Well 'Indulge the Reader' is an Editorial phrase I've often found winging it's way to me in revisions notes - usually prefixed with the phrase 'Don't be afraid to...' So what does it mean? Well, here's my take on it...
Any reader will pick up a certain type of book with an expectation of what they'll find inside the cover - certainly in category romance. If you buy an Intrigue you'll go looking for that touch of mystery, if you buy a Modern/Presents you'll look for that element of glamour and sophistication, a Blaze - a sexy hot read... you with me? So when you start to write for a specific line, you should write with that expectation constantly in the back of your mind and then indulge the reader by fulfilling that expectation. Make more sense now?
Lets look at one of the lines I write for again:
Romance is: From the Heart. For the Heart.
Now I dunno if you lot have noticed but there is now a completely updated set of Guidelines for this line on the eharlequin site here - which outlines the changes in the line since it merged with Silhouette Romance back in September. PRINT THESE GUIDELINES OUT AND KEEP THEM CLOSE BY - go now - shoo - do as Auntie Trish says!!!
These notes are straight from 'the horses mouth' so to speak - from the people who have the market research at their fingertips, who talk to readers, who watch sales. THEY KNOW what works for a specific line - they KNOW the expectations of that line. It's up to us as writers to then indulge those expectations.
Let's break it down a little (and I'm fully prepared to come back to this again and again if you have any questions on it - cos it's quite a big topic!) Starting with:
Character driven: These stories must be character driven. We're not looking for standard, tried and tested hook-driven plots. Stories must begin with a set of unique, engaging, appealing characters. Their individual circumstances will drive the emotional conflicts and what happens in the story — and because they're unique, the story will be too. We are looking for fresh, appealing, innovative storylines and delivery.
What does this mean? Well for starters it means the obvious thing that I keep banging on and on and on about almost constantly in this series - The characters drive your story! Without believable characters and understandable reactions and emotions we can have the best gosh-darned plot that ever did grace a page but it's *still* gonna feel f-l-a-t. We have to give a damn about these people living happily ever after and we have to completely *get* what held them apart. And in Romance - in order to do this - the characters have to delve deep into their own actions, reactions and emotions - and they have to justify themselves to themselves and to us.
Let's say the heroine is snippy or cool or rude to the hero in the beginning then we need to understand why - and similarly for the hero. I'm not saying give away your entire conflict in the first chapter - but at the very very least you have to hint at there being a reason - maybe simply by showing us through inner thoughts that they know they're being snippy or cool or rude but that they have due cause to be and then later on revealing the deep seated cause for it. Never assume that just because a reader has picked up the book after they enjoyed other books in the line that they will therefore automatically love yours too. Give them what they went looking for - they paid hard earned cash for that book!!! So even when you've finished your manuscript and you're at the editing stage - look to see where there are places that you could indulge us a little more and remember above all things that when it comes to the ending we want all those little loose ends tied up!!! Unless you're planning on writing a sequel (which is a rare rare rare thing in Category Romance - I mean, DoDo bird rare - cos even in a continuity a story will always always have a stand-alone quality to it!) then don't leave your reader wondering 'But what about-?'
Heroine: She drives the story — the reader lives vicariously through her. This doesn't mean there can't be a hero point-of-view — this is important to give the hero depth and credibility. But the heroine is the vehicle through which the reader experiences the romance. The reader wants to be able to identify strongly with her, to like her, to want to be her, or want to be her friend. She must be a strong, convincing woman of the 21st century.
Now, you'll notice I've put some of this in bold lettering... Almost speaks for itself doesn't it? The art in this, though, is elusive - because let's face facts and be completely honest here - what one woman may find a wonderful quality in a friend may not be what the next person would look for. Women are notoriously critical of other women. The only way I can see round this myself is to make sure that the reader understands the reasons why the heroine does, says and feels the things she does. (and no - I'm not perfect - I might not always get this right myself) We might not agree with her, or do the things she does the way she does ourselves, but we need to understand why she does. So - I'm the reader - indulge me on this. I might be yelling at the page when she doesn't get what the hero meant when I can see it as plain as zebra strips on an elephant but if you make me understand why she's being such an idiot then I may forgive her by the time I hit the last page - you know what I mean? And the best writer's will show me - not tell me - she'll weave hints of it into the story that if she's disgustingly good I won't get until the moment all is revealed (when as a fellow writer I shall - naturally - have to hate her for a minute...just because...).
And for me - one of the best ways to indulge me as a reader - is to make sure that I *see* much more of that irresistable edge to the hero through the heroine's eyes than I maybe ever do of the heroine through his. If the reader is living vicariously through the heroine then at some stage they might want to fantasize they *are* the heroine - so I'm not saying make her invisible (cos we need to see her from the hero's POV, right?) but make sure the hero is described as often as possible and is as yummy as yummy can be! Indulge me. Make-me-want-him! Give me how he looks, how he moves, how his eyes sparkle with humor or anger, and so much more cos lets face it I wanna know! - and then give me how that makes her feel - and in a way I can completely get - cos you've shown me already how irresitable he is!
(And read what they had to say about the hero in the Guidelines to see what they have to say about him - then if you have questions we'll go over them - okay?)
Make sense so far???
Romantic fantasies: There are fundamental romantic fantasies that appeal to women worldwide, and stories in this new series can involve these fantasies — such as forced proximity, sheikhs, royalty, babies, cowboys — so long as they are executed in a fresh, original and character-driven way. These all should be firmly grounded in reality. Readers want to believe that this lasting happiness could actually happen — so this isn't the series for paranormal, mythical or fantastical elements.
Now here we get to LOVE-WHAT-WE-DO.
Again I've highlighted in bold some of the things I feel are most pertinent - and you can see where the term indulge the reader would slot neatly into this, can't you? Romantic fantasy is universal - and probably why the books we all love sell in their millions upon millions world-wide (Thank Heavens!!!) So what is it that makes a reader pick up a category romance again and again despite the frequent critique of them 'all being the same'??? Which to a very, very, very small extent is true - in that they all have a couple who fall in love and live happily ever after... Simply - we as readers continue to buy them because we want that happily ever after guarantee. The fact that a story can tap into a fantasy or two along the way - BONUS! So - indulge me - give me the against all odds story - give me a hero I can't resist - force me into close proximity with someone I might not want to be attracted to and then show me why I can't resist him... And yes, I'm afraid this does mean that to a certain extent you may have to subliminally tap into a fantasy or two of your own...
I'll hold up my hand and say that if you read every one of my books (which of course I'm gonna encourage you to do...) you could pretty much form an identikit for the kinda guy who would *float my boat* as the saying goes. All of them are tall, all of them are strong, all of them have a sense of humour, every single one of them is bloody minded enough to keep coming back no matter how many times the heroine tries to push them away. In fact if you could throw all of the personality traits of all my fourteen hero's into one package then it's safe to say I'd be married to him around about now... and blissfully happy. And by telling you that I'm kinda putting something a little personal *out there* but hey - we're all friends here, right??? Does that mean that all writers, deep down, want every single scenario they write about - hell no it doesn't - cos on the page we're talking fantasy and the power of imagination. But we, or the vast majority of us, are women writing for women - so that element of fantasy is a universal trait. What you have to do therefore is tap into it and indulge your reader along the way...
And you do that by not treating your reader as an idiot!!! This is where show not tell comes in again... Gimme all the ingredients I need - the yummy hero - the empathetic heroine - the fantasy element - the intense attraction - the circumstances that jell it all together - and then indulge me enough to let my imagination run free....
Until the end when you hand me the kind of Happily Ever After I want - the all singing all dancing all loose ends tied up version. So that when I close the book I believe those two people are still *out there* somewhere... together... living out the rest of their days... HAPPY. Make me believe guys, make me believe...
Yup - INDULGE ME = Gimme what I bought the book for. It's just that simple...
Now most of these pointers apply to both lines that I write for. But if you'd like to hear my thoughts on how Indulging the Reader applies to Modern Extra then we might have to do a second Blog on this topic... lemme know...
Oh - and again can I just say if you're one of the people who reads all the Blogs through my Writers Tips Page on the website - that I make no excuses for repeating myself from time to time. I like to think it just shows that I really believe in what I'm telling you. And remember also the mantra of IT'S WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU. YOU are special because you are UNIQUE and THAT'S WHAT WILL MAKE YOUR VOICE UNIQUE and THATS what'll make you sell guys! BELIEVE IN THAT.