An Author’s Responsibility to Readers

Heather Smith

(Photo: Unsplash)

I don’t normally blog about books I’ve read, and I normally try to stay positive in all my online posts, but I recently finished a book that made me so angry, I’m making an exception on both counts.

To preface, writing is an artform, and, on one hand, can be expressed using whatever mechanism the writer is inspired to present. On the other hand, authors have a certain responsibility to readers. That is, if they actually care about readers and hope people continue to read their work. A writer has a responsibility to not betray the reader’s trust. Early in a book, a certain expectation is set as to how the book is going to make the reader feel. An unspoken promise is made, and based on that promise, the reader decides to invest their time and emotion in the story. 

I spent ten hours listening to an audiobook this past week. On a five-hour drive to a work conference and back, the book was a welcome companion. The narrator is a very talented voice actor. Simply brilliant. And the author is an amazing writer. The story had beautiful, poetic descriptions, deep characterization, and a thought-provoking plot with gut-wrenching conflicts and heart-rending obstacles that had me invested emotionally. I was enchanted by the writing style with lyrical, moving prose in every scene. The book had a solid, well-woven Biblical message and profound insights on important, relatable topics. And then . . . the book had a TWIST ENDING that made me so ANGRY I can hardly see straight even the following day. I feel duped. Not that the twist isn’t brilliant. It definitely is. But I’m still mad about it. I haven’t been this mad about a story since Rhett walked out of Scarlett’s life and slammed the door behind him. In that case, however, I didn’t feel tricked.

This isn’t the scenario, but as an example, imagine reading a story and finding out at the end that the character had dreamed the whole thing. It’s strange that the “trickery” affected me so dramatically, because the book is fiction anyway. I get that. But somehow, I feel manipulated and like my investment was wasted. I’m not going to name the book or the author, and I understand, from reviews, that hundreds of people disagree with me. They weren’t affected in the same way. Some loved the twist! But plenty of reviewers do agree with me. 

As an author, I hope to make people cry. It means they connected with the characters and the story. But I also want them to feel that their emotional connection to the story was worthwhile. I want them to feel rewarded for their effort at the end of the book. I never want readers to feel cheated.

To the author’s credit, I wouldn’t be so mad if she wasn’t a wonderful writer. Her words made me care. They made feel. And, even if much of my emotion about the book is anger, I don’t regret the experience. I think eventually my view will soften, but this book will certainly stick with me for a long time.

Used with permission from Heather Smith.

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