going on over at Smart Bitches at the moment. It was sparked by a blog the marvelous Charlaine Harris made about the writing process on Aug 26th. Part of what Charlaine says is;
I’ve noticed lately that quite a few readers seem angry if books don’t turn out in a way that would have made them happier. That’s an attitude I find hard to understand. (Maybe it’s my age? I don’t know.) The writer is determiner of fate for his or her characters. Writing is a lone pastime, not a group endeavor. It doesn’t take a village to write a book. It takes one person, shut up in a room for hours on end.
I know that readers have every right not to be happy with the way a book ends, or with the way characters meet their fate. But to be angry with the writer? The characters belong to the writer. I know in a certain sense they belong to the reader, too; but the characters live in the writer’s mind and at her/his will.
Certainly I’m not saying that writers are above criticism; certainly I’m not saying that you should buy a book by a writer in whom you no longer have faith. I’m saying that the writer is God, as far as the characters go. The writer’s decisions are final. That’s part of the connection the writer has with her world.
I agree in part with what Charlaine says. The writer is the God of their world, and our characters are ours to do with as we please. However, once we release those books out into the wider world, those characters are no longer wholly ours. They also belonging to the people who buy our books, who love our characters, who believe in our worlds. If we, as writers, (and this is probably a problem more to do with a continuing series than a stand alone novel) take those characters down an unexpected–and unwanted–path, or make them do something that goes totally against previously described character or world rule, then who else is the reader going to blame but the writer? As Charlaine said, we’re the Gods of our worlds. Therefore, we are responsible for the grief or anger of a reader who feels betrayed by the path a series has taken.
I’ll use Embraced by Darkness as an example. I’ve been getting a huge amount of emails about the ending of the book. More so than any other book in the series. Some people just wanted to make sure there was a sixth book coming (there’s actually another 4 planned) but a lot of people actually hated how I ended it, and they let me know in no uncertain terms. And yes, some of them even went as far as saying they hated me. And you know what? I’m okay with that because the ending was unexpected. I wrote that end scene fully aware that some readers were going to be upset. But it didn’t go against character or worldbuilding, and I’m hoping that the readers who were so disappointed will trust me enough to follow the rest of Riley’s journey. Because it is a journey, and it’s not over yet.
Writing may be a lone pastime, but most writers write to sell. And if we’re writing a series, then we can’t do so in a vacuum. We owe it to our readers to at least be aware of their thoughts and opinions. Does that mean writers should blindly follow what the reader wants? Of course not. A writer has to be true to her world and her vision first and foremost. But they just need to be aware of the readers that have made the series possible in the first place.
And they should be prepared for not only anger, but for the reader never to pick up a book of theirs again if they break the reader’s trust.