughed through Part I. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this helpful and highly entertaining book.