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Old Aug 28 2009, 09:44 PM   #1
D. M. Domini
D. M. Domini's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Chicagoland

Fan of: Afra Lyon, and Robinton!
Now Reading: Sabriel by Garth Nix
Obtaining Reader Permission To Write The Improbable

I've found that recently I have been writing about the power of reader trust. (And yes, those are multiple links to places here and on livejournal where I've found myself discussing this in one form or another, including Kate Elliott's blog).

Reader trust is...important. Obscenely important. The more trust you can obtain from a reader, the more "permission" you have as an author to write about improbable, crazy, "high-risk" ideas. The ideas that can be Really Cool in the right hands.

I'm going to be spoiling some books and using them as examples, so if spoilers bug you, don't read on.

I have seen Jim Butcher pull off crazy stunts like having his main character--in an urban fantasy no less--necromantically raise a dinosaur from the dead and ride it down the streets of Chicago. And, by and large, this is in one of the best-loved books of the Dresden Files series. (Dead Beat.)

Do you have any idea how much reader goodwill you have to have to get a reader to sit up and cheer while your characters ride DINOS around the streets of Chicago? In an urban fantasy?

If you say it flat out--and say it with me--"Yeah, my character, this wizard, he's going to, like, go to the Field Museum and raise a dinosaur from the dead, and, like, ride it to where the bad guys are getting down, and like, he'll kick their asses with it."

It sounds like a twelve year old boy's wet dream after chugging too many mountain dews while staying up way too late after his bedtime.

That is a high-risk idea.

Here's another high-risk idea..."Yeah, my main character, a clairvoyant descended from the Oracle meets up with Merlin--except she doesn't know it's him cuz he's hundreds of years old and should be dead already--and they don't like each other so they fight while hopping through time and he's like this modern grumpy geek guy, except he's kind of hot and they have this subtext-y sexual awareness about one another and we later find out he's part incubus but can't have relations with a girl because it'll kill her..."

Another high-risk idea, yes? Yes. The writer (not Jim Butcher, but Karen Chance) who wrote this one doesn't quite pull it off, however, and the results are predictable. (Why the hell does Merlin want a spoiled modern girl? Why is his world bending around her? Oh, because the author says so?) Why can Jim Butcher have reanimated dinosaurs being ridden into battle, but Karen Chance has a harder time with sexy, broody, grumpy half-incubus Merlins still being alive and kicking?

Reader trust. Reader trust, readertrustreadertrustreadertrust.

You must have it. You must get people to suspend their disbelief. You need readers to say, "Ok, you have me hooked, I'll swallow this because from what I've already seen I think you can pull it off. Now show me what you've got." do you do it? How do you get readers to believe in you? What do you do to put the trust into play, what foundations do you build before you start to erect the story? Is it planning? Is it luck? Skill? How detailed about it do you have to be? What techniques do you use to build reader trust?
Read my Pern and Talent fanfic on Archive of our Own.

Fanfic WIPs: The Day Benden Went to War (Pern/Talent); Slosh (Pern); Weyrbred Lads (Pern); When You Fall Asleep /Between/... (Pern)

Completed Fics: Flight (Pern), Flight v2 (Pern), Golden Glow (Pern)

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