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Chapter 1: Writerly Goals, Purpose, and Audience

Reader Expectations

Melissa Ford Lucken

Readers expect different things from a literary novels as compared to genre novels. While this is a very general statement, it can be beneficial for the writer to consider these expectations because doing so will help with decision making.

Reader expectations for literary fiction can vary, as the encompasses a wide range of styles and themes. However, there are some general expectations that readers often have when approaching literary fiction:

Character Depth and Complexity

Readers of literary fiction often expect well-developed and multi-dimensional characters. They want to engage with characters who feel real, with intricate personalities, internal conflicts, and realistic motivations. Readers appreciate the opportunity to explore the depths of human experience through complex character portrayals.

Thought-Provoking Themes

Literary fiction often tackles profound themes and explores complex social, philosophical, or moral issues. Readers of literary fiction expect the exploration of these themes to provide them with new insights, challenge their perspectives, and provoke introspection. They seek intellectual stimulation and a deeper understanding of the world and the human condition.

Evocative Writing and Imagery

Literary fiction places importance on the quality of the writing itself. Readers expect prose that is beautifully crafted, with attention to detail, vivid descriptions, and the use of literary devices. They appreciate the ability of the writer to create evocative imagery that enhances the reading experience and draws them into the story world.

Emotional Resonance

Literary fiction often aims to evoke a strong emotional response from readers. Whether it’s joy, sadness, empathy, or contemplation, readers expect the story to engage their emotions and leave a lasting impact. They seek an emotional connection with the characters and the themes explored in the narrative.

Exploration of Narrative Techniques

Literary fiction may employ various narrative techniques, such as non-linear storytelling, multiple perspectives, or experimental structures. Readers of literary fiction are often open to exploring different narrative approaches and appreciate the innovative use of these techniques to enhance the storytelling or to achieve specific artistic effects.

Open-Endedness and Ambiguity

Unlike genre fiction, which often provides clear resolutions and neatly tied-up endings, literary fiction may leave room for interpretation and ambiguity. Readers of literary fiction are often comfortable with open-ended narratives that invite them to contemplate and reflect on the story’s meaning or draw their own conclusions.

It’s important to note that these expectations can vary from reader to reader, and not every reader will have the same preferences or desires when it comes to literary fiction. Additionally, different works of literary fiction may prioritize certain elements over others, depending on the author’s style and the specific themes explored.

Reader expectations for genre fiction can vary depending on the specific genre, but here are some general expectations that readers often have:

Engaging and Fast-Paced Plot

Readers of genre fiction expect a strong and compelling plot that grabs their attention from the start and maintains a sense of momentum throughout the story. They often seek well-paced narratives with twists, turns, and a clear sense of direction. The plot should follow the conventions and expectations of the genre, whether it’s a thrilling mystery, an epic fantasy quest, or a passionate romance.

Satisfying Resolution

Genre fiction tends to provide a sense of closure and resolution by the end of the story. Readers expect loose ends to be tied up, conflicts to be resolved, and closure to be achieved. While series or ongoing storylines are common in genre fiction, each individual installment should offer some level of satisfaction and resolution.

Strong and Memorable Characters

While genre fiction may place more emphasis on plot-driven narratives, readers still expect well-developed and relatable characters. They want characters who are interesting, likeable, or compelling in some way. Characters should have clear goals, face challenges, and undergo growth or transformation throughout the story.

Escapism and Entertainment

Genre fiction often serves as a form of escapism, offering readers a chance to be transported to different worlds, times, or situations. Readers expect to be entertained, to experience excitement, suspense, romance, or other emotions depending on the genre. They seek stories that captivate and engage their imaginations, providing an enjoyable reading experience.

Clear Storytelling and Accessibility

Genre fiction typically prioritizes clear and accessible storytelling. Readers expect writing that is easy to follow, with a clear narrative structure, and a focus on the story’s progression. While literary elements can still be present, the primary goal is to keep readers engrossed and turning the pages.

Genre-Specific Atmosphere and Setting

Readers of genre fiction often appreciate a well-crafted atmosphere and immersive settings that align with the genre. Whether it’s a gritty urban landscape in a crime thriller or a richly detailed fantasy world, readers expect the atmosphere and setting to enhance the genre experience and contribute to the overall enjoyment of the story.

Genre-Specific Conventions

Genre fiction has established conventions and tropes that readers often expect to be present and handled in a satisfying way. For example, mystery readers expect a crime to be solved, science fiction readers expect futuristic or speculative elements, and romance readers expect a focus on romantic relationships. Readers appreciate when these genre-specific elements are present and executed well.

Each genre “comes with” its own unique set of tropes. Knowing the tropes can help the reader understand reader expectations. Here are some common tropes found in some genre fiction.


    • Chosen One: A central character is destined to fulfill a significant role or embark on a heroic quest.
    • Magical Creatures: Mythical creatures such as dragons, elves, or dwarves populate the story.
    • Epic Battles: Grand, large-scale conflicts between opposing forces.
    • Coming of Age: A young protagonist undergoes personal growth and discovers their hidden powers or destiny.

Science Fiction:

    • Dystopia: A future society plagued by oppressive governments or post-apocalyptic landscapes.
    • Artificial Intelligence: Intelligent machines or robots play a significant role in the story.
    • Space Exploration: Adventures and discoveries in outer space, involving alien civilizations or futuristic technology.
    • Time Travel: Characters manipulate time, altering the past or exploring potential futures.


    • Whodunit: A central mystery that requires solving, often involving a crime or murder.
    • Red Herrings: Misleading clues or suspects that divert attention from the true culprit.
    • Unreliable Narrator: The perspective of the protagonist or narrator may be questionable or biased.
    • High-Stakes Suspense: Intense action, danger, and a race against time to uncover the truth.


    • Forbidden Love: Characters from different backgrounds or opposing sides who fall in love.
    • Love Triangle: A protagonist caught between two potential romantic partners.
    • Happily Ever After: A satisfying and optimistic ending where love conquers all.
    • Opposites Attract: Characters with contrasting personalities or backgrounds who find love and compatibility.


    • Supernatural Entities: Ghosts, vampires, zombies, or other supernatural beings that instill fear.
    • Psychological Thrills: Exploration of characters’ fears, phobias, and psychological torment.
    • Survival: Characters trapped in dangerous or terrifying situations, fighting to stay alive.
    • Haunted Locations: Settings with a dark history or paranormal activity.

Tropes can be used creatively and subverted to add freshness to a story. Skilled authors often combine and reinterpret tropes to create unique and engaging narratives that surprise and captivate readers.


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Reader Expectations by Melissa Ford Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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