Book discussions would be awfully short and less fulfilling if everyone had the exact same reaction to every story.
As a reader, you want to dive into stories that pull you away from the present and into someone else’s world. As a writer, you want to give your readers that privilege. Often, though, it becomes tempting to want to shape your story in such a way that pleases anyone and everyone who might pick it up.
The problem with this? You can’t please everyone. You shouldn’t even try. And there are some pretty amazing reasons why.
Everyone reads for different reasons
While reading always allows for a temporary escape, not everyone picks up a book—or the same types of books—for identical reasons. Some prefer light, easy “beach reads” to fill the small interval of time between evening and bedtime. Some read to learn—yes, even when it’s not required. Some like fluffy romance novels. Some need a good mystery, maybe with or without a happy ending, to satisfy their literary hunger.
It’s just not possible to meet every single person’s needs in one story, or even a collection of them. Some people will just flat-out hate your writing style for virtually no reason. Some will love your writing style, also for no reason in particular. Some can’t resist a cliché love triangle, while others … well, you get the idea.
But everyone’s varying purposes for reading is actually, it turns out, a good thing.
Disagreement encourages discussion
When a reader disagrees with a writer, or two readers or two writers disagree with one another, it doesn’t always mean it will lead to comment wars (the bad kind) online. One of our goals as writers should be to prompt discussion. To do that, you have to write things that stimulate thought and emotion enough to drive someone to put your book down and start a conversation.
Back to our first point, though: if everyone always agreed, or reacted the same way to every story, there wouldn’t be much left to say. Books don’t always have to give answers: they should ask questions instead, through characters’ own thoughts and actions and major plot points.
If you want someone to discuss your story, and/or the events that occur within its pages, you’re going to have to cover things not everyone agrees on. But that shouldn’t stop you. In fact, you can use it as a motivator.
We don’t always write to satisfy
It’s as simple as that, really. Though stories, plays, books and more have the ability to entertain and inform, it’s rare we do it with the inference that what we’re constructing won’t be both praised and torn apart when readers get their hands on it.
Just like everyone reads for different reasons, everyone writes for different reasons, too. While it’s important to keep your audience in mind, you should use what you know about your potential readers to pick and choose the ideas that suit them.
This does NOT mean you should only write what they’ll like or dislike. It means you can, by interacting with them, tune in to what they care about, and use that knowledge to challenge their beliefs, put their brains to work and get them talking—and in some cases, even persuading them to take action and initiate even small changes in their real-world lives.
If someone appears unhappy with something you’ve written, they’ll probably voice their opinions. That’s good for those readers who might otherwise hesitate to express their thoughts. It’s a cycle, you see. Someone reads a book. They react. If they’re dissatisfied because your story has opened their eyes to something they never noticed before, maybe they’ll write something about it. Someone else will read what they have to say. Maybe they’ll pick up your story as a result, to see what it’s all about.
Never forget, fellow writers: we touch lives. Even the lives of people we never meet.
Don’t worry about making them happy. They’re reading. They’re thinking. Let that be enough.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.