Are you thinking dirty thoughts about now? Ooh, come sit beside me!
No, sorry, that was my inner slut speaking. What I’m talking about is expectations. We all have them – authors, editors, publishers, readers – but sometimes, just as the stars don’t always align in our favor, neither do others’ expectations. There are occasions where editors or readers hold our manuscripts/books with a befuddled look on their faces, going, “You want me to believe what?”
If you’re a fan of Suz Brockmann’s and live in the Internet, you’ve probably heard the fuss about her latest book. For everyone who’s waited years for Sophia and Decker to get their HEA, the time is here. They both wind up in love and on the brink of happily-ever-after . . . just not with each other.
I admit, this is one of the few times where I can separate my writer self from my reader self. As a reader, I liked the Sophia/Decker coupling. I wanted to see them together. They were a couple in my mind, so I wanted them to be a couple in their book. I don’t want to see them fall in love with someone else instead. I totally relate to the disappointed readers who’ve been making their opinion known online.
But as an author, I totally relate to Suz’s need/desire/right to tell her story her way. Decker and Sophia exist only because she created them. All we can ask of an author is that the characters remain true to themselves, that the story be well told, and that the ending be satisfying. We don’t get to choose which man the heroine chooses or which woman the hero loves forever and ever, or what trials they have to go through to get their HEA. That’s the author’s prerogative.
In my Bethlehem series, there was a secondary couple who appeared in most, if not all, of the books. (Hey, it’s been a few years, there are nine books, and there was a whole town full of people.) Their greatest desire was to have a child, but she’d had numerous miscarriages.
Finally, she got pregnant. I was writing the book where the pregnancy was progressing well, not even really thinking about the baby beyond the fact that his/her due date was penciled into the story calendar. Then, in one scene, several months early, she went into labor. Despite the doctors’ best efforts, she gave birth prematurely to a beautiful little boy.
With Down syndrome.
I didn’t plan on that. I don’t do that kind of micro-plotting for my books. I’m lucky if I know the highlights of the main characters’ romance, and I trust that the rest will work itself out in my subconscious when I need it.
It didn’t seem fair. Melissa and Alex had tried so hard and prayed so long for a baby. They deserved a perfect-in-every-way angel for their efforts and heartaches.
But it felt right. This less-than-perfect baby was the perfect baby for this couple.
Some readers didn’t agree with me. In fact, some readers were downright irate with me. They couldn’t believe I would do that to such good people. They were convinced I knew nothing about Down syndrome, that I would never wish such heartbreak on anyone.
(On the other side, I got a letter from a woman whose little granddaughter had Down syndrome, and she was the light of her parents’ and grandparents’ lives. She was happy to see that I’d given Alex and Melissa such a blessing.)
It came down to expectations. Some of those readers expected me to reward Alex and Melissa’s struggle with perfection. But it was my story, my characters, my choice. I stand by it.
Did they have the right to be disappointed? Of course. They had expectations that I didn’t meet. In my opinion, those expectations were contrary to what was right for the book. In their opinions, their expectations were reasonable and, well, expected. And we’re both right.
The truth is, you can’t please everyone. You’d go nuts trying. All you can do is tell your story in the best way you can, without worrying what each individual out there is going to think. Sure, you want to make your readers happy, but first, you have to make yourself happy. Because if you’re not loving that book as you write it, odds are, no one else is going to love it, either.