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What the reader expects from a novel

About the reader’s secret and obvious desires and expectations while reading. About the disappointments he would not want to face when he looks under the cover or finishes the book. All the things an author knows about when he reads fiction prose, but forgets about when he starts writing it. A post about how to write a book in which the reader is sure to find what he or she needs.

When talking about reader expectations, we should always keep in mind such a concept as market segmentation. Namely, that different readers read different books, and therefore their literary expectations are also different. There is a category of work that is commonly defined as commercial literature. And there is also quality fiction, measured according to other criteria. But there are “generalities,” that is, expectations that are typical for readers of intellectual novels and thrillers. Let’s talk about exactly what almost all readers expect.

What the reader always expects from a novel:

  • A compelling story capable of absorbing the reader’s attention entirely. A story that won’t rest until it’s read to the end, and maybe even reread instantly. It must be a story that takes the reader away from the world of gray everyday life, that allows him to forget about the day to day, that completely captivates the reader. Umberto Eco, semiotician, culturologist, philosopher and writer, argued that we read in order to forget, to detach ourselves from reality, to fully immerse ourselves in the world of fiction. And this can only be done by reading outstanding stories.
  • The large number of events occurring over a long temporal distance is, again, a tribute to the previous desire: to be fully immersed in history. It is important to say here that the relatively large number of plot lines is generally the hallmark of the novel, allowing us to draw the line between it and the novella. The fewer story lines, the fewer events, the poorer the narrative and the simpler the story. Simple stories, of course, are also in demand by the reader, but what makes a great novel are big incidents, large-scale events and dashingly twisted story lines. It is important, of course, not to go overboard.
  • As a consequence of a fascinating story – the reader expects the novel to change. That is, he wants (consciously or subconsciously) as a result of reading a little better. The reader, pardon my pathos, seeks to experience a moment of enlightenment. He wants to become a part of some mysteries, to know a little more about the structure of the world, to understand the hidden meanings of political games of great empires, to penetrate into the holy of holies of the human brain… And the reader feels deceived when these changes do not happen. When reading does not bring him anything new and does not change him in any way. The reader will say, “Boring,” but it is the absence of change that will be implied: the book did not bring anything new, did not change, but should have done both.
  • Outstanding characters. In this case, the heroes can indeed be outstanding, such as Sherlock Holmes or Angelique from the novels of the same name by Anne and Serge Golon – and then they will attract the reader by their strength of character, brilliance of mind, beauty. Or vice versa the heroes can be ordinary, like Doctor Watson, and not different from millions of others, but they can do everything worthy of great ones. Another option: a mediocre hero finds himself in the right place at the right time and becomes a witness or participant in outstanding events, as a consequence, he unwittingly manifests the best features of his character. Example: Jim Hawkins in Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
  • Good narrative language that does not interfere with comprehension, does not impede it. Language is the means of telling an outstanding story. If the language is poor, not even the most gambling plot will save the novel. Perhaps a literary editor can save it, but only if the book is published at the expense of the author. Let us add about the language: it must be adequate to the narrative, the nature of the world depicted, the scale of the idea. Recall the stylistics of John Martyn, who conveys the color of the fictional world in A Song of Ice and Flame.
  • There are aesthetes who read only for the sake of immersing themselves in the author’s stylistics, such as lovers of Marquez, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe. But in order to get such readers, you have to write like Marquez, namely, to be able to make stylistically redundant text a fascinating story.
    Have a good time, escape from reality, a blissful break from the monotonous everyday life. Sometimes we just want to read, not for the sake of great stories, dashing plot and new knowledge or discoveries, we just want to have a good time reading quality and favorite – Pushkin, Turgenev, Bulgakov, Dumas, Conan Doyle, Balzac, London and other greats. That’s why, by the way, we reread familiar texts – we want to immerse ourselves in a proven atmosphere of literary safety and reading pleasure.
  • Catharsis (purification through empathy) – strong emotions, forcing a rebirth and renewal.
    As a consequence, an attunement to the positive, the bright, the life-affirming. Assurances that all difficulties are surmountable. The effect should be such as if the reader was patted on the head, pressed to the chest, reassured and convinced that his life and himself will certainly become better. This does not mean that a text with a bad ending is a bad text: the world literature knows hundreds of thousands of such stories. Moreover, such stories constitute its Golden Fund. But the average reader expects a good ending, a positive ending. Even if the main characters die and the world collapses, the reader wants hope for the best.