Conference Lessons II: Great Expectations

(Again, I’m stealing ideas from Lisa Cron with the reminder that she explains all this WAY better than I do and that you should get her book or hear one of her lectures in person. She’s fabulous.)

All readers come to a story with expectations. When we as writers fail to meet these expectations, it can frustrate the reader. Minor infractions probably won’t be a huge deal, but a consistent disregard of what the reader wants out of a story can lead to book lobbing- yours, out the window. But if we keep these expectations in mind, we can create a compelling story that readers will love.

What follows is Lisa Cron’s A Reader’s Manifesto: 15 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has for Every Story. Check your story against these expectations.

The reader expects:

1. That the story will revolve around a clear, escalating problem that the protagonist has no choice but to deal with.
2. That the protagonist will enter the story already wanting something, which gives meaning to her goal.
3. That the protagonist will already have a deep-seated fear, misbelief, or wound that keeps him from easily achieving that goal.
4. The things that happen in the plot to force the protagonist to confront and overcome her inner issue, something that she’s probably spent her whole life avoiding.
5. There will be something crucial at stake, continually forcing the protagonist’s hand.
6. A clear and present force of opposition, with a loudly ticking clock.
7. That everything in the story is there strictly on a need to know basis, even the weather.
8. To feel something, all the time.
9. To feel what the protagonist feels, which means the protagonist must feel something, all the time.
10. That the protagonist will be flawed and vulnerable.
11. The protagonist try to make sense of everything that the plot puts him through, in the moment, on the page.
12. That everything that happens will in some way affect the protagonist in pursuit of her goal.
13. That as the protagonist tries to solve the story question, she will only make things worse, until she has no choice but to face the inner issue.
14. That every subplot and flashback will in some way affect the main storyline.
15. That at the end of the story, the protagonist will emerge changed- seeing the world through new eyes- and that the reader will emerge changed as well.

So how does your story measure up? Anything else you’d add to the list?


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