Reader Alignment

I’m reading a book right now that I find incredibly frustrating as a reader.

Before I started writing I would’ve just struggled through it (because it’s good enough to finish) and not thought much more about it other than, “Not again,” when it came to reading that author.

But now that I’m writing books myself I stop and ask myself, “Why? What is it about this book that doesn’t work for me as a reader?”

And let me make this point first: There are readers who loved this book. One of the reasons I picked it up is because a few people gushed about how great it was.

So just because a book doesn’t work for me as a reader does not mean that book is not a good book with a large audience or that that author isn’t going to succeed. They absolutely are.

And I think that’s crucial to understand. Something can not work for one person (me) but work for a thousand others, because we all read for different things.

In this case I suspect this book taps into the slow-burn monster-with-a-heart romance audience and they’re willing to put aside other issues to get that.

For me, I don’t care so much about the romance. I want a main character who takes agency and acts when it’s clear they can.

The character in this book has been thrust into a new situation. One where her life is in danger and where others are doing everything they possible can to survive. There are clear indications that if the character asked the right questions she could do something about it.

And yet she does not ask those questions.

Nor does she sit herself down in the massive library and read every single book she can get her hands on in search of answers.

Nor does she take on kitchen duties while everyone else is literally bleeding themselves out to try to keep her and themselves alive.

She just…reads poetry?

My reaction to that is, “Woman, step up already. Pin that person who won’t answer your questions in a corner and grill them until you get some answers.”

And that’s a reader alignment issue.

I personally as a reader want certain choices and decisions to be made by characters when they are in certain situations. Not all readers need that. Not all readers would even see what I see when I read the story.

Other readers might have different frustrations with books they read. They might want a character who pursues relationships and be frustrated if they read a book where the main character turns away from a potential romantic interest.

Or they might want characters who pursue power and not be able to connect with a character who walks away from it or doesn’t care about money or influence.

When you get past the level of competent writing, I think this is where stories either do or don’t find their readers.

There’s a need for overall genre alignment. “Is this a fantasy novel?”, “Is this a romance?”, “Is this a thriller?” etc.

But then it’s down to reader alignment.

“Does this character make sense to me?” “Or do they frustrate me?” (In this book it’s also very clear at one point that a bad person is going to kill two people and yet a different character not only doesn’t see it coming but doesn’t even wonder if that’s what happened after the fact.)

Another one I’ve noticed more with TV than books is that I will stop watching shows that don’t mirror my own personal values enough.

As an example, there was a medical TV show I started watching that was good. I liked the characters for the most part and it had tension and all that fun stuff you want in a medical drama.

But three times in the first season or two there was a scenario where a doctor chose not to respect a patient’s wishes about their own healthcare.

Once, okay, fine, I can see that happening and I’m sure some doctors feel that way. “If we can save them we must whether they want to be saved or not and regardless of their quality of life.”

But three times? Nope. That’s a point of view on medical care that this show wants to present that I’m not here for. Done.

Another one was a TV show where the main character is a narcissistic politician who’s just evil and he keeps getting away with it over and over. His evil acts get him ahead and have no consequences.

I finally after a season or so Googled the series to see if he ever got his comeuppance. At the time it was five seasons in and the answer was, “nope”, just keeps rising through the ranks. Combine that and the image of the FU cuff links at the end of one of the episodes and I was out.

Another one was a police procedural where a young rookie discovers a murder committed by their seasoned mentor who then kills more people to cover up the initial murder. Instead of the show being about how the seasoned mentor is brought to justice it was about how the rookie loses their career trying to take them down.

Again, nope. Not what I want to reward or ingest.

But that’s me.

Each of those series were highly successful. Because it’s a matter of individual taste.

There just wasn’t alignment there. And that’s okay. For me as a reader I have no problem saying, “not an author for me.”

As authors we shouldn’t take that personally when that happens. We cannot please all readers. Some readers want exact opposite things from their stories. The key is finding enough readers who want what you write to be able to keep writing.

Which, you know, easier said than done for some of us based on what we write.

Anyway. My writer thoughts for the day.

200 pages to go in this book so I can find out that the book of poetry from her mother is going to be important and that’s the sole reason a person who thought they were going to die immediately packed an entire bag full of books that they managed to keep with them while they ran for their life through a forest, but somehow didn’t think to pack a single extra dress or pair of shoes just in case they survived.

Best get back to it.