12 Things a Reader Expects

Filed under Writing.


Below are a list of 12 things a reader expects that came from an article my professor shared in class. The first sentence of each is from the article, followed by professor’s expansion.


1. The story will start making a point by page one. Meaning, in the actions, they are there for a reason, reader wants to feel that right away.
2. Expects story will revolve around a clear escalating problem that will be dealt with. An inciting event, and that it will be solved…
3. Expects protagonist will enter story already wanting something. Or needing something…need to have a deprivation – needs to be some imbalance.
4. Expects protagonist will already have deep seated fear, or wound that will keep them from reaching that goal. (Subtext) – reader has to start right away to know that there is something the character doesn’t want to face, or think…something is being repressed. It will show up as a fear, or guardedness as something the protagonist has to protect, or contrary desire. Underneath surface is like a tide that comes and flows and keeps the person from achieving…middle grade and above.
5. Expects things to happen in the plot that will force protagonist to confront inner issue. Events are not random, events challenge main character, they make it difficult to pursue goal without revealing suppressed desire.
6. Expects something crucial at stake. Needs to be extremely important to that character and their situation. Doesn’t always have to be saving the planet…
7. Expects a clear and present force of opposition with a loudly ticking clock. Not everyone agrees on this or how it should occur. There has to be a sense of urgency (inner conflicts, antagonist with family or friends, pending trauma – illness, etc, the worst bad guy isn’t in story until later…
8. Expects the protagonist to try to make sense of everything that the plot puts her through. Every event that happens in the story has to be part of the character’s quest…moves the story forward. Subplots are okay – but reader expects to come to a plot point where everything adds up and is revealed.
9. Expects everything in the story is there on a need to know basis, even the weather. Everything should be there for a reason – move the story forward…details, descriptions, etc. Has to be there for a reason. Otherwise it slows down the pace.
10. Expects that the protagonist will be flawed and vulnerable. TV show “Justified” is a good example. Flaws create instability.
11. Expects that as the protagonist tries to solve issues in story, things will get worse. It will reveal more of protagonist subtext…until character has to deal with it in order to solve issue. Expose character completely in story – when reader gets to climax, all weakness should be revealed and consequences should be apparent. The antagonist should follow a journey similar to the protagonist.
12. Expects that at the end of the story the protagonist will emerge changed. See through new eyes. Transformed by their journey.

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