Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Reader Perceptions

I had an interesting review recently on Goodreads that made me ponder just how differently readers can perceive what's happening in a story compared to what the author meant to portray. Let me state up front that I am in no way arguing with the review--I believe the review accurately stated what that reader actually felt while reading, and that was useful to me.

The reader gave a generally positive review, but the one negative was that he believed the love story between the two main characters in The Immortality Game was not believable under the circumstances. And I completely agree with him! While writing the book, my thoughts were all along the line of, This is all happening in one day and Zoya is having the worst possible day of her life, so love will be the last thing on their minds. So I put a couple sentences here and there to indicate normal human behavior between people who might otherwise have found each other attractive and perhaps developed a romance at some point, but I never made anything explicit about a romance actually developing during the story. At least, that was my belief while writing. I wanted to merely hint at the possibilities, while not actually having any romance.
Zoya, by Stephan Martiniere
I think it comes down to something I once wrote a blog post about long ago--subtlety. In that long ago blog post I wrote that it is very difficult for a writer to understand the amount of subtlety that will work in a story. I have learned from readers that there are times I felt I was being way too obvious yet the readers never 'got' it, and conversely there were times I worried I was being too subtle but readers seemed to get it easily. So my guess here is that my attempted subtlety to merely hint at potential future romance was enough for some readers to see real romance happening.

On a different note, my original intention regarding romantic angles in the story blew up in my face midway through writing and I had to adjust it. I had intended to show something that I think happens to many young people when one or both of them are shy and/or have low self-esteem. I wanted Zoya to have some attraction to Marcus but believe that it is the man's job to make the approach, while Marcus on the other hand has low self-esteem, so he assumes Zoya can't be interested in him, thus leaving the oft-seen situation where both parties potentially like each other but neither will make the first move. I so wanted to do this, because it was my own experience through my younger years, and it was something I found to be incredibly frustrating.

It blew up on me simply due to the timeframe of everything happening in one day, along with the fact Zoya was going through sheer horror, so my intended romantic angle made less and less sense to me as I went along and I ended up amending it so that only Marcus showed any real interest, but he understood his feelings were inappropriate under the circumstances (not to mention his low self-esteem issues).

Anyhow, I'm glad for the review, as it helps me in my future writings to put deeper thought into what level of subtlety I need to use in situations like this.


  1. Funny, I think most of my potential relationships over the years stalled for that very reason.
    People also come to a story with their own beliefs and background and will see things you never intended. Those subtle touches get taken the wrong way or too far.
    Smart to learn from the review. I know some people just don't read them, but I always have so that I could improve with the next book.

  2. Yep, people see different things when they read. I once read a friend's short Sci-Fi story where a woman was supposed to jump into a protective suit to save herself. I ended up miss-reading suit for suite - as in a small safe room (proves I'm blonde). Funny thing was it worked for me. I clearly visualised it all and when we went back with a critique and I asked a few questions, all I got in response was blank looks. It wasn't until they explained that it was an actual SUIT not a suite that I But that's a classic example of how different minds work when reading :)

  3. I still waver back and forth about wanting to be more subtle but feeling as if I have to be more blunt.

  4. Good point about subtlety. It's really hard to predict reader reactions. But that's one of the beauties of art. Though frustrating, too, if you think you're being very clear and things still get misunderstood.

  5. I think it's good that you decided to learn from the review. On the other hand, you wrote the story as you saw it, so I'd check out some of the other reviews and see if that was an issue for them. It may be that other readers got the story the way you wanted it to come through. I personally like subtlety in a story because it makes me think and get more involved in the story.

  6. No one else has touched on that, but I like posts that make me stop and think. My first reaction on reading it was, 'Huh? Where did that come from?', but then I had to think about it more and see that a reader could perceive the hints I put in as being more than I felt they were.