Great Expectations

Last night after dinner, I asked Captain Cavedweller if he read the story about an elephant in South Africa that used a tourist’s car as a scratching post. (I have visions of sitting in the car on some exciting, expensive safari and watching an elephant wander up, then screaming in terror as he proceeds to squash the car with us trapped inside.)

Our discussion turned to safaris then to the wildlife parks you can drive through. CC, who generally  thinks animals, regardless of ferocity or number of claws and teeth, should enjoy human interaction and wants to pet them all. I, on the other hand, assume most animals are waiting to rip off an arm and refuse to pet one until proven docile.

Listening to him talk about the wonders of driving through a wildlife park, despite my grave warnings of danger, I finally shook my head at him. “You think it’s a petting zoo while I expect it to be Jurassic Park.”

That made him laugh and me smile, mostly because it’s true.

CC would expect all the animals to be friendly, eager to have a human pet them and pat their head and call them George. I would hover in the car, waiting for some bloodthirsty, carnivorous beast to attack the car and tear us limb from limb.

Thinking about our vastly different expectations got me thinking about our expectations in general. CC pretty much goes through life with the petting zoo mentality while I tend to hover closer to the Jurassic Park theory. Sometimes, I think that carries over into my work.

There are so many expectations tied up in writing and reading.

As a reader, you pick up a book, charmed by the cover, title or description, expecting to enjoy the story. If the book is what you expected, you are happy and go on your way. If the book is even better than you expected, you might get excited about it, tell a few friends about the great new book you just read, look for something else the author has written. If the book fails to meet your expectations, you’re irritated that you wasted your time, mad at the author for wasting your time, and you tell everyone you know about the stupid book that wasted your time.

As an author – let’s just say great expectations war with every emotion you can think of on a daily basis. In an hour’s time, you can think you are writing a masterpiece then decide it’s the worst story ever written.

Seriously, though, there are many layers of expectations in writing. You expect the book to be engaging, to draw in readers, to provide entertainment or touch their hearts in some way. You expect it to be free of errors. You expect the cover to look good when it’s the size of a postage stamp and the book title and description to catch their attention. Some people expect their novels to shoot to the best seller lists and make them wildly famous and rich. Some expect their books to do moderately well and plod along writing more and more books. You expect both bad reviews and good (although you expect to get more good than bad).

There are also expectations of the characters. To me, once the characters come alive in my mind, I have a responsibility to meet their expectations of having their story told in a clear, compelling manner. In a way that makes the readers think of them as friends or enemies – but evokes some emotional reaction to them. They probably also expect me to make them all look clever and heroic and not do stupid things, but I fail on that. I’m more interested in them seeming real.

Writing, like life, is full of expectations. I would do well, do wander toward CC’s petting zoo instead of waiting for dinosaurs to arrive.

Where do your expectations fall? Petting zoo? Jurassic Park? Or somewhere in between?


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