So…I’m getting ready to go to bed, and I get an email from a reader. Yay, right?
Er, no. This is an irate reader. A reader who read Ecstasy Unveiled and is angry because I “broke my own rules” by creating Sin. She even pointed to this review and comment (which is actually a mostly good review) at Amazon that proves her case. (Oh, it’s nice to know how much I suck just before I go to bed. Yay, me!)
Okay, so anyway, this post isn’t about an angry reader mail. I actually get stuff like that all the time. I’m broken in.
This is about the rules of your paranormal (or real) universe.
Every fictional world has rules. These are promises an author shares with the reader that go like this: “I, the author, swear to make you feel safe and secure within my world so that you trust me, my writing, and my decisions, and you’ll know that I won’t pop a blue troll into a world where I’ve said blue trolls won’t exist.”
The reader’s rules? Well, it would be nice if readers had enough faith to believe that any deviations from the rules will be explained, BUT…that’s not required. As a reader, I’ve been burned before, and it takes a while to trust an author I’ve never read.
So, yeah…as a reader, IMO, your only rule is to read the book you bought at your convenience. Don’t like the book? It happens? Love it? That’s awesome.
Authors? We have to make sure we don’t break our own rules.
What if blue trolls DO exist in the world where you’ve said they don’t? First of all, there had better be a damned good reason. If they show up, there NEEDS to be an explanation.
I’m a rule-breaker, but that’s because in the real world, there are exceptions to every rule — BUT THERE ARE REASONS FOR THE EXCEPTIONS.
Let’s take Wraith. Wraith is an anomaly. But he doesn’t break any RULES. I said there are no female Seminus demons. I never said that vampire Seminus demons can’t exist. Just that none ever had. I love anomalies.
But Sin…she’s a rule-breaker. Yes, another anomaly. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve run out of ideas — I had her planned from the very beginning…she was an initial idea. I LOVE to break rules. (Have I mentioned that?)
And here’s where the reader confidence thing comes in. By this point in the series, I HOPE I’ve earned enough reader trust that they will know that Sin’s existence will be explained. She didn’t pop up from nowhere. There IS a reason for her existence. If I didn’t achieve that trust…well, that sucks. I clearly didn’t do my job for some readers.
World-building can be seriously challenging for authors, especially in the fantasy and paranormal world. But even in the real world, it can be difficult, because people “know” things in real life. (And actually, that’s the big challenge for writing contemporary and historical novels — overcoming the things people “know” that aren’t true, or things people know without seeing any exceptions.)
In fact, I would say that keeping reader trust in a contemporary novel is actually harder than in a paranormal. In a paranormal, I can create my own rules, and as long as I do it believably and don’t break those rules (heh) readers can believe it. But having your character pump his own gas in Oregon? You’ll get crucified. (For those who don’t know, you can’t pump your own gas in Oregon.)
But say you NEED your character to pump his own gas? Here’s where the rule-breaking rules come in. There’s a way…you just have to make sure it’s believable. If you have your hero pull up to a gas pump and start pumping, fine. That happens. My husband did it, not knowing he wasn’t supposed to. Got quarter of a tank before the attendant came flying out of the station like he was going to explode. But the attendant DID come out.
So…don’t have your hero pump his gas, go in to pay, and the attendant is like, “Oh, sorry, dude. Oops, didn’t see you.” Even if that happened to you, it’s just not believable, and let me repeat, EVEN IF IT HAS HAPPENED. That’s how we people are. The fiction world has to be more believable than the real one.
You need a good, solid reason for the attendant to not have noticed that the gas was getting pumped.
So have your hero go inside and find the attendant shot from a robbery. Or tied up in the back. Whatever. You CAN break that rule — but make it believable. You’ve got to make it obvious that you, the author, KNOW that you’re breaking a rule or that you KNOW you’re doing something that might not be normal.
Just recently, there was a conversation about pop/soda/Coke on Twitter. It reminded me of a critique I got a long time ago, where I had a character order a pop in Maine. I got nailed to the freaking wall for that. “We say soda in Maine!!!!”
Yes, but my character was from Washington state, where they say “pop.”
Didn’t matter to the critiquers, because they knew that in Maine, people say soda. Period.
Were the critiquers morons? No. I, as an author, did not do my job. I didn’t convey, to the reader, that *I* knew I was doing something out of the ordinary. I made it look like I didn’t research, didn’t take into consideration reality, whatever.
The fix? So simple. Make it clear that I knew that what I was having my character say was out of the ordinary.
“Can I have a pop?” Tom asked.
The clerk cocked an eyebrow. “You aren’t from around here, are you?”
Tom grinned. “Just moved here from Washington.”
NOW the reader knows that the author knows that what he said didn’t make sense.
Okay, so…rules. I breaks them. I like breaking them. I like it when authors break them. But show me that you know you’re breaking them and that there’s a reason for it.
I hope I’ve earned reader trust by now, but no author works for everyone.
Readers, have you been burned before, so that you have a hard time trusting certain authors — or all authors? Authors, what do YOU think is harder to create — a fantasy/paranormal world, or a real one?