Reader Expectations

Guest blog by Robin Lee Hatcher

Robin Lee Hatcher and I (Karen Ball) have been friends for a lot of years. One of the things I most respect about her is the respect and love she has for her readers. She doesn’t write just for the sake of telling a good story. She writes to uplift and encourage her readers, to remind them they’re not alone in their struggles and challenges. Robin tells stories right from the heart, and her readers love her for it. With good reason.

So welcome, Robin, to the Steve Laube Agency Blog. I can’t wait to see what you’ve decided to share with us!

And in case you are wondering, best-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. She makes her home in Idaho where she enjoys spending time with her family, her high-maintenance Papillon, Poppet, and Princess Pinky, the cat who currently terrorizes the household. Her latest release, from Women of Faith Fiction, is Heart of Gold, set during the Civil War in the gold camps of Idaho.

Robin can be found on the Internet in the following places:
Write Thinking blog:
Twitter: @robinleehatcher
Web site:


I write genre fiction, and I say it without apology. I write what is often called “popular fiction” (to which I always want to ask, “Why would I want to write unpopular fiction?”). My 65+ books fall into such genres (or sub-genres) as historical sagas, historical romance, contemporary romance, and contemporary women’s fiction. All of my books since 1999 are also Christian fiction.

Writers of genre fiction often bristle when someone says the word “formula.” To many, that equates to saying all of our books are the same, that if you follow some predefined formula anybody could write one. But all historical romances, for instance, are not the same. The journeys of the heroes and heroines are unique to a book’s plot and to a writer’s style and voice. There isn’t a formula to be followed. (Sometimes I wish there were!) So if that is the meaning when someone says “formula,” then I’ll bristle too.

However, all historical romance (again my “for instance” genre) are the same when it comes to meeting readers expectations. Or at least, they’d better be.

When a reader picks up a romance, they expect the hero and heroine to overcome the problems (physical and emotional) that separate them and, by the end of the book, to make a lasting commitment to one another in love. When a reader picks up a mystery, they expect the protagonist to solve the mystery by the end of the book. When a reader picks up a fantasy, they expect to find themselves in another realm of some sort.

Fail to meet readers’ expectations, and a genre novel will fail to satisfy.

In Stanley D. Williams’ The Moral Premise (a book for screenwriters but applicable to novelists too), he writes:

Genre films create certain audience expectations for the protagonist. Often the protagonist’s arc is known by the audience before the movie begins. Such expectations about the construction of genres may predetermine how the protagonist reacts to the story’s moral premise and conflict. This is because, as Thomas Schatz explains in Hollywood Genres, genre movies deal with fundamental cultural conflicts that can never be ultimately resolved but yet offer a solution, if only temporary and idealistic. Schatz refers to these fundamental, never-truly-to-be-resolved conflicts as the “static nucleus” of genre stories, and the resolution as the film’s “dynamic surface structure.”

In these terms, Westerns are stories about rugged individualism; that is, a hero who helps a community resolve a problem of social integration that brings about a new social order. But in the end, our Western hero returns to his individual ways and cannot himself be integrated into the new order.

[and a little later]

In the Romantic Comedy the fundamental differences between the sexes are temporarily resolved through a new order of compromise for the sake of love. But after the wedding, everyone expects the sparks to fly again.

Genre, therefore, helps define and describe the arc that the story, and thus each character, is expected to take as they test and then embrace or reject the Moral Premise.

As I prepare this post, I am close to 25% finished with my latest work-in-progress (WIP) which is (bet you already guessed) an historical romance. It will release in the spring of 2013.

I’ve written dozens of historical romances in my career (complete list here), but I have never before written the story of Tyson and Diana, the hero and heroine of my WIP. Their stories as individuals have never been told before. Their story as a couple hasn’t been told before either. And that’s why readers of historical romance will want to pick up this novel even if they’ve read a thousand romances before this one. Because they’ll want to know Tyson and Diana and discover how these two individuals, who have such obstacles facing them and forcing them apart, will ever manage to overcome those same obstacles in order to find a lasting love.

Formula? No. Meeting a reader’s expectations? Yes. The latter is both my job and my pleasure.

7 Responses to Reader Expectations

  1. Avatar
    TC Avey April 4, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    I admire your writings and enjoy your blog Robin, thank you for sharing with us today!

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    Jill Kemerer April 4, 2012 at 7:09 am #

    Robin, your latest cover is breathtaking! I love reading historical romances. I love reading “popular fiction.” And I agree with you–no two romances, even though the bones are the same–read alike. The characters make all the difference. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Avatar
    Ruth Douthitt April 4, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    It’s good to be reminded to remember the reader! I write to inspire my readers too.

    Thanks for the post!

  4. Avatar
    Hilarey April 4, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Thank you Robin, for bringing clarity to the differences between formula and reader expectation. This is a very valuable post.
    Who would want to write unpopular fiction, indeed!

  5. Avatar
    Robin Lee Hatcher April 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    So glad you all enjoyed the post. It was fun to get to visit. (Thanks, Karen and Steve.)

  6. Avatar
    Penny McGinnis April 4, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Hi Robin,

    I’ve read several of your books and I appreciate your heart for God. Thank you for adding wonderful books to the shelves. So glad that Karen asked you to share with us.

  7. Avatar
    Cheryl Reifsnyder April 6, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Thanks for a great explanation of the difference between “genre fiction” and “formula fiction.” I’m pointing all questioners to this post! 🙂

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