Question: What are a writer’s obligations to a reader?
Other than to provide them with a story, not much. Although from scrolling through various posts on Facebook and Twitter you would think it was a hell of a lot more. Over time since I’ve started self-publishing I’ve seen readers say things like (paraphrasing here):
-Writers need to know that cliff-hangers are only acceptable if the next book in the series is already available.
-Cliff-hangers are not acceptable AT ALL!
-It is not acceptable to kill off a main character. Ever!
-Books that don’t contain a HEA (that’s, ‘happily ever after’ for those of you not familiar with the term) are not acceptable.
-It’s not acceptable for the protagonist to be a jerk, or be flawed in any way.
I could go on and on. This is just a small sampling of what I come across on a daily basis while scrolling. I think we’ve, sadly, gotten to a point where a lot of readers feel that a book is a ‘product.’ Although a book is something you buy and pay money for, it is NOT a product, it is a piece of ART! It may or may not be art that you personally enjoy, but it is art nonetheless and as such you have no right to bark at the artist as to what is ‘acceptable’ and what is not. If we were to take dictation from people as to what to write and how to write it there would hardly be any point to sitting down and doing it in the first place. A piece of writing is a piece of that individual’s soul. A lot of writers, myself included, use this art as a method of catharsis. If I sat down and wrote simply to follow a bunch of rules people think I should follow to make my book more enjoyable to them I may as well just sit on my ass and eat ice cream, and I do that plenty enough already!
Honestly if you feel that passionately about writers following all these god forsaken ‘rules’, perhaps you should be plotting a novel yourself! Write it following these directives you hold so dear, but be warned, someone is waiting around the corner to point out any and all rules YOU would be breaking. There would also be some who would say your book is ‘boring’ or ‘predictable’ as it doesn’t take any chances at all.
There are very few TV shows that actually inspire me to be a better writer, but The Walking Dead is one of them. The reason? They routinely break all of the rules I’ve listed above, and then some. Both the show and the comic have little to no regard for avoiding cliff-hangers or killing main characters. My god, that’s what makes the show so exciting. You never know who is going to bite the dust from week to week. Quite often it’s someone I’ve grown fond of. The writers are absolutely fearless and I am always in awe of how thing play out. It’s popular in part, I believe, because very few shows right now are taking the kind of chances they are. I salute them.
Of course you are welcome to like what you like. If you want the things listed above there is nothing wrong with that, but if you read a book that didn’t give you any of those things it just means you didn’t like it, not that the writer did it ‘wrong’. Writers are very appreciative of anyone who likes their work, but most of us don’t want to write a certain way just to placate people. It feels like selling out. That’s the beauty of building your own world. There’s no way to do it wrong because there is no ‘wrong’. And like I said, if you’re that passionate, Nanowrimo is coming up. Try creating your own.