As I was planning this post, I didn’t think about an obvious qualifier I left out of my title: Don’t frustrate your readers in a bad way.
There are both good and bad ways to frustrate your readers. The good ways keep readers coming back because they foster a need-to-know mentality, even if the reader is mad at you. The bad ways do the opposite, they drive readers away because they make your readers mad at you and unwilling to take you on again.
My focus today is on the bad ways writers can frustrate readers to the point that they want to throw your book at you. In the past year I read a book that left me extremely frustrated as a reader, and a writer. But mostly a reader.
The author of this book is a natural storyteller –her world is interesting and different, her characters when they’re introduced are on the cusp of great roundedness, and there’s a dynamic ripe for writing about when all of those things are introduced.
The beginning of the story is strong, though rushed. More time spent in the “before” world of the main character would not hurt. More fleshing out of the story throughout would not hurt. As the story continues along there are so many missed opportunities to juxtapose the main characters rural upbringing with her upheaval into the dangerous urban one that circumstances beyond her control have thrown her in to. That was disappointing.
There’s no discernable middle to the story because the arc of the narrative ends abruptly and with no real warning. All of a sudden it was over. I did a small double take at the very end but by that point I was relieved. The spelling errors throughout were starting to affect my comprehension in scenes and there were two prominent instances when the author mixed up her character names and then forgot in one sentence which character’s POV she was in.
By the end I was flat out insulted as a reader. Because while this author has immense potential, she is not a natural editor. I think I’m mad because she has such potential and she obviously has not invested in her work enough to realize she needs better editing support –from both a line and substantive editor. What’s more, she’s written 20 books prior to the one I read. That makes me madder.
If you want me to invest as a reader long-term, you have to invest as a craftsperson. By the end of a piece your errors as a writer cannot be so inconceivable. A certain amount of errors are forgivable in a book, sometimes you can’t catch them all, even if you’re working with one of the big five. This book though…too, too many of them should have been caught.
I can’t stress it enough: Don’t Frustrate Your Readers in a Bad Way. Don’t leave your readers feeling like I felt finishing this particular book: like my time reading was not as important as making the sale when really more craft time should have been spent on the piece. I am not a reader who forgives shoddiness because the concept was interesting and I liked your characters. If you’re a newbie, maybe. If you’re a veteran, absolutely not.
All writers approach their work differently. I approach mine with a great respect for readers because I am a reader. That’s not something to forget.