Inherent BS: Reader-Writer Contract?

This may come as a shock to you, but I’m not just a writer, I’m a gamer. Go figure, right? But the thing about it is that recently the two worlds have been merging more and more as games with real plots have started to become the standard bearers for the rest of the industry. Writing for games has actually, in some studios, become respectable. And at the forefront of a lot of this was a game series called Mass Effect.

And then they fucked it up.

I’m not saying that as a judgment of the quality of their last game but rather as a judgment of their position in the eyes of their fans. You see, if you’re unaware, there was a bit of a controversy not long ago about the release of the final game in the trilogy, Mass Effect 3. The ending for this game was apparently so counter to what the fans expected that there was what could be called a… nuclear meltdown. The fans of the series, at least a large portion of them, have said they felt betrayed by the results of Mass Effect 3’s last 10 to 20 minutes of game time. How betrayed? Well one person actually reported them to the Federal Trade Commission for, apparently, fraud.

Even the characters are confused

Now, I don’t want to sound callous about this: I understand that buying the whole trilogy to get to that point means you’ve spent hundreds of dollars and countless hours of your time to meet that one moment of resolution. If you’re angry that resolution was lackluster then it’s your right to be angry. But one thing that I’ve seen repeatedly brought to the front of this argument is a so called “reader-writer contract”.

To say that I, as a writer, was shocked to find out that there was a contract would be an understatement. In fact, I looked around, I wasn’t the only one. Turns out, the only people who were taking this “reader-writer contract” seriously were the fans and the hand-full of writers who actually proposed this concept on their blogs. Yeah, you read that right, someone was holding writers to the standards of someone’s blog.

Typical blogger in a nutshell

Now, if you’re part of the writing community, you’ll inevitably take to starting a blog and then using that blog to discuss writing. This is basically how our people operate and communicate with each other and the world at large (while also whoring out our books: see here). But I, for one, don’t think that anyone should be obligated to follow what I’m saying here on this blog except for me. If I don’t follow it, I’m a hypocrite. If someone else doesn’t follow my ramblings, they have a mind of their own.

But somewhere along the line, the concept that there was a “reader-writer contract” actually bled into the consciousness of the viewing public. I had to find this thing and come to understand just what exactly it was I was obligated to follow. Apparently, according to the ME3 controversy, we’ve all signed this thing. And in the course of being handed this argument, someone gave me a version of this reader-writer contract for me to see. Let’s just say I have some problems with it.

Let’s take a look, shall we? For the sake of not outing which version of this I’ve been handed, I’ll avoid linking it and will paraphrase. For the sake of space, I’ll only address the ones I have reason to disagree with.

The Author will treat the reader as intelligent. Do not resolve everything for the reader, leave things for them to resolve themselves

This one is actually common sense. You don’t belittle your audience because a belittled audience is an angry audience. But the thing about not resolving everything for them becomes troublesome when you realize that the writer is now obligated to predetermine the intelligence level of their readers. This, of course, requires you to be not only psychic but have a machine which could let you read the minds of every reader on the planet.

Needless to say, this is not something you can achieve for everyone in everything. You are going to, at some point, insult someone’s intelligence because either A) you yourself did not feel you would have figured it out on your own or B) you were concerned that the stuff you left lying around was too subtle because none of your test readers had noticed it. I had this problem myself when one of my test readers missed every clue in my book (see here) when the other 4 test readers actually figured it out independently at various other points throughout the book. Ironically? This reader who didn’t figure out a key part of the book repeatedly told me that they felt they didn’t need to be told other things.

“That damned machine told me it would work”

Conclusion? People are different, this part of the contract is nearly impossible.
The story will follow the conventions of the genre it claims to be

This one ticked me off the most due to my personal experiences with figuring the genre of my own book. You see, I had written it as something you could consider a supernatural mystery, but there was a lack of magical and I had gone out of my way to deal with these creatures as something tangible. Was it fantasy, science fiction, mystery or crime? I honestly didn’t know. For a couple days I spent time studying the conventions of the different genres to figure out just where exactly I fit. I knew I could choose two on most of the venues I could ePublish, but which ones to choose took some time.

Mystery? Sci-fi? Taking a theme too far? You decide!

Did I pick the right ones? I’m still not 100% sure. And if someone disagrees with me, should I be reported to the FTC?
Conclusion? Doesn’t really respect the fact genres are subjective.

The style of your first page or scene will be the style of your whole story. If you start off funny, it will stay funny.

Your first page apparently will be everything that you ever do, apparently. If you start off something lighthearted and gradually move towards a darker outcome or write a story about someone with crippling depression managing to move on past it towards a better outlook on life…you’ve violated the contract. The first scene of my book, proper, involves my character under cover in a ridiculous outfit. Later in the book he starts to have a breakdown over the fact he doesn’t know who he can trust anymore and is tormented by the fact he may not know what to believe anymore.

According to the people who’ve read by book…the first scene is pretty funny and a few later scenes are terribly sad. There are humorous instances and one liners peppered throughout the rest of the story, but it doesn’t maintain one mood throughout. According to this contract, that’s a no-no.

The Joker is either confused or a deal breaker, we’re not sure.

Conclusion? I wasn’t aware we were required to make our characters two dimensional.
There are more parts to this “contract” but I think I’ve made my case. When I protested against the idea that I should be held to this contract, specifically because of the points listed here, I was told that my protest meant I thought everyone should happily read crappy stories without saying a word. That’s bullshit. Here is the true reader-writer contract, the only one that all readers and writers are obligated to.

1) The Writer will try their very best not to write something that will be hated by the majority of the people

2) The Reader will show their support to what they like and will not show their support to what they don’t like

3) Everyone will buy my book as stated in this contract, else all things shall be void and writers across the world will write horrible pieces of crap until the end of time

Sign Here_______

(no, that doesn’t count as blackmail)

If they can do it, so can I.

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