Saturday, November 13, 2010

Taking Readers into Account

IMG_20100921_104146Every night at bedtime, I make up a story for my daughter.

She loves them.  But she’s a very picky listener.  She prefers stories centered around her favorite cat, Shadow.  With the magic of storytelling, Shadow can speak English and have exciting adventures.

In real life, Shadow is a fluffy, fat, beautiful tomcat.  He’s also really mischievous. It fits his personality to have him do mischievous things in the bedtime stories.

But if my daughter can tell that my story is veering off into an area where Shadow is getting into some sort of scrape and heading into trouble, she revolts.

“No! Don’t make Shadow do it, Mama! Change it! Change the story!”

Yes, she would rather hear a watered-down, happy-sappy story about Shadow having a picnic with her on the top of a breezy hill in the sunshine rather than hear an exciting tale of adventure with Shadow possibly getting in over his furry head.

She just can’t bear to hear anything bad—even something made up—about her favorite pet.

It reminds me of the problems JK Rowling faced when she was writing her last Harry Potter book.  I read an interview with her where she expressed her discomfort at the fact that parents would email her begging that Harry’s life be spared so their children wouldn’t be devastated.

Then there was the case of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  He eventually got so tired of writing Sherlock that he killed him off during a fight with his archenemy Moriarty at a waterfall.  Readers were so outraged that he had to bring Sherlock back from the dead.

I don’t really have much of an answer for this. Obviously writers want creative freedom to write the story the way they want to. This has, I think, to be balanced with the commercial element of writing for our readers. 

I think if we are planning to do away with a main character, then some foreshadowing would be a good idea.  Anything that’s really abrupt and out of the blue and doesn’t fit with the tone of the story and our readers might feel cheated. 

Yes, I can have Shadow the cat get into a major jam and have to spend his imaginary afternoon in time out for his mischief.  (I would never dream of having the kitty get into any harm in a story.) But if I’ve lost my listener because she’s plugging up her ears, then I’m basically telling a bedtime story to myself.

How much are you taking your readers into account as you write your book or your sequels?