Nathanael Green's Blog

An advertising copywriter, novelist, and freelance writer's brain goo.

A Writer’s Obligation to Readers?

with 8 comments

Summer is coming, and with it, Martin's new book.

The five-year wait is over.

I got an email from Tor.com today that gleefully announced (yes, it actually was gleeful) that George R.R. Martin’s next book, Dance of Dragons has a release date.

For those of you who aren’t wrapped up in the world of fantasy fiction, this comes five years after the release of the previous book in his Song of Ice and Fire series and it has been the subject of much, much discussion on its delay. More on that in a bit.

And those of you already involved in A Song of Ice and Fire, you may officially begin rubbing your grubby little gauntlets together in anticipation.

Did it take forever? Or are fans just whiny?

There’s been a bit of a hubbub about how long it’s taken Mr. Martin to write this book, and it brings to mind a question that I think is important to all writers of fiction:

what kind of responsibility does an author have to his readers?

The series thus far, which includes four books, has been a gigantic success. That’s splendid. But at some point (possibly when he announced that he scrapped an entire year’s worth of work started all over) many fans began to clamor that Mr. Martin was just simply taking way too long to write a book. He owed it to his fans to deliver his words of wonder and amazement right now! How dare he take this long???

Ahem.

The way I see it, writers should put out the very best work that they can. We should be held to a quality standard, with few or no points awarded or deducted for quantity or speed. (OK, maybe a few extra-credit points for quantity, but only if you’ve already got a 95% or better quality rating on your previous work.)

Writing is hard work, and it takes how long it will take. Should writers try to be productive? Of course. If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. But some stories take longer to discover and get down than others, and some writers simply have a different method than than cranking out a zillion words a day.

One of the things people (me included) rave about with the Song of Ice and Fire series is its complexity. The characters are all amazingly fleshed out, the plots and subplots are so intertwined that it’s like mating season in Eel City, and the stories stretch across continents and years. That’s a huge amount to keep track of, plan, and arrange so every bit fits and makes sense and eventually creates the quality that fans love so much. Misty Massey has a good explanation of this in her post at MagicalWords.net on Untying the Knot.

So what do you think? Do writers have obligations to their audience? Is five years too long for a book?

Image: flickr/cheetah100

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Written by Nathanael Green

March 3, 2011 at 10:26 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Writers do have obligations to their readers, but not as to the length of time between books. I think it’s completely crazy to think that the audience could dictate this. For many if not most excellent writers, you often do have to wait a substantial amount of time. I think the series factor may muddle the issue a bit, but for example, fans waited almost ten years between Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, and yet, though antsy, I don’t think they felt he ‘owed’ them anything.

    Of course, I suppose occasionally there is some cynical manipulation of fandom and the writer, or more likely the publisher withholds a manuscript in order to hype it, but it takes a hell of a long time to write a complex novel, and making it fit with the rest of a series just makes it that much harder.

    On another note, should I try to read George R. R. Martin? I’ve been tempted before.

    And on a third note, I am a bit surprised to have been ‘scooped’ on this one, as we are frequently asked this question in the bookstore and yet I didn’t hear about it there. I wasn’t on the floor that much, but still. I think local fans may be momentarily sated by the arrival of the second Patrick Rothfuss. It won’t last, the jackals.

    seana

    March 3, 2011 at 11:16 pm

  2. Seana,
    Interesting that you say writers do have an obligation to readers. I agree, and I’m interested to hear what sorts of obligations you’d suggest?

    Martin’s books are long and complex and, I’ll admit, have some spans where it feels like it’s only slight character development as he arranges all the chess pieces. But for me it all pays off. I won’t launch into yet another love-fest here, but suffice to say that I’d recommend at least giving him a chance.

    And speaking of Patrick Rothfuss, I haven’t read him yet. The Name of the Wind was so hyped up and it’s on my list, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. What do you think of it?

    Nathanael Green

    March 3, 2011 at 11:54 pm

  3. Aside from quality writing produced at manufacturing-plant like speeds, writers also owe readers:
    -their first born child
    -a pound of flesh
    -their immortal soul
    I read that somewhere. I don’t know where, though.

    Brian O'Rourke

    March 4, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    • Well, I’m not sure I could really list it off, but I think we do know when we feel cheated. I think series have a lot of temptations, but they are almost all the opposite of making people wait too long. Sloppiness, a slapdash attitude, dialing it in–being cynical about your readership I think would all be sort of cardinal sins.

      seana

      March 4, 2011 at 10:14 pm

      • Seana, that’s a good point about knowing when you feel cheated. I think that’s especially true of series where readers can invest themselves (and occasionally money) in a number of books before suddenly the author ran out of steam and just gave up on the quality they’d had before.

        Nathanael Green

        March 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    • Brian,

      It’s not a completely lopsided relationship, though. In return for all that, the readers are beholden to give the writer seven bucks.

      Nathanael Green

      March 7, 2011 at 3:38 pm

  4. Oh, as to Rothfuss, I haven’t read him, but he seems to be attracting the same kinds of readers as Martin, and several staff members have read him and have been more than eager for the sequel.

    seana

    March 4, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    • Rothfuss has certainly created quite a stir. His first book is now officially on my to-buy list.

      Nathanael Green

      March 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm


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