MANIPULATING THE EMOTIONS OF YOUR READER IS A BIG RESPONSIBILITY.
I felt I had to write this post after watching a prime-time psychological/legal drama last night on T.V. I love the lead actor and really enjoyed the last crime drama he acted in so was looking forward to this one. I had also read an interview with the writer and was interested in his observations about the plotting and crafting of his stories.
I thought it was an intriguing plot and used the legal storyline in an original way, which was clever as the genre has been so well tread in the past. However, having got to know a rather endearing and normal family quite well through the subtle characterisation in this first episode, I found myself literally gasping in horror at the shocking final scenes.
This was the first of three instalments and I did not expect such an unpleasant event so early and I realise now this was exactly the point. Effectively, I was very skilfully manipulated by the writer to maximise the ultimate jolt of surprise.
This conclusion was masterfully created and pulled off but it did make me think very carefully about the responsibility that we take on as writers when we set out to manipulate the feelings of our readers/listeners and viewers.
Every piece of writing involves manipulation. Whether it is to make people empathise with your characters, like or dislike them. But I don’t think it does us any harm to be mindful of this as we write.
Ultimately, we want our readers to gain pleasure from what we have written. I have just finished my second novel and I would say the themes are a little darker than the first. However, I was still aware there had to be a sense of hopefulness running through the text. I have characters who appear throughout my series of books and I’m sure I could generate a real shock by allowing something terrible to happen to one of them. But I think this would be a betrayal of my readers, who expect dramatic events to occur around those protagonists but who want the characters they have invested time, emotion and feelings in getting to know to remain safe.
Will I watch the other two parts of this drama? I’m sure that many will want to find out the conclusion of this story- probably in the vain hope that justice will be done and they will be finally rewarded for having been made to feel so awful in episode one. However, I will not watch the rest. For me it was a step too far. My emotions were, I think, quite cynically played with and I’m not sure the story was enhanced as a result.
But it has made me think very carefully about my responsibility as a writer. People will be reading our words and it will effect them. We want to be popular, of course. However, in the end we want to enhance the lives of our readers through our words and not simply leave them cold.