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Casually Vacant Writing

          We have spoken a lot on this blog about
considering your audiences when you’re a writer and how important this is to
being successful. How easy is it to get caught up in what we’re doing and
forget that we are not just writing for ourselves but for our readers?
Sometimes we can find ourselves getting caught up in an exciting new idea and
we go ahead with it without really considering that our audience hasn’t gone
through the same experience.
            A
great example of such a mistake would be JK Rowling’s “Casual Vacancy.” This
book has had a cameo on this blog before, but I thought it warranted a repeat
appearance for this discussion. “Casual Vacancy” was met with very mixed
reviews. Being the first book JK Rowling published under her own name after the
Harry Potter books was a recipe for unrealistic expectations. Many reviews
tried to excuse the drastic departure from her prior writing style and themes
as an attempt to appeal to a more mature audience, but that would assume that a
more mature audience hadn’t read and loved the Harry Potter books. I think we
can all agree that was simply not the case.
            Harry
Potter crossed generations because of its broad appeal to imagination,
creativity, and accessible writing style. Casual Vacancy contrasted this with a
mind-numbingly slow moving start that actually involved literally no action or
intrigue for the first 100 pages. When you contrast this approach with that of
the consistent rise and fall of action in the Harry Potter books, it’s no
wonder that many people were disappointed.
            So
was it a mistake for JK Rowling to write “Casual Vacancy” in an attempt to
redefine herself as an “adult” author? I would say no. I think it was likely a
good move to jump ship from the children and youth market. However, when you
make such an impact in one genre, jumping to another can be tricky. You
obviously will not be keeping the same audience, but if you want to keep as
much of the adult population as you can who were enamoured with your children’s
books, you have to find a compromise. You can’t have such a juxtaposition in
your style that you lose your voice. (*Disclaimer* This is obviously just an
individual opinion, but when there is excessive character development combined
with swearing and a lack of any and all action… it is usually safe to say
that you have departed from a universally accessible style)

            Luckily
for JK Rowling, she did write the Harry Potter books before Casual Vacancy and
so her name attached to anything sells books, but we can’t all have that kind
of reputation. For many of us writers that are trying to make a name for
ourselves, our reputations are (dare I say) much more fickle or fragile. Our audiences
have expectations of us and it would be a mistake to disappoint them. Does that
mean we can’t take risks or challenge ourselves? No. It just means that we
can’t nearly offend some of our readers by leaving them in the dust just for the
sake of pursuing something radical and “different.” Be mindful. Let your
readers know you are loyal to them and they will be loyal to you. Then the
person making the mistake won’t be you, but instead it will be the person who doesn’t snatch your
book up off the shelf!

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