I'm pleased to welcome Cynthia Sax as the workshop's first guest blogger. She has a great set of ideas below, so read on...the activity is below the blurb. :)
This is the most common advice given to new writers. Why is reading important? Because readers have expectations for characters, for settings, for story premises, for genres.
Reader expectations define genres. In a romance, readers expect either a happy ever after or a happy for now. In a mystery, readers expect a mystery. In a horror, readers expect to be scared. If you deviate from these expectations, your story will no longer belong in the genre.
Reader expectations for characters, what I will be focusing upon today, are more flexible. Writers can and often should deviate from the reader expectations. Not every billionaire hero should be a clone of Christian Grey from Fifty Shades Of Grey. His story has already been told.
Before deviating from reader expectations, I like to know what they are. I do this by reading best selling books. I also ask readers.
Reader expectations vary by genre so it is important that the books and the readers are in my targeted genre.
When I tell young adult readers my hero is a vampire, they describe Edward from Twilight. This vampire sparkles in the sun. He dresses like a teenager. He’s awkward. He drinks blood but he doesn’t kill people. He often doesn’t even drink human blood.
When I tell paranormal erotic romance readers my hero is a vampire, they describe a black-trench-coat-wearing, pale-skinned, dark-haired, blood-drinking vampire. This vampire is smooth, sophisticated, alluring, controlled, and strictly nocturnal. He’s a killer.
These are two very different vampires.
If I were writing a very short story (2,000 words or less), my paranormal erotic romance vampire hero would be exactly the vampire readers expect. If I deviate from the reader expectations, the readers will ask questions. Why is he wearing pink? Why doesn’t he drink blood? How can he walk in the sun? Answering reader questions requires additional words.
Our readers are very intelligent. Any deviations from expectations including scars or broken items grab a reader’s attention. Why are there notches on the hero’s gun? How did he get that nasty scar? They’ll turn pages, reading to uncover the reason for the deviations.
In a longer story, if my hero is exactly what readers expect, readers will become bored. The hero will be ‘just like every other vampire.’ However, if I deviate completely from all of the reader expectations, readers might feel cheated. They’ll tell me he isn’t ‘a real vampire.’
One of the techniques I use to create interesting characters is layering expectations. My paranormal erotic romance hero might be a vampire AND a police officer. I’d then list the expectations for both ‘types’ and compare them.
If there are no similarities in the two lists, I know convincing readers that one hero can be both will be very challenging and require additional words, possibly overshadowing the story I wish to tell. In this case, there are many similarities. Both vampires and police officers take action. They’re physical. They can work at night. They prowl the streets.
Next, I looked at the differences. Vampires are loyal to their coven. Police officers are loyal to their department. Ohhh… conflict. Our hero has split loyalties. Can we use this conflict in our story? Maybe he works a case where the killer they’re looking for is a vampire.
I also use reader expectations to show emotional changes. At the beginning of the story, our vampire hero dresses all in black. He meets a pink-loving heroine. When he falls in love, he adds a pink stickpin to his otherwise all-black outfit. Readers will notice.
This is why I love reader expectations. Any deviation from reader expectations is highlighted. It raises questions and creates excitement. Reader expectations is a powerful tool that I use to build all of my characters.
She desires to be seen. He wants to watch.
Anna Sampson has a naughty secret. Every night, she slips into her neighbor’s yard and swims naked in his pool. She fantasizes that the dynamic young billionaire watches her nightly nude aquatics, his brilliant green eyes gleaming with lust.
She discovers this isn’t pure fantasy. Gabriel Blaine has been watching her via his security cameras, and now that he has returned to L.A., he doesn’t plan to stop. That’s all he wants—to watch. Anna knows she shouldn’t allow him and she certainly shouldn’t want more, but she craves Blaine’s attention, needing his gaze fixed on her body.
Part One of The Seen Trilogy
Author Website: http://cynthiasax.com/
Take a look at your current work-in-progress. What are the expectations you've built up for your reader? What personality traits, visual cues, pieces of foreshadowing have you layered in? Use your journal and write a reflective piece answering those questions (yes, answers can be in note form and don't need to be in complete sentences!) :)