Saturday, February 19, 2011

Don't Manipulate the Reader

In the last entry, I talked about moving our readers - getting them to care about the characters and what happens to them.

But there's a fine line between being moved and being manipulated. If your goal, as the writer, IS to produce tears, then be prepared for the backlash - for the reader to produce eye-rolls, rather than tears. What I mean is - a smart reader, a conscientious reader, can see right through that manipulation.

Have you ever watched a movie that was trying too hard? That was setting up circumstances and plots solely in order to reach a solitary goal -- to make the reader weep? And did you ever see it coming and, thus, when it came, have the opposite reaction -- either a giggle or an eye-roll? Or even a bit of anger toward the writer for trying to manipulate you? I have. Lots of times.

Sure, each one of us has a different threshold for tears. For some, it takes some a LOT to produce tears. For others, it takes nothing more than a Hallmark card commercial. Still, though, most readers/viewers know when a writer is trying too hard, can see right through it.

So how do we evoke emotions in our readers without trying too hard? I think it's pretty simple. Just write the story with truth. Be in that moment yourself, as you write it, and let the character, the plot, the dialogue, ring with truth. Don't try at ALL to force emotion from the reader. Just write. And if you write your scenes with that sort of honesty, if readers are absorbed in your story, in those characters, then, trust me - when that character is in pain, or experiences a joyful moment, or even when that character dies - your readers will be moved. They can't help it. Because by that point, they're invested in what happens.

If you're writing from any place other than honesty, then the writing, I think, will feel manipulative and forced.


  1. Fantastic post! I agree, as a writer you can't force an emotion on your reader. Let them connect with the character and/or scene as they will.

  2. Thank you, Trisha! ;-)

    Nice way to put it, letting the readers and characters bond/connect in their own way, in their own time. I agree!