Yeah, I know. Who the heck cares what kinda rules an indie author might have for writing, right? Me, that’s who. I received a review for 33 A.D. this week that is both good and bad. The reviewer didn’t feel that the book was truly a vampire book, but she really enjoyed it as a period political thriller. I always said the book was more thriller than horror, but to say it’s not really a vampire book? Yeah, that stung a bit.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think I am bashing the reviewer. She is actually a very nice woman who had a number of useful suggestions and a keen eye for editing. I incorporated almost everything she said into my most recent revision of the book. Certain historical inaccuracies have been addressed, mostly to do with terminology. I knew about some of them, but since I can’t actually write the book in ancient Hebrew, I went ahead and used modern idioms that I felt the reader would relate to. Kind of like Christopher Moore did in The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. (An excellent book, by the way.) Not a huge deal to me, I switched the ones that really stood out, and left a few that I thought were still OK.
Now, the reviewer and I disagree on one of the major plot points, and that is that Jesus was so strong in his faith that he literally glowed to the eyes of the vampires who saw him. The reviewer took this to be a Christian theme, when in fact the glow is explained as faith in God, not Jesus. (Why would Jesus worship himself?) I even state specifically that the faith of the Jewish population in Israel is a large part of why the vampires have such a hard time there. So I didn’t understand how the reviewer saw it as a specifically Christian device.
That part of the review made me want to leave a comment similar to the response I’ve written above. I’m human, and sometimes I want to whine and say “But…but you missed this completely.” But the thing is, this can all be traced back to Yours Truly because obviously I missed the boat on the explanation somehow. In other words, it’s not her fault she didn’t interpret that aspect the way I intended. It’s mine.
That brings me to the title of today’s post. I have several rules I try to follow when I am writing a story. I am going to spend some time on them in the my next few posts. Today’s installment is this:
Rule #1: If I Have to Explain It, It Didn’t Work.
This rule is also known as Don’t Blame the Reader for Your Own Shortcomings.
That’s right, folks. It’s really easy to say the reader missed something, or the reader got the wrong impression, or the reader is just a (insert swear word of choice). But the problem with that philosophy is that readers are people, too. To a writer, the reader is the most important person there is. The idea of any story is to engage the reader and make them want to finish your book, and hopefully read more of your work in the future. To that extent writers should make every effort to never leave the readers confused or dissatisfied with any aspect of their book. When the reader doesn’t understand something the way you, as a writer, intended it, that’s your fault. Not theirs.
Keep that in mind as you write. You, as the writer, have inside information that the reader doesn’t. You are more familiar with your characters, worlds, and settings than they are. Something that may seem obvious to you might not be obvious to anyone who hasn’t spent as much time in your head as you have. Remember that, and try to be as clear as possible when you are writing your book.
Of course, such an undertaking is invariably doomed to failure. It’s simply not possible to please everyone. Any writer who thinks it is will be in for a world of disappointment, but that doesn’t mean the effort should not be made. Try to make your books as good as possible for everyone. And when you fail to reach a reader’s expectations (and you will, eventually), realize that the reader is just as entitled to dislike your book as you were entitled to write it. Take your lumps and move on. Hopefully you learned something from the review that you can apply to your next book.
But then, that’s a whole different rule. 😉