Guest Post: Traci Borum Asks: Do Books Move Or Manipulate You?

COVER - FINAL VERSIONI love to read while I’m writing. I love to read books that in some way tackle a topic, introduce a character, or explore a theme like one I’m writing. This allows me to not only read like a reader but like a writer. I note what works for me and what doesn’t, how I’d like to accomplish some thing like, or differently from, the author. So when Traci Borum emailed and told me her idea for a post on whether authors move to us authentic feelings or manipulate us — I was sold! What do you think? Do you identify when you feel like something in a book is being pushed at you? Do you mind? Is subtlety enough? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Please welcome Traci Borum to Women’s Fiction Writers! (And check out the trailer for Traci’s book after you read her post!)

Amy xo

Do Books Move Or Manipulate You?

By Traci Borum

COVER - FINAL VERSIONFor authors, getting a reader to care about characters is vital.  If readers don’t care, they probably won’t finish reading the book.  But there’s a fine line between being moved and being manipulated.  If your main goal as the writer is to produce tears in your reader, then be prepared for the backlash.  Your efforts might just produce eye rolls instead of teardrops.  A smart reader, a conscientious reader, can see right through that manipulation.

My friend Karen and I were having this conversation just last week.  She had finished reading a popular best-selling novel that was recently turned into a film.  And although she enjoyed the story, she felt pushed and prodded into liking it every inch of the way.  She could see the writer…writing.  She told me, “{The book} did have some excellent lines, but I didn’t get to feel like I discovered them.  I felt like I was pushed down a neon-lit road to them: ‘Life-changing advice ahead! This way!’”

So how do we, as writers, evoke emotions in our readers without trying too hard?  How do we avoid having readers peek behind the curtain, watching us work, knowing precisely what we’re up to?  It’s actually pretty simple.  Just write the story with truth.  Stay honest in each moment.  Be in that moment yourself, as you write it, and let the character, the plot, the dialogue, all ring with truth.  Don’t worry about the reader’s reaction.  Let the characters tell the story.

Also, it’s important to become invested in your own characters.  If you care about your characters and you write them honestly, it will translate to your readers.  They’ll be right there, alongside you, caring about what happens to these people.

Finally, be aware.  Listen to your gut, your inner editor, and realize when you’re trying too hard—when you’ve got the readers’ reactions in mind more than the characters’ reactions.

A good way to test the “moving vs. manipulating” issue is to let someone read your work—a trusted friend, a beta reader, a critique partner.  Don’t mention what your goal is (to test that your writing is authentic and not manipulative).  But once they’ve read the book or the specific scene you’re worried about, then grill them.  Ask about their reactions to the scene, to the characters.  And be prepared for the result.  If readers feel genuinely moved, they’ll talk about the characters and specifics of the scene, and their reaction will be written all over their faces.  You’ll hear it in their tone of voice—an urgency, an excitement, an involvement in the story.  And that tells you that you’ve succeeded.  But, if readers shrug or feel lukewarm about a scene that should’ve been gripping or life-changing for the character—or if readers use phrases like “I didn’t really connect with it”—it’s time to go back to the drawing board.  You might have to take a different approach, or change the setting or dialogue, or even re-think the entire scene.  Whatever it takes, try again.

Because when readers are absorbed in your story, in your characters, then, trust me—when that character is in pain, or experiences a joyful moment, or when that character dies, your readers will be moved.  They can’t help themselves.  Because by that point, they’ve stopped seeing you write.  They’ve quit trying to peek behind the curtain.  By that point, they’re invested in what happens.  You’ve made them care without even trying.  No gimmicks, no tactics, no forcing of truths or tears.  Just honesty.

Traci Borum pictureTraci Borum is a writing teacher and native Texan. She’s also an avid reader of women’s fiction, most especially Elin Hilderbrand and Rosamunde Pilcher novels. Since the age of 12, she’s written poetry, short stories, magazine articles, and novels.

Traci also adores all things British. She even owns a British dog (Corgi) and is completely addicted to Masterpiece Theater-must be all those dreamy accents! Aside from having big dreams of getting a book published, it’s the little things that make her the happiest: deep talks with friends, a strong cup of hot chocolate, a hearty game of fetch with her Corgi, and puffy white Texas clouds always reminding her to “look up, slow down, enjoy your life.”

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Traci Borum Asks: Do Books Move Or Manipulate You?

  1. I looove this. It’s great advice for women’s fiction and romance writers. It takes skill to lead the reader along an emotional journey without yanking them by a rope. I hope that’s a skill I’ll develop successfully 🙂

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  2. Traci, great post. Though I admire and read advice from many writers, once you are immersed in a story, once your characters are walking around your writing room and talking in your head, the work become a piece, a whole–everything belongs and fits. And as the reader reads, she gets that. There might be wrong turns as you work, but authentic writing gets you back on the road. Good luck with all your writing projects and YES I love all things British too.

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