A Bitchery reader named Ellen emailed me to say she’d read The Rest Falls Away and had liked it. Her feedback, though, was slightly different from mine, and she owes her perspective, she says, to the fact that she’s a fantasy reader. Her focus was on world building, and the idea that there can easily be more than one hero, or a lack of clarity on who the primary hero is throughout most of the novel, didn’t bother her at all. Seems that’s rather a common feature of fantasy series.
This intrigued me, because I’d never thought about the different perspectives of romance readers and fantasy/sci fi readers, but as the genres bleed into one another more and more of late, it seems like there’s a lot in common between the expectations of each group, and even more that varies.
Before I start blathering on, though, a caveat: I’m using the term “sci fi/fantasy” broadly. Even though I don’t read a great deal of either genre, I do know that the two terms do not describe identical genres, so please understand that I’m not defining inaccurately; I’m trying to be as inclusive when describing a community of readers with similar expectations from their preferred work of fiction. Also, while The Rest Falls Away was the catalyst for my discussion, when I refer to any plot points or elements of plot, characterization or worldbuilding, I’m not referring specifically or obliquely to any perceived flaw in that particular book. I’m speaking generally, making huge, sweeping assumptions with a double-wide trailer-sized brush! Whee!
Hanyway, my email exchange with Ellen and later with Candy caused my interest in the variations in reaction between romance readers and sci fi/fantasy readers, since each group seems to have very different expectations and tolerates variations on themes in disparate ways. While a fantasy/sci fi reader might be totally ok with the potential for multiple – e.g. more than two – heroes, the buffet o’ manly heroic men is something that I’ve personally only started coming across recently. I’ve seen my share of triangles, but there’s more than a few books I’ve read, particularly fantasy or paranormal romances, that feature a manly man smorgasboard. Is this the influence of one into the other? Perhaps. But a mostly-romance reader might feel dicked around by the author if s/he doesn’t have at least an inkling who the hero will be, or a sense of who the heroine likes best. Yet many fantasy series readers—and I’m going to guess that there are more fantasy series than stand alone books, which isn’t as true for fantasy/paranormal romance to the best of my knowledge—are able to handle multiple heroes as part of the development of the series as a whole, and the development of all the characters involved.
To spin it a different way, historical fiction readers, according to one dude I heard speak at that tea I went to last October, expect a fictional story told in a meticulously researched setting, so that all the peripheral details are 110% factually accurate, but the story itself is not – but COULD be true since everything else is. Fantasy readers seem to expect from authors a meticulous job of world building and within that world a set of consistent rules governing the fantastical – e.g. repercussions for use/abuse of magical power – while romance readers might be more accepting of world building flaws, but often NOT tolerant of historical inaccuracy or forgiving of character deviations in terms of romantic coupling.
There’s a good bit in common between each genre but the readers have such different expectations that it’s fascinating to me: how do fantasy readers react to paranormal and fantasy romance novels, both series and stand-alone issues? How do romance readers react to fantasy and sci-fi? I know many of the readers here enjoy heaping piles of both genres, so I have to ask: do your expectations and evaluative standards change when you enter one genre versus another? Do you examine each genre from a different perspective when you read? Obviously, we’re all looking for quality storytelling without flaws like flimsy motivations or obvious deux ex machina endings, but once you’ve started reading a solid story from either genre, do you look for different things? What are the differences, if any, in your expectations?