For those joining us in mid-semester, the Contract Between Writer and Reader is this: I, the Writer, agree to tell you, the Reader, a lie, hereinafter referred to as a story. You, the Reader, agree to suspend your disbelief in this falsehood until the end of the story, OR until I, the Writer, drop the cake.
That's it; that's the Whole Contract. People occasionally add ancillaries and addendums, to kind of stack the deck in their favor, like with any contract. I submit that those are artificial conditions which serve only to distort the core principal.
For instance, I, the Writer, do not agree to:
1) never kill off a beloved character
2) always provide a H(appy) E(ver) A(fter) ending
3) always write the same book
4) always write the same kind of book
You, the Reader, do not agree to:
#adore everything I write
#finish reading a book that doesn't work for you
#buy a book in a genre you loathe, just because I wrote it
One Writer, indeed, may write across several genres, which would pretty much guarantee numbers 3 and 4, above. This is where it pays Readers to be advertent: If you want, say, a Liaden Universe® novel, and the cover says, oh, "fantasy" or "mystery" -- believe the cover.
As a Reader myself, I find it pays to treat a familiar author writing in a genre other than what I consider to be Their Usual as I would a Brand New Author -- I examine the book, read a few chapters, and decide if I like what I'm seeing enough to buy into the whole fabrication. That's valid; it's well within the realm of the contract; nobody gets mad, or feels betrayed.
If I decide that this particular lie isn't my cuppa, that doesn't mean that the story is wrong*; it doesn't mean that the author has forgotten how to write*, or is jerking fans around* -- it doesn't even mean that the author has sold out*. It means that the author has written a book that isn't to my taste. That's OK; the best of friends sometimes disagree.
Even within genre, a writer can vary the way in which she presents her lies. We here at the Confusion Factory have for instance produced a "car chase novel"** (Agent of Change), a "book where nothing happens"** (Local Custom), "Mills and Boone in space"** (Conflict of Honors), and "kiddie sf"** (Balance of Trade). Sometimes, we tell linear lies; sometimes the story sweeps around in a seeming lazy spiral; sometimes we leapfrog time and space.
These are all valid types of falsehoods and techniques for delivering lies. None of them is inherently "wrong," though they certainly are different.
Now, it may well be that you, the Reader, prefer a story that is more linear, and have no patience with spiraling narratives. That's OK. You, the Reader, are the Sole Judge and Arbiter of what lies you find most amusing. However, the story is not "wrong" because it's not to your taste; it's just -- not to your taste. This is comparable to Rolanni's refusal to allow "sushi" in the same sentence with "dinner."
God, She Knows, sometimes Writers flub. No one is immune to dropping the cake; there are dern few perfect books out there. Every story I've ever written has had at least a few crumbs between the margins. That's OK, too, as long as the Reader can continue to buy into the story. If the writer has really screwed up, and Readers are thrown bodily out of the story, well -- that's covered in the contract. It's a sad event, for the Reader and for the Writer. Writers work really hard to avoid Utter Fumbles, but...we're human beings. Sometimes, we fall. When that happens, about the only thing that can be done is to admit that you screwed up, get up, dust off your jeans, and try again.
To reiterate: The contract between Writer and Reader is a simple, public contract, guaranteeing the Writer the ability to write the stories she wishes to write and the Reader to read those stories she wishes to read.
*excerpts taken from my email files
**excerpts taken from rejection letters and/or reviews