Thursday, 2 March 2017

Deal-Breakers and Wincers

How much of a book does a reader need to agree with in order to enjoy it?

It's a question that may not have occurred to you.  Certainly most people assume that if someone enjoys a book, they must have enjoyed all the parts in it.  But it's not necessarily true.

There are a number of authors whom I really enjoy but there are always moments in their books where I have to wince.  It's like the stab of an ice sliver in an otherwise delicious milkshake.  And then there are the books that sound promising but include one of my literary deal-breakers.  And that's more like finding a bug in the milkshake.  It doesn't matter how good it's been up to that point, now it's disgusting and there's no salvaging it.

Everyone has their own "not-great" and "deal-breaker" lists.  For me, one of my wincing moments is when a character uses woman as an insult.  Eg: "Do I look like a girl?" or referring to something as "girl shit" or similar things to that.  To me, it's misogynistic language and reinforces the idea of female as defective.  And yet there are series that I enjoy where the author clearly doesn't feel the same.  I end up having to brace myself when I'm reading and remind myself not to get too upset.  If the author wasn't incredibly talented, I wouldn't bother.  But it doesn't mean I'm okay with that kind of language.

On the deal-breaker side is anything involving coercion in the sexual relationship between the hero and heroine.  Frankly, coercion bothers me between any characters but it's an absolute deal-breaker in the main couple.  I recently read a book where the hero was blackmailing the heroine into having sex with him and once I read that, the book was done for me.  No second chance.

It's not always easy for an author to guess what will be a trigger to his or her readers.  Things which might seem innocuous or even daring to the author might end up being deal-breakers.  For example, I have a friend who had traumatic experiences with the church as a child and now anything that involves any kind of Christian imagery is a deal-breaker for her.  Even characters swearing can be enough to make her put a book down.

It's important to have a wide variety of beta readers before a book is published.  They can help let an author know about any potential pitfalls.  With my most recent book, one of my readers warned me that in some groups, using food terms to describe skin tone is considered offensive.  I had described a character as having skin the colour of fresh-baked bread but changed it to tan.  It's a small change for me and if it avoids hurting or offending someone, that's an easy choice.

Obviously, it's important to respect your own voice as an author.  It's not going to be possible to please everyone.  But at the same time, it is also important to respect your readers.

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