Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November Tip Week: Moving or Manipulating?

In a guest post at Amy Sue Nathan's Women's Fiction Writers, Traci Borum asks a great question: Do Books Move or Manipulate You?

Poor kitty! There's only one way to go. (Source)

I've been thinking about this since I first read it. It's easy to manipulate readers by setting up the emotions we want them to feel. But is it a good idea? I say NO! (How loudly do you want me to yell? ;-) Readers aren't idiots. They can tell when writers take short cuts to emotions and telegraph what they should feel. It makes your stories forgettable and feeble, in my opinion. I don't like being manipulated by writers and usual quit reading because of the manipulation. 

My stories center around deep social and family issues. I could easily fall into the manipulating side of writing, but I truly think the characters of my stories can carry the problems they face and share their trials and triumphs without it. 

Traci Borum suggests several ways to avoid manipulation :
  • Write the story with truth.
  • Stay honest in the moment by being in the moment yourself. 
  • Don't worry about the reader's reaction.
  • Be invested in the characters. Care about them and the readers will too.
  •  Listen to your gut. If it feels like you're trying too hard, dial it back.
What about you? 
Have you read books that manipulated you? 
How did it make you feel? 
Do you have any more suggestions for writers?


Next week: Author Interview! What? You were expecting the mini book review? Well, Thanksgiving made me do it. Really! ;-)


  1. I think often manipulation occurs when an author tells as opposed to shows. They get so caught up in trying to get you to feel how they want you to feel, they leave their characters behind. I know, as a newbie, I fell into this several times. Once I recognized this pitfall, my characters took over and the story became more authentic.

  2. Great point, Rose! When you're telling the story and going for the emotions, it's so obvious. It's common problem--one I fight everyday.

  3. David Gemmell's LEGEND tore my heart out. The book was great, but he did such a good job of making you care about even minor characters and then killing them off it was depressing.

    I know it's a fantasy icon, but I haven't read anything of his since.


  4. That's important to know, Julie. Gratuitous death isn't good in my opinion either.

  5. As a semi-newbie ;) I know when my characters take over and it's all good. But I also know when they aren't in the mood and I write anyway. It's not called a rough draft for nuthin'. :/

  6. Yes, sometimes the author tries too hard to get the reader to feel a certain way. Usually that means the characters have to act to extremes and usually makes me very determined NOT to feel what they want me to feel. I'm stubborn that way.

  7. Good for you! I had a critiquer remind me that my story has enough feelings built in, so don't try so hard. Letting the events and characters speak for themselves is the key.

  8. Oops, I was logged into the wrong account.

  9. I can't think of a book that made me feel manipulated...Franzen's The Corrections was really annoying but only cos there was no hope, not due to manipulation. Yet that's the first one that came to mind.

  10. That's wonderful, Deniz! I promise that when you find one, you'll wish you hadn't. ;-)

  11. What a great point you made in this post!

    I think that's why it's so critical to write the story for yourself first--see where it takes you before you even consider what readers will think. That's being true to the story--and yourself.

    Thanks for thought-provoking post :)


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