Expectations in Relation to Criticism

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Resource Collective


What does tone have to do with the success of a story? Why are people complaining about it?

Submitted: September 16, 2017

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Submitted: September 16, 2017

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Many times a critique simply has to do with how the reader/critic thinks the story gave them expectations, then failed to continuously deliver on what it promises. This will ignore outside things such as grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting to concentrate on the actual story content.

The expectations can hinge on pacing, genre, and tone—and of course, how you choose to end a story. Genre mixing and genre-busting work gets out every now and then of course, but those are generally risks and often crash, with some examples of failure being (spoilers) the halfway plot switch of the 2008 superhero movie Hancock.

Hancock Picture

More on this later.

 

You may not have ever taken a creative writing course (neither have I, join the club), but I think every writer should have an idea about story tropes they’re using and if those fit.

A trope is plot device or narrative convention that gets used over and over again, like abandoned asylums for horror stories and chemical accidents for superheros, etc.
Tropes can and will get used for more than one genre, but often they get specific to one. Very, very specific. As a reader you would have different expectations for the kind of tropes present in two stories if they were, say, a historical fiction comedy-Horror story titled "Sir Stabbin Pilkington and the Murders in the Rude Morgue" versus a dark Fantasy called, "Maximus: Dragon Killer."

What would you expect to be used in the first story, and the pace of it?
What would you expect to find in the second that you would like, and make reading it worth your time?

Movie Poster 

 

 

This brings me to my next point: Tone.

It's not just how you decide to present the narrative voice (first second, third person, limited, omniscient) but every event that narrator experiences (or doesn't) and how you present the events, versus how the character is affected by them. Tonenote: this is a personal definitionis what your reader will read from the story based on all that. Tone dissonance is when you take those expectations and either fail to match it or abruptly change direction, like whiplash in a car accident. Intentional or not, it can still result in failure to grab a reader.

A story example:

"Emma walked down the sunny Apple Street, smiling as fluttering butterflies danced around her head and a rainbow arch formed neatly in the sky before her very eyes.

Then Emma took drugs and died in a fire.  
 

She left behind her family and a puppy. Poor Fido spent six miserable years sitting on the pavement where she used to come home from school and scratch him behind the ears. He waited for an owner who would never come, until he, too, died in a fire...somehow.
 

The clowns in space now surrounded all of Earth, cackling so hard it made their hellish red clown noses bob, so that a sky filled with undulating waves of red lines was one of the last sights of the human race.

This is the way the world ended. Not with a bang, but a honk!"

 

 

Can you spot the tone and genre shifts between these sentences?

If you were Fantasy fan who was reading "Maximus: Dragon Killer," what would your reaction be if the entire story up until the climax was this exciting epic about one man slaying dragons in awesomely rendered pitched battle, only for his final fight to be against a bunch of pacifist clowns from space? Clowns that were completely unforeshadowed, clear genre immigrants from a humorous sci-fi or something, popping up in your dark fantasy obviously meant to follow on the heels of GoT?

Would you keep reading, or would you be scrolling down to either ask why this happened (“Is this a joke? Where’s the humor tag?”) or to look for something else, anything that might be by an author who doesn’t seem to have contempt for you?

Either reaction should tell you your expectations were derailed. Don’t get me wrong, this can be done to great effect.  The problem?

It usually isn’t.

This can end up being devastating for those of you hoping to get published.

Many don’t even realize they are creating tonal disasters, and it’s almost unavoidable for at least some readers because you can’t predict what that particular group was reading for.

But, success usually comes when you manage a tone that appeals to a wide audience.

A lot of times, that popular book that you are convinced is terrible, and you're confused over its popularity and ask yourself why they’re working out and your book isn’t

Look for its tone.

What expectations does it set up, and does it deliver on them? Does it promise to be happy? Sad? Action packed and fast paced? Slow and contemplative? Romantic sappy mush? Smut? A winding epic? A thriller full of suspense and tension?

Odds are the tone is pretty constant through the whole thing, which is actually why many people will read through something, even if they think it’s terrible. It might be the reason "guilty pleasures" exist and why people on average have a hard time justifying those to themselves on a rational level. It can be very subtle.

 

All in all, what we can do to improve (as in, to capitalize on this) is to practice multitasking at teaching a reader what to expect, the rules of the world they’re getting brought into, and why they should care.

 

Food For Thought: Have you ever read a story and felt it disappointed you based on what you were expecting to happen, or the ending?
Do you believe tone is the reason for negative reception you might have received on a story/stories you wrote in the past?

 


© Copyright 2018 SimonClemens. All rights reserved.

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