Writing a story is a deeply personal act. You are revealing a portion of yourself that cannot be seen by casual eyes – perhaps not even evident within more intimate relationships. No matter how different from yourself a character might be, when you breathe life into him, you are making him part of you. You are telling the world that somewhere inside your being is this thought that has become a person in your story.
Reading is a personal act as well. No two people ever truly read the same story. Each person sees their own cast, hears their own voices, and understands their own pains and joys, through the words on the page.
To write is to trust others – usually strangers – to understand and to care. To read is to trust an author with your heart. Every novel becomes a pact between reader and author. Two people speaking and listening, without ever meeting face to face.
It is the author’s responsibility to maintain the trust if she wants the reader to return to her work. Breaking the trust by whatever means – using offensive images, betraying a character, misrepresentation, or abandoning a character without resolution – breaks the pact and shatters trust. It hurts the integrity of your writing. You’re not just damaging the offending story, but also any future books you write. Once a reader has been hurt, he won’t return. He has plenty of other options.
While this all may seem obvious to most writers, many authors today are bucking traditions and writing across genres in the same name. Authors like Liz Curtis Higgs write children’s books, Christian fiction, and inspirational titles. Many authors jump between romance and suspense, while others pen non-fiction and novels alike.
Each genre has its own structure, as well as reader expectations. The trick is to create a story that maintains the structure of the genre and fulfills the reader’s expectations. A Christian author may write suspense or romance novels, but if they use language or content that, though it may be common in the other genres, is inconsistent with their Christian values, they are breaking the pact of trust they have set for their readers. They haven’t held up their end of the bargain. They lose their integrity, and in turn, lose the reader.
An author of histories will lose his readers if he fails to properly research for a suspense novel. An inspirational writer may drop the ball if his fictional characters are flat or unsympathetic.
The reader knows what she wants when she picks up the book with your name on the cover. All you have to do is make good on your promise and give it to her.