Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Author's responsibility to the reader (with SPOILER-FREE ALLEGIANT discussion)


On Sunday, I finished reading ALLEGIANT, the final book in Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy. Almost immediately after closing the book, I logged online and started reading all the spoilery interviews and discussions I’d avoided while waiting to read the book (I put the book on my Christmas list, so I had 2 months of dodging spoilers...NEVER doing that again). Without saying anything revealing about the ending for anyone who has not read the last book, there are people out there who are not pleased with the ending Veronica Roth chose.

To which I say, duh! When a book series becomes huge, whether it’s Harry Potter or Hunger Games or even Twilight, there is NO way for the author to please every reader. And I think authors would drive themselves insane trying to find a way.

In response to readers’ reactions, Veronica wrote this eloquent explanation of why she ended the series the way she did (a link you definitely should NOT click on if you haven’t read ALLEGIANT). One of the (non-spoilery) things she says is, “I’m the author, yes, but this book is yours as well as mine now, and our voices are equal in this conversation.”

But readers seem to be asserting themselves a bit more than this 50/50 equation implies. In an article discussing the reader response (which also contains SPOILERS), the Bustle.com writer wonders, “What allegiance, if you will, do YA novelists, particularly those in the throes of a bestselling series, have to their readers?” When an author is in the middle of writing a series (knowing the first book or two have found a large and dedicated audience), should reader preference factor into major plot decisions? Should Roth have taken readers’ hopes into consideration when finishing the final book?

The Bustle.com article calls Roth’s admittance of not thinking about her readers while writing the books “troublesome.” YA readers in particular, the article continues, not only read these bestselling series like Divergent and Hunger Games, but they also buy the merchandise and line up for the midnight movie premieres and Facebook and tweet and Tumblr (Not sure what the verb form of Tumblr is. Tumble? Tumblring?)  all over the place, a second string of marketing for the books. If YA readers are unhappy or “have a gripe about a character’s motivations seeming unrealistic to the story, they most likely have a point,” the article says.

As a writer, this idea sends me into a control freak panic. Along with all the other parts of being a storyteller, we now have a responsibility to please everyone?
I 100% agree with Veronica Roth: I never think about my readers when I write. Granted I write for a workshop class of ten students and a professor, not millions of readers worldwide, but I believe the concept is still similar. The job of a fiction writer is to tell a story and be as true to those characters as possible. When you start a story/novel/essay/poem, you’re alone at your computer, not knowing if you’ll even have readers at all. And in that moment, all you can do is write an honest story. And as a writer, I never write a scene or piece of dialogue that does not make sense to me or doesn't match up with the character motivation I've developed.

Roth says she has known the book’s ending from the very beginning, and changing it to appease readers would have been unfair to her. Though we get attached to all these stories and the people in them (and as graciously as she says the books belong to the readers too), these are her characters first and foremost. Without her, we would not know Tris and Four and Caleb and Christina. The writer in me loves ALLEGIANT’s ending, and I’m proud of Roth for sticking to her original plot plan.


Also, Veronica Roth is only two years older than me…I’m slacking on this whole writing-the-next-bestseller thing. Needless to say, she’s kind of my new hero. You go, girl!

For all you writers AND readers out there, what do you think an author’s responsibility to the reader is? Is there one at all? Should they sacrifice pieces of their story for “the greater good” of the reader? Please, no ALLEGIANT spoilers in the comments, just to be safe!  

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