Veronica Cline Barton
How to Disengage a Reader in 4 Easy Steps… #SeriesWritersBeware
In addition to now writing my own mystery series, I’m a voracious reader of many other series—have been for over fifty years. There’s nothing I like better than reading the next release to a favorite cozy mystery series. I follow a few famous authors, and I’ve invested years (and considerable $$) waiting for the coveted next release to a series that I’ve grown to love (and I might add, it can be a very long year waiting for the next book release). This is an investment I’m willing to make for the characters I love, however, and is the highest compliment an author can receive from a reader, IMO.
To me, there’s nothing better (or worse) than waiting for the next release of a series to be published, one you’ve waited for with so much anticipation, anxiously awaiting to see if your favorite characters would finally take the next steps in their adventures and life. Oh the joy when the book you pre-ordered shows up in your Kindle, ready to dazzle your eyes. But then, the killjoy when you’ve read a few chapters and wonder, am I reading the same series?
This has happened to me more than a few times in my reading career. I don’t know if it’s because the author has grown tired of a series or set of characters (should every author think about having a cutoff point for a series?) Or, perhaps an author has moved onto another genre or theme? (More power to you, but please be kind and bring things to a conclusion if you do decide to move on…) In some cases I think age may creep into writing, there has been more than one author accused of being less than present when a release to a long running series has no resemblance to prior works (just like any other occupation, sometimes it’s best to know when to retire).
As a reader (and a writer), I think it’s invaluable to keep track of the disengaging steps that can kill a series storyline, and most importantly, lose you readers, which is something no writer wants. Here’s my list of 4 steps to disengage your readers:
Step 1: The Character and Personalities of Characters Change Dramatically
One of the things I love most when reading a series is getting to know the main character and his or her entourage. I enjoy reading about their worries and concerns, their joys and dreams. When I can gel with a character it’s an amazing feeling, just like establishing a new friendship, a new bond. This bond will keep me reading and wanting more as time passes (which means I will keep buying your books).
I can accept that just as in real life, things change in a fictional world too, altering a character’s life path—I can deal with that. What I can’t deal with is when a beloved character’s personality and actions change out of the blue, making me wonder who is this person? What happened? I’m not talking about just major changes either, it can be a series of little things such as suddenly bursting into tears every time a hiccup happens (you lose your cozy mystery credibility darling), showing prejudice (where did that come from?), or reacting differently to circumstances you’ve been through many times (don’t you remember the last five books?)
Relationships matter here too, do you really expect me to think you’re now suddenly OK with a person who has been a pain in your backside for the entire series? Or worse, some one who is supposed to be the love of your life flirts with another woman right in front of your fictional eyes (and then gaslights the heroine telling her it’s her imagination)? Something fishy here…
Step 2: The Same Storyline Over and Over
I get it as a reader that I’m drawn to a particular style of writing, particular genres that have very established storyline formulas. I’m OK with that. What I’m not OK with is a basic rehash of the same story over and over again that basically just involves a change in character names. This is especially an issue when a character lives in the same house, the same village, doesn’t travel, isn’t really evolving as a character—the readers just get the same circumstances and plot lines. It’s like I’m not supposed to notice, especially when they’re back to back stories? After a while these series become very lame, and once again, a writer will lose readers. It doesn’t take much effort to add in some new twists, new circumstances to keep a series fresh, folks. Milking the masses doesn’t last long.
Step 3: Loose Ends That Never Seem to Get Resolved
I can appreciate that just as in real life, sometimes there are no resolutions to a crisis or situation. Some things are always going to be left unsaid, un-done. As a reader, I would appreciate it if a writers could at least give me a sense of closure, or at least a clue, as to which way certain loose ends are going to pan out. As a for instance in a certain series I love, I still have no idea if one of the main characters is a spy/secret agent type, or a philandering gigolo (I can accept a cloak of secrecy for a while, but it’s been six years now, I can handle the truth). Or in the case of a non-caring mother (or royal in one instance), is she really so dimwitted that she doesn’t see her only daughter starving with no place to live? I can see certain oversights occurring once or twice, but again, it’s now been years…
Step 4: The Hook That Never Materializes…
I have come to believe in the power of the dreaded #WritersBlock and the even worse #InspirationVoid that plagues writers much too frequently. Once I become a frequent reader of an author, I’m pulling for her or him to keep writing, always anxious for his or her next book. I know that sometimes, despite one’s best intentions, things just do not come together for a story. It happens to all writers, both the famous and the unknowns.
As a reader, I’ll keep the faith, for a time. If you tell me certain things are going to occur in the next book, please have them occur. There is nothing worse than dangling a major plotline in front of a reader, only to jerk it back on the last page, assuming the reader will be OK waiting until next year’s release. The ploy may work (fool me once), or the reader might just decide it’s time to look for a new series. #JustSayin
My goal for this post was to try and help writers and their readers stay together—many of these ‘disengaging steps’ are easy to correct if a writer will put in the effort. Do you have some pet peeves that kill a storyline/series for you? Did they get resolved, or did you leave? Dying to know…. (your thoughts matter!) 😉
Crowns and Kisses,
P.S. My Day of the Dead tapestry pics are from our trip to Albuquerque last fall, their Hot Air Balloon festival is coming up in October, #JustSayin…. Gemma would approve 🙂