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Reader Expectation, The Suzanne Brockmann Edition

JMC has a great post  up regarding reader expectation.  Apparently there is some question as to whether a couple of characters who have been together over the course of several books are being torn apart and given an HEA with a different couple.  Brockmann is notorious for having what she terms unreliable narrators wherein the POV told by a character may actually not be accurate but you don't find this out until several books down the road.  This appears to be the case, although JMC argues that the signs, if a reader was looking for them, were there for the reader to spot the inconsistencies in the narrator's POV.  

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

12 Comments

  1. jmc
    Dec 18, 2008 @ 11:43:04

    Jane, just to clarify, the characters in question have never been a couple on the page, so there’s no question of them being torn apart. They were introduced six or seven books ago in a way that a reader could reasonably have thought they might end up a couple, but that hasn’t happened yet. Many readers were/are expecting them to get their HEA -together- in this next book. And since I haven’t read the spoilers, I imagine that they may still. [My original post makes it clear how likely I think that is. Or isn’t. But I have no inside line on the matter, so I have a 50% chance of being wrong.]

  2. Jane
    Dec 18, 2008 @ 12:18:09

    @jmc Thanks for the clarification. I stopped reading after Max and Gina because the multiple storylines isn’t for me so I don’t even know the characters that people are up in arms about.

    My opinion is that a reader has the right to feel betrayed, upset, and voice it and never buy the author again or take a break (I don’t trust Charlaine Harris and haven’t been able to continue with her Stackhouse series). The author has the right to do what she wants with her characters. What I don’t like is if an author says something like “Oh you just don’t get it. or Trust me to do the right thing.” Every reader is going to have a different interpretation and their reaction, even if it isn’t the one that author’s want, is still valid.

  3. I Am Devastated By This! « My Thoughts On Nothing Much At All
    Dec 18, 2008 @ 16:21:00

    […] to read the comments from readers on Amazon, message board posts on Brockmann’s site and blog posts (and subsequent comments) about the situation. There are some seriously unhappy people. […]

  4. Marg
    Dec 18, 2008 @ 23:31:44

    I am personlly rooting for Sophie and Dave. I don’t know how I’d feel if I thought Brockmann was making a bad choice (like if she hadn’t let Sam and Alyssa be together), but I don’t mind this turn at all. I actually was never as invested in the Sophie/Decker/Dave triangle thing as I was with other characters. I was kinda relieved it was getting resolved because it was starting to feel drawn out. I also agree with JMC that you never (at least not recently) feel Decker’s ‘longing’ for Sophie. You also are never really given a good reason for Sophie to be so obsessed with Decker. Besides, if you have read the except, how can you not love Dave? It almost made me cry, and it’s like one page.

    As far as the readers’ rights to dicate story lines…I think people should be satisfied with good writing and the promised HEA. Half the fun of reading a story is seeing how the plot plays out. I often complain because a story is too predictable, so is it really fair to complain when we are thrown a surprise curveball? Brockmann has written over fifty books, thirteen in this series. I think she can experiment a little with her own formula.

    While I love Brockmann, and will probably buy her books convulsively on sight no matter what she does, I have noticed that she has been using, IMO, the ‘third-party eavesdropper’ POV a lot more in emotionally explosive (maybe even inapropriate?) scenes. This has worked for me in her other books, but for some reason in Into the Fire, I felt physically uncomfortable having huge mobs of almost every character in the book witnessing these really personal conversations. I was embrassed for the characters and it took me out of the story at some points.

  5. Jane
    Dec 18, 2008 @ 23:33:51

    @Marg: I don’t think that a reader should dictate storylines, but I do think that they have every right to express their unhappiness in how it turns out. How an author responds to that expression is that author’s own issue.

  6. GrowlyCub
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 00:48:00

    I don’t know that I feel like I want to dictate to the author what she can do. It’s more about where she has led her readers with the information she has provided in the books themselves and on her website and in her readers’ guide where she’s clearly identified Sophia/Decker as a couple.

    I find it curious that she and some of her loyal fans now claim that those who are unhappy were seeing things that were never meant to be there. I, for one, feel jerked around by that attitude, like I wasn’t smart enough to get that an author couldn’t possibly be thinking about putting two characters together after implying so for I forget how many books and considering that she’d done similar story arcs with other couples over multiple books and all those couples ended up together.

    But the bit that really irks me is a quote from Suz that SarahF mentioned in JMC’s LJ.

    “Suz herself has said that she doesn’t understand how/why anyone could think that one bl**job, done with Sophia in fear of her life and Decker knowing that she’s desperate, makes these two characters “destined” for each other. Like, why does a sordid sexual situation like this mean that they’re each other’s One True Love?!”

    Maybe I’m peculiar, but I really am extremely allergic to authors telling me I’m dumb for following where they lead. Really allergic.

    If it had been just about that one scene and they’d only ever shown up as co-workers in any following books, nobody would have thought they were “destined”, but since every interaction between them is in the context of ‘when will they finally get together’ even from the POV of all the surrounding characters, it’s kind of hard not to consider that story line a HEA couple one.

    Authors can do whatever they want in their books. But if they create expectations and fuel them for several years, and then try to redact the past by implying their readers imagined the things they formerly indicated themselves as truth in their world because they decided to go in a different direction they ought not to be surprised that their readers might just be a tad unhappy.

    Again, for me it’s not so much the fact that Brockmann decided to go somewhere with her story where I didn’t expect or want her to go, it’s about the implication that there’s something wrong with the readers for having had that expectation that was created by the author deliberately from the start.

  7. Marg
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 02:19:48

    Jane, I agree that people are allowed to be angry with/refuse to buy authors that don’t meet their expectation. I do it all the time!

    Growlycub, it’s interesting that you mention Brockmann’s discussions on her website. I have not really participated in those chats and I wonder if people who did had different information/expectations. I respectfully disagree that the books by themselves necessarily lead readers to believe Sophie and Decker were meant for each other. After their initial explosive and very emotional introduction in Flashpoint, Sophie and Decker never really have any meaningful interactions, especially in the more recent books (that I remember). Sophie kinda pines for Decker while Decker ignores everyone. The real relationship building, talking, caring, protecting, and friendship is all with Dave. Most of the romance between Sophie and Decker is assumed through Dave’s rather biased POV.

    Maybe readers that expect Sophie and Decker to be a couple read these interactions differently than I did!

  8. Tae
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 06:44:11

    Hrm…well I guess I know where the next book is going and at first I was a bit pissed, but I’ve always loved the character of Dave and I was rooting for him early on with Sophie so it may work out for the best after all.. but yeah.. I totally thought it was going to be Decker and Sophie all the way…

  9. Jane
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 08:26:34

    @Marg I had no idea about the authorial component there. I don’t think it’s fair for an author to say that what the reader takes from the book is inaccurate. Each reader’s experience is uniquely her own and for a number of people to come away with the expectation that Sophie and Decker were to be together kind of validates that there were some intimations there and to kind of be dismissive of that is frustrating and has to be adding to some of the anger readers are feeling.

  10. Marg
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 10:28:47

    Jane, I definitely see how people expected Sophie and Decker to be together. In fact, I think a good case can be made for either side (which is why I think it is also inacurate to say the Brockmann is rewriting history).

    I actually thought Brockmann intentionally made things ambiguous so it suprises me that she would be dismissive of people who thought Sophie and Decker were heading for an HEA together.

    More generally, as a psychology student the whole idea of expectations coloring people’s interpretations of the same information is really interesting to me. It happens in real life, so why not while reading a story? For example, if the hero acts like a jerk in the beginning of the story, I usually let it slide bc I assume the author is going to give a good explanation/backstory/excuse for his bad behavior. I would not be so forgiving of an ambigious character.

  11. Chicklet
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 10:48:56

    FWIW, I thought the constant reiterations from the other characters that Sophie and Decker were going to get together, exhortations for Decker to make a move, etc. overpowering to the point of annoyance, and I started to dread every scene not devoted to the main couple. At least the Sophie/Dave scenes weren’t endless repetitions of Decker’s reticence in re: Sophie.

    Actually, it was the repetition of the Sophie/Decker nothing’s-happening dynamic that started me thinking not just that I didn’t want them to get together, but that Brockmann actually would not get them together, which I found kind of refreshing. I like that the arc is (apparently) not turning out how readers, or even Brockmann herself, may have anticipated. I get the feeling that Brockmann may have planned Sophie/Decker, but in writing each installment of their story, found herself writing them apart because it felt better in terms of characterization. In that case, it’s a matter of the story changing as the writer writes it, and I’m familiar with that dynamic. (I can’t speak to Brockmann’s addressing readers’ supposed inability to interpret the books, since I tend not to read non-book materials like quizzes and message boards devoted to specific authors.)

  12. library addict
    Dec 19, 2008 @ 20:31:15

    @Chicklet
    FWIW, Suz insists the ending she wrote is the ending she always intended to write.

    I’m one of the readers who feels betrayed and outright lied to. Suz is a talented writer and she could have easily kept the fact Dave & Sophia would be a couple a secret without encouraging her readers to believe it would be Decker & Sophia.

    I don't feel stupid for having believed what she wrote in the books. She uses her website to market the books, so I do think the poll was dishonest of her. She could easily have left Decker & Sophia out of it as they are listed in the “Who is your favorite secondary (subplot) couple?” with no mention of Dave. She also could have listed Dave as a part of a triangle instead of again listing Sophia & Decker as a couple in a later category about favorite multi-book story arc. But even without the poll or the fact Decker & Sophia are repeatedly listed together in the reader PDF Guide with no mention of Dave, I feel the books themselves set up the expectation of a Decker & Sophia HEA.

    I do feel duped out of my money. I do feel she's trying to rewrite history. And I don't appreciate her implication I'm a fool for having trusted her as an author, though obviously I must be – because I did.

    As for the so-called “clues” that Dave & Sophia were the couple, I thought they were red-herrings. Just like when Sam told Alyssa he planned to make his marriage to Mary Lou work, it was obvious Sam and Alyssa would eventually be reunited. The difference is, unlike most readers, I didn’t really care about Sam & Alyssa. I did care about Decker & Sophia.

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