Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Expectations - High, Low or No?

I've been thinking a lot lately about expectations people put on things. You know what I'm talking about, right? You're excitedly looking forward to a big party, expecting to meet fun people, have scintillating conversations, maybe discover the love of your life. The party doesn't turn out quite like you expected, maybe the host is in a bad mood, didn't put any food out, has ghastly wine and the one person you do meet has bad breath, is a close talker and won't leave your side the entire night. Or another example all you readers out there can identify with: you hear about a GREAT book, a book you have been told over and over again you must read, you will love it, it gets all these awards. You're excited. Can't wait to read it so you pick it up and ... you can barely make it past chapter two. And it's a hardcover that you spent over 25 bucks on. I think that example ticks me off more than a lousy party.

So, was it the high expectations that ruined the party and the book? Would you have enjoyed both more if you went in thinking that you would have a lousy time and you checked the book out of the library because the cover caught your eye? Are high expectations the reason behind many of the negative reviews we see for movies and books? I wonder if I would have enjoyed Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins nearly as much as I did if I'd bought it after all the hoopla surrounding the series. I was lucky enough to buy it right when it came out - yes, it had some good reviews but it hadn't 'caught fire' (pardon the pun) as much as it has now. So, while I hoped for a good read I was blown away by the story. I don't know if I would have had the same kind of reaction if I'd been bombarded by all the hype it's getting now because, after all that press, I would 'expect' to be blown away. The bar has been set pretty high.

I guess you could argue that truly great books, movies, parties, whatever will always meet expectations because that's what makes them great. TOY STORY 3 for example, had HUGE expectations when people went to see it and by no means did it disappoint. It even, dare I say it? in my opinion, surpassed the expectations the audience had for it. But that is a rare, rare thing.

Pixar genius aside, I think I prefer going into something new - whether it's a book, movie, or a party having no expectations at all. I like approaching the new experience with a clean slate because then the intensity of the experience - if it's good - will be even more pronounced. It doesn't mean I don't read reviews - I do. But I try not to put too much stock in them. Maybe my husband has had it right all these years - he doesn't want to hear ANYTHING about a movie before he goes to see it. He doesn't want to hear what I've heard or what I think about it. He truly wants an empty slate so that he can be surprised, excited or totally disgusted on his own, without expectations.

What do you think? Are high expectations a good thing to have? Or is it better to temper expectations with a dose of "Whatever will be will be?"


  1. I think high expectations are good when the book or movie actually meets with it. But in general over inflated book reviews don't always help a book that is good bordering great but not terrific. What one person loves another will think is mediocre.

  2. Hi Laura: Yes, I'm also finding a tendency for people to over-hype something now - like they're almost afraid to give some criticism of it. True criticism - like when we critique our fellow writers work - works best when both good and bad are stated.

  3. I always enjoy a book or movie more when I haven't heard much about it before and I don't have any expectations!
    As well, currently my agent has subbed my ms and I wish I didn't have any expectations to hear back within the next hour so I could stop obsessively checking emails!

  4. Oh, TerryLynn! Being on sub is the worst/best sort of excitement. Yes, you can't help but have expectations - even when you know hearing back in an hour is a bit unrealistic! :) Keeping all my fingers and toes crossed for you and your book sub!