It’s not the sparrow’s fault it’s not a cardinal. Nor the mallard’s that its plumage is drab, its flight uninteresting, and its call pedestrian. Neither is it fantasy’s fault that it offers wizards, nor literary fiction’s that if you read quickly and carelessly, you might miss the whole point.
Ducks are as admirable as any other water fowl. They’re worthwhile even if you drove to Wisconsin’s North Woods for loons and eagles. Know how to find the bird you want. That also applies to the novel you want to read—or write.
Tip: Immerse yourself in your genre so you can fulfill reader expectations.
~ Familiarize yourself with conventions.
- In your genre, do readers tolerate some “telling,” or hardly any at all?
- How much backstory will your readers accept/want?
- Do readers expect a sex scene, and how graphic can it be?
- Are long, complex sentences part of the pleasure—or the diminishment of it?
- When does theme become intrusive, or is it nearly as crucial as the story itself?
~ Write to an ideal reader.
- Can you explicitly identify your audience?
- Can you picture the person seeking the precise book you want to write?
- Are you entertaining, moving, scaring, pleasing, charming this individual? That’s a great way to test the aptness of your prose.
~ Heed relevant feedback.
- Do your critiquers resemble your potential audience, and if not, can they objectively assess YA, westerns, mysteries, or whatever you’re writing?
- Do you pay special attention to suggestions geared toward your intended audience and less attention to those that seem irrelevant or subjective?
- Can you be scrupulously honest about what’s irrelevant or subjective?
~ Write toward realistic goals.
- If you crave public acclaim more than personal satisfaction, do you have a big Concept? A marketable scenario? A plan for landing an agent and a publisher?
- Are you honest about why you’re writing? After all, if only a loon will satisfy you, don’t look for one in New York City.
Happily, many motives drive novelists, and no two readers want exactly the same book. Write from your heart, and know whose heart you want to touch. Proceed thoughtfully and relentlessly. That’s the path toward the call you seek, whether from waterfowl, agent, or publisher. You just have to try realistically—with open eyes.