Saturday, 17 October 2009

The reader's trust

In writing classes, I've been taught about the level of trust between a reader and an author. The author makes a contract of sorts with the reader; that is, the reader trusts that the information the author gives them is true, that the author won't deceive them. Obviously, in a novel, the story told won't be true; but it will be true within the story, if that makes sense.

Take Jodi Picoult. She's an excellent and a talented writer; but she changes the story in the last chapter of every one of her books, turning each story on its head with a surprise "twist" at the end. To me, that feels like she betrayed my trust in her: I stopped reading her books, because what's the point in getting emotionally invested in a story that you know will all change in the last chapter? You can't go the whole way through a book claiming that X is true, and in the last chapter find out that X is all lies (unless it's a mystery/detective/thriller).

I think cliffhangers betray a reader's trust as well. I like books to be standalone books, regardless of whether they're part of a series. I like to be able to read a book in a series, and not need to get the next one to find out how the hero/heroine gets themselves out of the predicament that arose at the end of the book.

Take Juliet Marillier. She's my favourite author, and combines well-researched historical settings with great fantasy details, stirring romances and characters that pull at my heart-strings. I buy every book she's released — I even pre-ordered her most recent release, a first for me.

Juliet Marillier writes a lot of series.

But her books are complete in and of themselves.

When an author ends on a cliffhanger, to me it feels like they're trying to blackmail me into reading the next book. You care about this character now, don't you? Well, look what's happened! Mwaahahahahaa! Now you must read the next book, or you'll never know!

I buy Juliet Marillier's books, not because she blackmails me into feeling I "need" to find out what happens next, but because I love the richness of her writing, her characters, her worlds.

If a book ends on a cliffhanger, I might buy the next one in the series. I might read until the series ends. But I'll have a grudge against that author, and it's less likely I'll buy anything else they've written, because I don't want to be blackmailed again.

Does anyone else ever feel like this?


Aimee said...

What a fascinating post. I actually feel the opposite to you in relation to book 'twists' - I LOVE them, particularly if I get emotionally involved.

Books are dangerous creatures sometimes, and I enjoy the thrill of them being unpredictable - in this way, they're just like never really know them 100%.


Stace said...

My mother hates magicians - even really good ones - for the same reason: she feels they are trying to get one over her!

I feel insulted when a writer/director goes on for too long at the end, over-explaining things which can be taken for granted by anyone with half a wit.

I've only read one of Jodi Picoult's books, Plain Truth, and didn't feel there was a twist at the end. It was certainly unexpected, for me! I started Change of Heart a few weeks ago and wasn't getting into it. After checking with some friends who'd read it, I was persuaded to ditch it because they said 'the ending sux'. Perhaps that's what you're alluding to! I didn't dig deeper.

Do you like Roald Dahl's short stories? I love his unexpected endings. I know before I read them that he's going to dish up something odd, so I know what I'm in for.

I've written shorts with twists at the end and some people in my writing group hate them. Others find them clever.

I'm coming to the conclusion that endings, like many other things in books, are down to personal taste.

Personally, I like an unexpected turn of events but I fully agree with you about starting as you mean to go on re genre. I don't want a story to delve into the supernatural and fantasy if I've been led to expect realism.