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Do Not Trifle with Readers' Expectations

By Lexi Revellian @LexiRevellian
Do not trifle with readers' expectationsA couple of weeks ago Harper Collins published the third and final book, Allegiant,in Veronica Roth's popular trilogy. I'd actually bought a copy of the first book, Divergent, and got several chapters in when a horrible certainty came to me that Roth had sold the book as "Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games," and I went right off it.

Currently Allegiant is at number 5 in the UK Kindle Store; it has 2,040 reviews with an average of 2.8 stars. Why the huge sales and the low customer ratings? Because Veronica Roth chose to end the series in a way that her readers hated. Here is a typical comment:

"I loved Divergent and Insurgent and was really looking forward to Allegiant. I don't recommend this book to anyone unless you want to be distraught and depressed for days afterwards. The first 300 pages are boring and totally detached from the plot of the first two books. The book picks up in the end only to leave the readers broken-hearted. There is no happy ending. There is no real closure. The author can do anything she wants with the final book and needless to say, I really dislike Veronica Roth as an author after reading this. Why end a once epic trilogy this way? I read books to be entertained and I was far from entertained. I recommend readers only reading the first two books and making up their own ending."

There is a compact between writers and readers; the reader will suspend disbelief, the writer will be true to the characters and the genre. How would we feel if Bertie Wooster suddenly murdered his Aunt Agatha? We would feel indignant and cheated, just like Roth's fans. I think there is an urge successful writers sometimes have to demonstrate they are really serious artists, prepared to shock and confound expectations. Doing this is generally a mistake.

It happens with screen writers, too. I still remember the final episode of MASH, where the writers, assured of a vast audience, decided to go all serious. Then there's the episode of Cheers where Sam discovers the dishy young woman accompanying an old friend is not his girlfriend but his daughter, and feels old and alone. This glum stuff is not what we watch Cheers for - we want to be amused, that's all.

It's difficult enough to write a good book without being wilful. Don't be wilful. Readers will not forgive you.

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