Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Don't Force It

As a reader, I'm always irked when I can see a writer "trying" to make me feel something.  When they're working too hard to build up a scene, and when it's obvious their goal is to make the reader cry or be moved.  I usually end up having the opposite reaction.  And then I quit reading.

As writers, of course, we do want our readers to feel something, to make a connection with the plot, the characters.  But if we force it, the reader will feel manipulated.  They're smart.  They can sense when we're working too hard.  So, I think the best thing we can do as writers is to stay honest.  To write a scene because it serves the plot, challenges or reveals the characters--not because we think it will guarantee tears from our readers.

If we're authentic, if we tell the story naturally, let it unfold as it should, the reader will connect to it and yes, if moved, the reader may shed a couple of tears.  ;-)

I know this sounds odd, but my test is....myself.  (This works best if I've gained some distance from my work -- if I've set it aside for a few weeks or even months, so that I "forget" what I've written and can see it through fresh eyes).  If I read over a particularly emotional scene I wrote and I start to get tears or empathize with the characters, I know I've done something right.  But if I find myself neutral or even shrugging my shoulders at a scene that was meant to move, then it needs tweaking.  I need to roll up my sleeves, dig in, and let the scene unfold in a more natural way.

I found a blog post today at Kidlit that discusses this very thing (along the lines of forcing big, emotional scenes on your readers too quickly, before they even have the chance to connect with the characters).  Excellent advice:  link here


  1. The problem I have is that I cant seem to distance myself from my story. I am attached, the pdf, epub and doc file rest in a visible corner, domineering even in the cluster of files on my screen.

    I have a particular character that makes me shed tears every time I go over or even sometimes just think about the particular scenes, I sympathize with him to a great degree, these are scenes that i want to be able to move my read with, even to the point of tears. It feels right to me but I probably have rose coloured glasses when it comes to my story and sometimes cynical googles too. The point am getting to is that what if the reason i cry is not because of my writing but because i am so emotionally invested in my characters, I know them, I know their entire back story,my readers wont.

    I have read novels where it felt forced and actually compared myself with it. Most things sound right in my mind, I feel what I want my readers to feel, am i right or deluded about my writing?

  2. Hi ShyTiger - Great, thoughtful questions! I think it's neat that you're very invested in that character. And I have a feeling that because you know the character so well, it will translate well in the book as you write it. I think that distancing ourselves from the characters/book is one of the most challenging parts of being a writer. Because we created them. It's so hard to step outside them and try to see the book as a reader would.

    What I like to do is put my work aside as long as I can (even months!) so that I sort of "forget" about it, and maybe work on another project. Then, I go back to that novel and it's not "fresh" anymore - I don't remember all the details, etc. That's the best time for me to read it as a reader would. I try and put myself in the reader's place - pretend I've never "met" this character before, then read the work/novel from the start through those eyes, at least once. In fact, once, I put a novel aside for a full YEAR, and barely remembered any of the details. But it ended up being the best experience - it's like I wasn't even reading my own work - I was reading someone else's (and so I could be really objective about it).

    Thanks so much for commenting!