Good morning! Coffee Time with Kara is a new, weekly feature here on the blog where I–Kara Leigh Miller, Editorial Director for Anaiah press–will share tips, tricks, and secrets about writing, querying, publishing, and everything in between. So, grab your cup of coffee and get comfy…
Have you ever read the blurb for a book and knew right away that it would be something you’d really enjoy, only to find out it wasn’t what you’d hoped? Or maybe you’ve started reading a book that you were really engrossed in only to find out it takes a weird twist you never saw coming and then it becomes a different story all together? It’s frustrating, right? And disappointing. And dare I say–misleading??
This happened to me recently. I found a book on Amazon…loved the cover and blurb. I one-clicked and started reading immediately. And it was GOOD! Wonderful, creepy atmosphere. Vivid descriptions. Witty dialogue. Likable characters. It had everything a great novel should have. Until I got about a third of the way through and then everything fell apart.
(Now, before I go any further, I need to tell you a bit about the book. No, I will not name the book or the author, but for the sake of this post, please know it was a secular title with supernatural elements: A human girl surrounded by a lot of non-human, supernatural beings.)
Okay, back to my point… I was completely caught up in this story, and then at the 1/3 mark, I find out that the heroine I’d come to adore wasn’t human after all. She was, in fact, the same supernatural being as those around her. That might not have bothered me so much except for the fact that as a reader, I wasn’t given one single hint or clue about this “twist.” It came out of nowhere, almost like the author needed to throw a curve-ball in order to keep the book exciting. At first, I was shocked. Then I was confused. Surely I’d missed something, right? (I went back and skim read the opening–I hadn’t missed any cleverly hidden clues. There simply were none.) My shock and confusion morphed into anger and disappointment.
But more than that, I felt deceived!
Which is what led to the topic of this post. As an author, you make a promise to your readers. This promise comes in various forms–the cover art (often indicative of the genre and tone), the blurb, and then the actual story. The first several chapters are crucial to establishing a trusting relationship with your reader. You’re essentially “promising” them that you’ll tell them a certain type of story with a certain type of character. So when you suddenly drop a bomb, you’ve broken that promise to your readers.
Side note: I am NOT talking about plot twists here. Those are something completely different, and when used correctly, they can be incredibly powerful. I’m talking specifically about leading the readers to believe the story is one way when it’s actually something else entirely.
So, how can you ensure you don’t unintentionally break your promise to your readers?
- Know the “rules” and “expectations” of the genre you’re writing. Readers chose to read a certain type of story because they want a specific experience. For example, readers like to read romance because they want to follow a couple through an emotional journey that ends with a happily-ever-after.
- Scrutinize the choices you make while writing. If you throw in a twist, ask yourself why. Is it there because it needs to be; because it takes the plot in a direction that will lead to a stronger character arc? Or is it there because you want it to be there, because you think it will shock your readers?
- If you are going to take your story in a direction that’s vastly different from what you’ve presented, know that ahead of time and allow your readers the courtesy of potentially figuring it out. Give them clues and hints so as not to blindside them.
Side note: I’m not suggesting that you need to follow all the genre rules and expectations to the letter. Rules are meant to be broken, providing you first understand the rules, know why you’re breaking them, and the risks that come with doing so.
Be sure to come back next Monday when I’ll be talking about Perfect Character Syndrome and why it’s bad for your book. In the meantime, if you have any questions or have a topic you want me to address, leave it in the comments.
Keep on writing 🙂