A matter of trust
Somehow in my daily LinkedIn posts, I managed to dive into the theme of trust as pertains to storytelling.
The moment someone opens a book and begins reading, that person offers the author his trust. The reader has confidence that the author won't betray and abandon him. All too often--and I see this mostly with indie authors--writers fail that trust and lose their readers' confidence because they neglect to do one single thing: verify.
Things that lose reader trust include:
Realism in characterization plays an important part for reader acceptance of a protagonist. Nothing dooms a reader's affection for a character like a character who consistently makes poor decisions, jumps to conclusions, and otherwise give no evidence of having two brain cells to rub together. Occasional idiocy can be swallowed: no one is perfect. Consistently imbecilic behavior offends. You protagonist should not be candidate for a Darwin Award. Don't help your readers root for your protagonist's untimely demise.
Readers expect to receive a full story when they purchase a book. Those who find that the author confuses a serial with a series leave scathing reviews. I personally dislike serials; however, they remain a legitimate literary tradition that does not offend if the reader knows at the outset that the installment will end on a cliffhanger. In such cases, notify potential readers in the book's description (i.e., cover blurb) that the story ends on a cliffhanger. Reads also appreciate knowing how many installments they must purchase to reach the conclusion of the story. Popular fantasy series like Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin epitomize the serial tradition. I read several books of the first before growing disgusted with a never-ending story because I had no idea how many books I'd have to buy to finish the series.
Lack of research
I see this all too frequently in the manuscripts I edit and the self-published stories I read. For instance, one story had the heroine collecting her alpaca's fleece by combing through it and gathering the fibers that pulled free. Um, no. Collection of alpaca fleece occurs through shearing the animal. Like sheep. In another story, the author has her two handsome heroes baling and stacking hay--shirtless. Um, no. Anyone who's ever handled hay knows that shirts and work gloves are mandatory. Another author's hero, a police detective, operates 100 miles out of his jurisdiction. Um, no. Still another author refers to the heroine's panties and hero's zipper in a story set in 1842. Um, no. Fiery explosions in space? How does that happen without oxygen?
Just ... no.
Any detail that a few minutes of research--Google is your friend--can verify or debunk must be correct. Even the wackiest fantasy and most improbable science fiction need elements of realism to ground the reader's trust and suspend disbelief.
Anachronisms fall under this category, too. Realism entails a natural way of speech--or at least a vernacular that is natural to the character. This includes not only omission of modern slang and terminology in historical fiction, but also the deft use of popular phrasing common at the time and in the place of the characters. An author who's not sure of period phrasing need only read the contemporary fiction of the era in which the story takes place.
In addition to poor writing and sloppy editing, betrayal of the reader's trust destroys the reader's confidence. A reader who loses confidence in the author will not read any more of that author's work and may even leave a scathing review vilifying the author's incompetence and failure as a storyteller. A competent editor can help with catching such content errors, but it's up to the writer to perform the necessary due diligence and avoid them in the first place.
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