When Your Readers Want to Learn a Little Something
As an author, my first goal is to entertain my readers with a good mystery. However, when I queried my targeted readers, I discovered that they also want to learn a “little something.” So I try to inform them as well.
Many authors inform. Some do it quite well. Others take longer. Some prefer to offer only action and an entertaining story, with little information. I truly enjoyed learning about Swedish life in Stieg Larsson’s series, which are all highly entertaining. And about the expansiveness of doll collecting in Deb Baker’s mysteries. I still remember discovering what it was like living in winter-time Alaska in Nora Roberts’ NORTHERN LIGHTS. My favorite author, James Clavell, imparted life in feudal Japan in SHOGUN. I felt like I was there and learned history as well as new perspectives.
So I concur with my readers: learning something while being entertained is a laudable goal of a good book, and even of a good mystery. The issue is balancing information dissemination with an entertaining story. Too much data results in boring background that readers feel they need to “wade through.”
One obvious method of delivering information while telling a story is to provide it as part of the plot. Deb Baker’s description of doll collection is an integral part of the mystery, for example. She leads us through the various doll collection aspects to offer clues and solve the crime. Each new piece of information leads us to a conclusion or diverts us in its role of a red herring.
Another method is to offer information through character descriptions. We learn a lot about feudal Japan through Clavell’s characters – through their dialogue, actions, and reactions to events. I use this method in my mysteries about a PR executive in Silicon Valley who is drawn into solving crimes. I inform my readers about the business of conducting public relations in the biotech environment through the activities of my protagonist Jillian Hillcrest.
However, not all readers want to learn something, I discovered. Reading a Patterson mystery seldom offers any new information, although it certainly entertains. So an important part of offering information is knowing your targeted readers and writing to them. I write mysteries. So primarily, I am looking for readers who like to read and solve puzzles. I also learned that my readers are not necessarily looking for great literature, but they do want to learn something—but not too much.
The balance between “data” and “story” is a tricky one. Whether we supply information as an integral part of a plot or through developing our characters, we need to understand and be mindful of what our targeted readers want. There will be many who don’t care about learning something new. Others will only read a book with “substance.” Who we choose to target determines how we write.
About the Book
PR Executive Jillian Hillcrest is having lunch with a reporter colleague when a woman enters and begs him not to print anything she’s told him because they will kill her if he does. A few days later, the reporter tells Jillian that the woman died in a car crash in his hometown. The police ruled her death an accident caused by driving under the influence of alcohol. Although Jillian is busy promoting her Silicon Valley biotech company, the reporter draws her into an investigation of his hometown police department, located in California north of the Napa-Sonoma wine region.
Coincidentally, Jillian’s neighbor Cynthia Anderson wonders about the untimely death of her policeman husband years earlier as part of the same police department. Meanwhile, Jillian’s ex-husband hovers over her to reverse the “ex” status. Unfortunately, none of them anticipates the frightening events that follow.
Price: $7.99 paperback $3.99 e-book
Publisher: McCloughan and Schmeltz
Release date: July 3, 2012
Buy links: Paperback, Ebook
About the Author
Joyce T. Strand, much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest, served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley spanning more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder. Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products. Joyce received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.; and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.
Links to connect with Joyce:
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