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How do you balance meeting your reader’s expectations with also surprising them?

August 31, 2018 by in category The Extra Squeeze by The Extra Squeeze Team tagged as , , ,
Balance | The Extra Squeeze Team | A Slice of Orange

Dear Extra Squeeze Team,

How do you balance meeting your reader’s expectations with also surprising them?

Rebecca Forster | Extra Squeeze

Rebecca Forster 

USA Today Bestselling author of 35 books, including the Witness series and the new Finn O’Brien series.


Think of it this way:

Instead of writing a book, you’re making a movie. You put a lot of hard work into it and you think it’s pretty good so you’re kind of proud of the film. It turns out that all the people who see the movie think it’s SPECTACULAR and they want more. So you make more movies and you work hard to make each one a little better, more creative, more surprising. But people think that each movie is A LOT better.  They LOVE your movies.

They can’t get enough of your movies.

You’re nominated for an academy award!

You’re going to walk the red carpet. But what to wear? You don’t want to disappoint anyone. Do you pick a neon pink, crystal-covered number because you are a star? Do you go for a classic cut gown because you want your audience knows you’re in it for the craft? Or, as the big night approaches, are you paralyzed by indecision and opt for the black, wide legged pants and a white blouse that you’ve worn to every wedding you attended in the last ten years? The latter choice, while sincerely attractive, will bore your audience to tears.

Just now I am trying to decide ‘what to wear; as I write book eight of The Witness Series. I had no intention of writing another Witness Series book until fans started asking why I left one beloved character out in the (literal) wilderness and I am paralyzed. One thing I know for sure is that my readers want me to answer the question of what happened to Billy but they want me to answer it in a way that pleases them.  The problem is that I don’t know what I think. Should I give them a real crystal covered ending? A sober, long dress ending or do I play it safe in those palazzo pants and shirt and be done with it all.

I am driving myself crazy with what ifs and indecision. The last thing I want is to disappoint. But when this question was asked of the Extra Squeeze team, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t considered. It could be that my readers are telling me that what they really want is a natural end to the journey they have been on with me.  Maybe they are gently pushing me to the neon pink dress shimmering with crystals because these characters deserve a conclusion that is spectacular and satisfying and true to the people they have become. Not characters, people who have a their own reality to live.

I guess there is nothing I can do but write. In the end, when this book is reviewed I will know if I was true to everyone: myself, my readers and these wonderful characters.

Jenny Jensen | A Slice of Orange

Jenny Jensen

Developmental editor who has worked for twenty plus years with new and established authors of both fiction and non-fiction, traditional and indie.

Writers always want to satisfy their fan base, gain new readers and at the same time, not lose sight of their own creative core. It’s a balancing act but I don’t think it’s always necessary. “Reader expectations” vary from writer to writer and from reader to reader but I think those expectations generally concern character; motivations, future plotting, desired outcomes. Successful series characters become dear friends — I’d have Miss Marple or Kinsey Millhone over to dinner anytime!  The reader becomes invested.


I have clients who take reader input very seriously and I respect that.  When reader’s express expectations that are at odds with what the author has in mind my response is to remind her that she is the one writing the story. Unless the fan suggestion is far better than what the writer had in mind — and that has happened, more than once! —  I suggest that the writer bear the fan concerns in mind but not stray from her creative stream. Again, she is the creator of this work. It isn’t a collaborative effort.


If your work has garnered fans so engaged with your characters that they have developed their own expectations (or wishful ideas for story direction) then it is a blazing sign that your work is successful.  A huge part of that success is the authenticity and originality of your voice. You write what your creative brain directs and the quality and truth of that is what appeals to readers. To consider fan input and to find you can accommodate some if not all of that input makes sense, but if it does not fit, gently reject it. There is nothing more jarring than a story that takes a discordant trajectory. You, as the author, know and feel when the story hits an off note — or you should!


Surprising readers is your job and you must be doing it right if your fan base is developing expectations. Inherent in that ‘surprise’ is often a trajectory that goes against reader expectations. That’s why it’s a surprise. Scarlett doesn’t wind up with Rhett. And that famous ending rings true to the original, authentic voice of the proceeding 960 pages. It’s still surprising readers 82 years later.


The best genre writing follows a formula of sorts and that formula contains some reader expectations; romance will have a successful love match, crime novels will vanquish the bad guy etc. Within that genre formula is a lot of room to play with character development and plot surprise. How each writer uniquely handles that is what keeps us genre readers coming back. Accommodate reader expectations if they work; write a gentle personal note when they don’t.

Robin Blakely | The Extra Squeeze Team | A Slice of Orange

Robin Blakely

PR/Business Development coach for writers and artists; CEO, Creative Center of America; member, Forbes Coaches Council.

Robin is again, out of the loop. We have a suspicion she’s somewhere having a lot of fun without us.

H. O. Charles | A Slice of Orange

H.O. Charles

Cover designer and author of the fantasy series, The Fireblade Array

Well, I managed to miss meeting my readers’ expectations in my desire to surprise them recently! In that instance, I had to go back and change the ending to give them pretty much what they wanted. It meant a more predictable ending, but happier readers. For an end-of-series ending, that was more important than my own ego.
As for the middle bits… I dunno. Some reviewers say my writing is predictable while others find it very twisty-turny. My advice would be to write something that pleases you, but be prepared for the fact that some will be impressed and others won’t. You cannot please everyone.

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