Deliver what you promise

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Here’s a disgusting analogy from Tex Thompson: don’t serve people lime jello with meat inside.  It’s not that meat jello is necessarily bad, but it’s something you have to prepare people for in advance. You can’t trick people into eating it.

“But,” a younger me said, globules of idiocy coagulating on the surface of my dunce-cap, “won’t people be intrigued when they think they’re getting boring old conventional jello and then I subvert the trope and give them aspic? Wouldn’t that be clever of me?”

No, moron. When you write a Conan-esque book that characterizes the big, strong warrior as a trauma-riddled sociopath who needs a good woman to help him get in touch with his emotions, you alienate people. People who like Conan will get mad that you poked holes in their favorite character, and people who like romance and psychological drama won’t pick up a Conan book in the first place. Nobody will buy the damn book. (uh, available now on Amazon!)

And yet I did it again. Hey folks, do you like Captain Kirk-type characters who have sex with hot aliens? I wrote a book like that, except the aliens are tentacle monsters and giant spiny worms! What about a swash-buckling James Bond-type agent of the Ottoman Empire…who is cursed to be unable to hurt anyone? An animal-loving naturalist protecting space-dragons…by putting all of humanity at risk?

The thing is, I like aspic. I like books that turn out to be deeper and more complex than their space opera or epic fantasy or horror exterior. I bet you do too. The problem is that you have to trust the person handing out the aspic. Bujold, Pratchett, and Gregory all of them started their writing careers with more conventional books. They also never forgot to actually include the thing they promised in each book. There actually are spaceships fighting in the Vorkosigan Saga, knights battling dragons in Discworld, and scary, awful things happening to unsuspecting people in Daryl Gregory’s books.

That’s why Junction, although it deals with murder, love, and the dark depths of tribalism, is mostly about alien monsters eating people. Fingers crossed on this one.

So what books do you like because they subverted tropes and gave you something different than you expected? What books did you hate for the same reason? What was the difference?

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  • Sara3346 .

    Eh, I think you have done a fairly good job. However I can agree with the criticism presented if tyrannnosaur queen.

  • Sara3346 .

    By the way I would really love to read charming lies, if only there were some way for me to buy it…

    • It’s trunked for now, but I can send it to you. Do I have your email address?

      • Sara3346 .

        Should I really be posting my email publicly :/

  • Stephen Hunt

    I present as evidence Wuthering Heights – one of the greatest romantic books of all time, actually filled with trauma, abuse, despair, years of seething hatred and barely a sign of a happy ending.

    Good article!

    • Yeah, but people don’t pick up Wuthering Heights and think “ah, I think I might give this a try.” Someone recommends it to them (or assigns it to them in school). So you’ve already got that trust that the author will deliver something BETTER than what they promised. Without that trust, nobody will pick up the book in the first place. I think that’s why debut works have to be more transparent and conventional.