… or an analysis of disappointment.
Some of the books I’ve read recently have left me disappointed, and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why. You can’t be disappointed unless you come to a story with expectations, but where do these expectations come from?
Some of it is a beyond the author’s control: book reviews, word of mouth from friends, genre conventions, personal taste. Some of it may not be completely in the author’s control: the back cover synopsis, the title of a novel.
However, the author can control the story. I think, consciously or not, every author makes a promise to the reader in the first chapter of the book. Sometimes it’s right there in the first line of the book. It tells the reader what the story is about, the tone of the story, and what they can expect in the pages to come.
Let’s look at the first two lines of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen:
IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.
Even if you’ve never read Austen before, you may suspect that this will be a story about families trying to marry off their daughters, and that it will have a touch of wit to it.
As writers we often think about crafting a hook to engage the reader at the start of a story. The author’s promise is just another aspect to think of when crafting the hook. Do you ever consider what kind of promise you are making? Does the rest of the story deliver?
There may be times when it’s appropriate to break that promise too. Just thinking out loud…