Friday, June 13, 2014

Discussion Question: Author/Reader Contract?

Do you believe that there is an unspoken contract between writer and reader?  If so, what violates that contract?  Should authors care about what their readers want or should the author just write for herself? I've been thinking about these questions, especially when I get to the end of a book and I want to throw it against the wall.  Did the author break that contract?  Is there a contract?  I sort of think there is.  Let's face it, it's a relationship.  If the book is published and a reader buys it, there's a relationship between author and reader.  The author expects people to buy her work (otherwise, she should just write in her journal) so that means that the author should care about readers.  And readers have expectations.

I'll just mention a few of the expectations that I have:

1.  Each book in a series should tie up the main storyline and should have some resolution.  There are so many series these days, but I feel like more and more, I'm reading one really long book that's been divided into three.  What is up with that?  

2.  Characters should remain who they are.  Now that doesn't mean that characters can't have layers, and reveal things that we didn't know about, or that they can't grow and change to some degree.  But you can't have a character who suddenly changes for no reason, who becomes completely different and who acts in a way that doesn't make sense.  (Yes, I'm talking about you, Warner and Adam).

3.  Closure.  This is slightly different from #1.  This about the ultimate ending of the book.  I don't want to read open endings.  Um…that's why I bought the book, I don't want to make up my own ending.  Tell me what happens to the characters!  I don't need to know how they lived the next fifty years, but please, make it clear, don't leave it ambiguous and open to interpretation.  Ugh!  So I want closure, and that includes closure to all of those minor plot points.  Don't keep those dangling or think that we've forgotten about them.  We haven't.  Leave too much hanging, authors, and we are not going to be happy.

4.  Happy endings.  This one you may disagree with, and I'm not saying that a book about teenagers who have cancer should have those teenagers miraculously cured, but come on.  For the most part, readers want happy endings.  So that means this:  Do. Not. Kill. Off. A. Main. Character.  And if you feel like you absolutely have to, make it have a point rather than just writing for shock value.  And make the way they die have meaning.  I won't mention the book I'm talking about but if you've read it, you know.

So what your thoughts?  What expectations do you have when reading a book? When has the author broken that contract (or your trust)?  

Posted by:  Pam


  1. I'm not sure if there is a contract so to say between an author and a reader. I mean first and foremost an author writes a book because she/he feels the need to share that story with the world. And it is THEIR story, and the way they write it is the way that it is meant to be.
    But given that, I think it's different for wildly popular series. Cliffhangers and character deaths and all those other devices just seem like that sometimes - devices meant to lure the reader into the next book. I don't like that at all.
    Whilst I am not a big fan of open endings, I can understand why some books have it - especially contemporary novels. I mean unless the person is on their death bed, they don't know what is going to happen in their life - so if they're telling the story to the reader, it's impossible to have a completely closed ending. But an open ending has to be done right ... I don't want EVERYTHING left open (I at least need to know if the love interests got together, haha!).

    1. Yes, I agree, if it's more of a slice of life kind of story, not everything is going to be closed. And I have no problem with an author telling her story, but at the same time, the author has to be prepared for readers to unhappy if the author chooses to do certain things. I actually ran across a few author posts about this subject and they were the ones who brought up this idea of a contract between author and reader, which I hadn't thought of before. ~Pam

  2. Interesting topic. I'd have to say I don't really think of it as a "contract" between author and reader. I'm sometimes ok with open-ended endings, and, frankly, sometimes your main character(s) is going to die. I want to enjoy the books that I read and I hope that the book I pick up is something that I like, but that isn't always the case and when it's not, I don't feel...betrayed or anything. Lots to think about, though. Great post!

    1. I came across a few authors discussing this, which is why I posted about it. For the most part, they thought there was a contract and they were writing keeping these things in mind.

      Yes, betrayal is a strong word. For me, it's more about disappointment or anger (if I want to throw the book against the wall). To me there's a difference between the author telling her story and an author using plot devices, etc. or doing things for shock value. ~Pam

  3. I think that there is a fine balance. Authors are writing for themselves and for their readers. They need to stay true to themselves, but also be thinking about what their readers want. And what we don't want is open freaking endings. That seriously drives me more crazy than anything else for exactly the reason you listed here. If I wanted to make up my own ending I will write my own book. Grrr... and I agree about characters completely changing. Like Katniss at the end of Mockingjay. And yes, Adam. Warner, not so much because I could see that he really was a sweet guy underneath all the damage, but Adam did a complete 180 in Ignite Me. And no to killing off main characters. In certain books (like TFIOS) yes, it makes sense. It's kind of expected. But in other books, like the one you're talking about here, it was so unnecessary and just really pissed people off. So I guess, I agree, there is some kind of unspoken contract. But there has to be give on both sides. As readers we can't always get what we want because we have to remember that this is the author's work. But authors also need to take into consideration what the readers want as well. Great discussion!

    1. I agree. Writers should be true to themselves, but yes, readers are part of it too. And I agree, open endings make me crazy, I think that's my biggest pet peeve when you're completely done with a series and you still don't know for sure what happens to the main characters. I don't need to know what happens for the next decade or anything, but closure is needed.

      And yes, it's not really that Warner changed, but we were misinformed about what he actually did and why (which was deliberate on the author's part, and I still don't like it).

      And the whole killing off main characters…I just wonder if any author chooses that because it just has to happen, or if the author wants it to happen because it's different, the shock value, etc. And to spend so much time, loving these characters, and then having them die…ugh, I just hate that!

      It is the author's work, but if the author chooses to do some of these things, the author can't blame readers for hating it, right?? And so if negative reviews are based on these things, I think the author is sort of asking for it. :) ~Pam

  4. So I personally think authors are allowed to write whatever the hell they want. It is their story just as it is our choice whether or not to read it. BUT that being said, I reserve the right to (1) hate it, (2) gripe about it; and (3) totally disagree with it. I especially get pissed off when authors do things for stupid or selfish reasons like a) drag a one, maybe two, book long story into three books for money, or b) kill of a main character for shock value, or c)reinvent characters, or d) leave plots/subplots open ended. I think some of these are bad choices as much as they are the result of bad writing and writing yourself out of a hole. Yet I still believe it is the author's prerogative. But those authors can't get mad when readers respond negatively.