Promises are the lifeblood of your story. A promise at the beginning is your hook, creating in the reader an expectation that will drive them to finish the story. When the promise is fulfilled, the reader comes away from the story feeling satisfied that you knew what you were doing. However, promises are not that straightforward.
When you break a promise, in the reader’s eyes it’s treachery. (I spoke about that with regard to characters in this post.) You promised them something awesome—that was why they were reading your story. But after they agreed to read your story, you ignored them. You created an expectation, and then pulled the rug out from under them. That’s bribery. Unfortunately, you might not even know you’re doing it. The readers do, however, and it reflects in their reviews.
For instance, one of the silliest parts of the Inheritance Cycle was the very end. In the third book, Eragon makes a lot of promises to a lot of different people– one in particular to the Menoa Tree, a giant sentient tree that gave him his sword. In the fourth book, he conquers the evil spreading over the land, solves all sorts of subplots, and then goes to see the giant tree to see what he has to do to complete that promise. The tree, however, just tells him to go and be happy, or something like that. That was the biggest letdown of the book. For two entire books, each the size of a hippopotamus, we thought Eragon would make a terrible sacrifice trying to please this giant tree, and then it suddenly doesn’t matter. The author didn’t want to make his series any longer (because he wasted so much time on battle scenes), so he dropped his promise.
The problem with promises, however, is how innocuous they seem. Nowhere does an author say, “I hereby swear to make these two characters kiss by the end of the book.” But we as readers know the promises exist– otherwise, we wouldn’t stick around until the end of the book. The author somehow created an expectation without us realizing it. We know it works for published authors– a good hook and some fulfilled promises can turn unpublished writers into published writers, after all. So how do we, the unpublished, harness this for our own use? Continue reading “Promises”