Before, I had rarely questioned an author’s literary license to do what they wished with their books. If they wrote the book, it was their choice to do as they pleased. They put in the hard work of writing a novel (!!!) and were successful in getting it published. While I as a reader might not have always liked the book, I didn’t feel that it was my place to really say that something was completely wrong. Sure, some things could’ve been better, but improvement was possible.
Ah, the naivety and blissful ignorance of Before.
Then came THE BOOK. The book that deceived me halfway through and ruined my ability to enjoy the rest of the book. This left me wondering… does an author have limitless license to do as they please, or are there ‘lines’ that must not be crossed? And, to be fair, I decided to question if there are certain things a reader must do to be able to fully judge a book.
Because I don’t want to make this post all about The Book (okay, sorry for all the capitalization! Maybe a smidge dramatic…) I’ve decide to link it here if you wish to view it.
So here it is: my personal thoughts on what a sort of unwritten Author-Reader Contract would entail, if it existed.
I, the Author, pledge to…
Not base my book on a lie. Is there anything worse than feeling abused or deceived as a reader? No one likes to reach the end of a book and find that ‘it was all a dream’, not real, or that everything happening wasn’t true. On occasion there will be books that can pull this off, but it is a fine line between feeling ‘surprised/intrigued’ and ‘tricked’. A reader needs to have advance warning and maybe the occasional clue.
Not kill off the main character. While a character’s life may be horrible, and others around them might die, the MC should remain alive. They should be able to live through whatever happened to them — or else who will be left to tell the story? A reader needs to have some sort of ‘safety net’ that they can rely on. If a book has a narrator however, the author may be able to get away with killing off the MC, because life still continues in the book and readers can know what happens. I can think of only a few exceptions to this, and they all must follow the next rule:
End my book in a proper manner. A book’s ending must have some sort of closure. Be it a happily ever after, a resolution to the characters’ problems, or just a general sense of hope or finality, an author must find a way to wrap up the book. It is not acceptable to end a book with the MC feeling utter despair, or without having given the book some sort of purpose. Violating this rule will leave the reader feeling as if their time has been wasted. Ending mid-sentence is generally frowned upon (Here’s looking at you, An Imperial Affliction!).
I, the Reader, pledge to…
Try to read the whole book. Because really, it’s hard to judge things about the book (characters, where the plot if headed, etc.) when they are unfinished. Would you have told da Vinci what was wrong with the Mona Lisa before it was even done? (I hope not. That would be rude.) If you must DNF a book, understand that you’ll never have the whole story so you cannot fully judge the book.
Go into a book without too many preconceived notions. If you’ve already decided to hate a character because of something you read in the synopsis, it’ll be tough to ever like that character (because who likes to admit that they are wrong?). Starting a book with an open mind will always make for a better reading experience.
Do my best to not compare it to other books. While exceedingly difficult, a book deserves its chance to be enjoyed for what it is, not because it reminds you so much of one of your favorite books (or of a book you hated). Just because it’s similar to another book doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be read — the book could surprise you. So many books out there are ‘like the Hunger Games’, and are still unique and worthwhile reads.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Authors may kill off the MC or have a major plot twist that a reader will accept — and even enjoy. A reader may decide to DNF a book and feel justified in not reading the rest.
But in my opinion, these rules outline what a reader expects from an author, and what an author expects in return. Readers must give a book a chance, and an author must not take things too far or write without purpose. It’s a two-way street.
Do you think an unwritten Author-Reader Contract exists? Should authors and readers generally follow these rules? What books have you read that violated these rules (good or bad)?