Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Will Readers Tolerate?

Life can be shitty.  In order to create compelling drama in our work, we have to show that shitty side of life.  It's taxing at times to stay in the muck, but it's a necessary part of writing that killer novel.  On the other hand, just how far can you go?  At what point will the audience declare you a (pervert, bastard, psychopath) and put you down in disgust?

This is hard, and it depends on the audience you want to target.  If you're writing a YA novel, the audience knows that heartache is part of growing up, and they'll put up with it.  However, they're unlikely to put up with the rape of a main character, especially if described in detail.  If you're writing a religiously themed novel, you can show the Devil to be clever and handsome and kind, but only if you make it clear that this is all pretense and that he's really conniving and deceitful.

So, how do you know?  Here's the shitty answer to go along with the shitty world - you don't.  It's going to have to be your best guess.  Audiences may tolerate some things wildly outside of the box, but only if you quickly put them back in the box.  For example, in Salvation Day, I had to describe a young mother's murder in pretty gruesome detail.  Truth be told, it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to write.  However, it was necessary in the context of the story in order to understand Hell, and I made that abundantly clear in both the prelude and the aftermath.  Doing so out of the blue might've turned people off, but I think it draws people in since it fit the story.

Our minds can go to some dark places, but even as readers, we'll read only so much.  Imagine a police detective on the trail of a pedophile - how much can you describe the crime before folks show up at your door with pitchforks?  If you want to write a thriller about terrorists threatening the US, how much can you set up the mindset of the terrorists before people start calling you an obvious traitor to America?

Darkness can lead to some great writing, but it has to be done without straying too far from societal norms.  Yes, we can gripe about that if we like, but we'll be griping alone, for no one will buy our work.

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