Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,
Kate
kate_nepveu

Reader/listener expectations, the power of

So I'm catching up on This American Life podcasts, still, and I get to a rebroadcast episode from way back in the day, #27, "The Cruelty of Children." Act One is David Sedaris telling a story from his youth and is fine. Act Two is Ira Sher telling a story about how when he was a child, he and some friends found a man trapped in a well and decided not to help him. It was absolutely chilling . . .

 . . . and at the end, the host says, oh, just to be clear, that was fiction.

Dear Reader, I was livid. I have only been listening to This American Life for a few months now, and all this time all their stories have been very much not fiction: straight-up investigative journalism, interviews, personal narratives, and so forth. And so I was very much not expecting fiction.

(It was introduced as "a story by writer Ira Sher," which is ambiguous; Sedaris was also introduced as a writer and his section was called "a story." It's clearly labeled fiction in the website summary, where you can listen to the episode, however.)

I point this out not to criticize This American Life, but to caution writers of all kinds: this is the power of reader expectations. Trifle with it at your peril.

Tags: podcasts, writing
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