Darlene Ryan (Guest Blogger)
Once upon a time, in a past life, I was a late night disk jockey. Back in the early 80s, tuned in to the right place on the dial, you would have heard my semi-sexy voice in between songs from the Rolling Stones and Air Supply. I even had my own fan club of sorts. Yes, my fans were mostly guys. Yes, most of them had a thing for my voice and definite ideas about how I looked. And they were almost always disappointed when they finally saw me in person. You see, it seems that on the radio, I sounded like a tall blonde. That's right, blonde. And, apparently, I also sounded… endowed.
In reality I'm a short brunette and my best friend calls me “chest-ly challenged”. Still, it never failed. We'd be out doing a public appearance, and at least one man would come up to me and say, “But I thought you were blonde,” in a voice that was a mix of annoyance and disappointment. And he’d never be looking at my face when he said it.
I learned a lot of things working in radio. I learned an amazing number of swear words. I saw how men act and think when it comes to women. (I worked with seven guys.) I even learned a few things about music. I could give you a list of one-hit wonders. I could tell you more than you probably want to know about the Rolling Stones. And I learned that you're never going to make everyone happy. Some days you're not going to make anyone happy. (Not everyone likes Air Supply.)
The same thing applies to writing, I’ve discovered. You can't write a book that's going to make everyone happy. In fact, I don't think you should try. But there are a few things I think a writer does owe her readers--her fans:
1. A well constructed book. That means proper spelling, good punctuation, and a story that has a beginning, middle, and end.
2. A story that respects its genre. Romances have happy endings. Murder mysteries have bodies and killers. No, that doesn't mean Cinderella has to marry a prince. She can marry the stable boy as long as she's happy in the end. And that killer? Maybe he's performing a public service. He doesn’t have to end up dead or in prison.
3. No lame tricks to save the day. No “deus ex machina.” No what I like to call, “God in a helicopter.” The heroine can’t suddenly get her memory back, remember she was a contortionist in the circus and turn herself into a human pretzel to get out of the ropes. Thirty-two chapters later, the detective can't suddenly get the significance of the clue on page 15, but not tell anyone.
4. A story that makes sense. In real life people do things for stupid reasons or no reasons at all. But you’d better come up with credible motivation if you want someone to stick around for three hundred pages of your book. And it doesn't really matter if you tell your story from one point of view or six different points of view, as long as readers know whose head they're in.
On the other side, there are a few things we don't owe our fans:
1. A prequel, a sequel, or the next book in a series. (Yes, I know a lot of editors aren't going to agree with me. And by the way, if Tim Cockey is reading this, this doesn't apply to you. Come on, would it be that hard to write one more Hitchcock Sewell novel?)
2. Another mystery. (Or romance, or thriller, or what ever.) You do owe readers your best work, but you don't owe them the same work every time.
3. Another book at all. Yes, I know all about building a career and a reader base. But maybe you want to try a screenplay or poetry or a picture book.
Write the book that excites you. Tell the story you want to tell. Give your readers a good book, your best book. Blonde hair and big endowments are strictly optional.
Darlene Ryan is the author of Rules for Life and Saving Grace.