Monday, September 8, 2014

The twisted relationship between author and reader

So... uh... Hi everyone! Karen kindly invited me to write a couple guest posts previously and honestly, I got a little hooked. I rarely talk about writing specifically on my own blog so when Karen extended me an invite to join these lovely ladies on a permanent basis, I jumped at the chance. So for the foreseeable future I'll be your designated Proser on alternate Mondays. Welcome to the show!

The thing I've been thinking about lately is just how weird the relationship between us writers and our readers is. Obviously we love you - and them - all. We're sharing little pieces of ourselves in every story we write and our readers pour themselves into them as they read. There's something extremely profound about the whole experience.

And yet... Well, here's the thing; by definition, if we're doing our jobs, we cause our readers pain. Mountains and mountains of pain. And quite a few of us are overachievers by nature.

A little over a month ago I read Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons which was an excellent book. Highly recommended for all. But the ending left me completely broken. I wept uncontrollably for minutes and kept crying for pretty much the rest of the evening. So I of course took to Twitter to share my malaise and here's what happened:

The worst thing is that I can totally relate! I would not even hesitate to do a writerly equivalent of an end-zone dance if I could break a reader like I got broken. And that is all kinds of messed up.

Our readers trust us, not just with their time, but with their well-being.  And as ever, with great power comes great responsibility. It's just that our readers want, nay expect, us to make them suffer in many ways great and small. Even if we're not talking about emotional pain like the one I experienced at the expert hands of Marie Brennan, there's still stress and worry that every reader experiences when they read fiction. All the successful thrillers, horror stories and such create some type of emotional reaction in the reader. When Bourne is getting chased by whoever is the latest to get on his trail, there's a real fear in the reader, even if we do know rationally that he's going to get away somehow.

David Farland talks about reading as emotional exercise and it's the best reason I can come up with for why we and others as readers actually want to have our hearts wrenched out of our chests by the people we call storytellers. He talks about how the release of the artificial stress caused by fiction releases endorphins well after the actual reading experience is over. The article itself is long but well worth the read. It explains the reader's side of this weirdness. After all, the second I could see my screen I went online and bought the next installment in Brennan's Lady Trent series.

As for us storytellers... Well, maybe it's the satisfaction of a job well done and maybe there's just a little bit of a sociopath inside all of us. But that is probably a post for another time.

What have you read recently that completely broke your heart - in a good way of course?


  1. Hi there! I'm Heather and I was just wondering if you could answer a quick question I have about your blog! Please email me at Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com :-)

    1. Comments are for questions. This makes me think you are a spam bot, but in case you aren't, please come back and ask your question!

  2. NINA! I love this so much. Thank you for joining us! I'm excited to have you.

    Code Name Verity absolutely destroyed me, and the second I finished it, I called my favorite people and told them they had to be destroyed too. I love LOVE love books that break my heart. I don't know why, probably because I have problems.

    But as a writer, I know that for every tear I make a reader cry, I've been sobbing out my chest. It's strange, but I think writers feel emotions stronger than regular people, and so we try to hunt out emotions that didn't exist before. Leave emotions, and little pieces of our souls behind in scraggly squiggles, and if we can make other people cry, then our heart never goes away. It's sharing vulnerability, which is the point. To love at all you must be vulnerable.
    Anyway, it's fascinating, and I can't get my brain all the way around it to explain myself succinctly, so I'll stop now. But well done, Nine. Great post!


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