How do your Stories make People Feel?

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Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
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I was recently reminded of this quote:

They may forget what you said—but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Carl W. Buehner

It's commonly misattributed to Maya Angelou.

Whoever said it first, it's a pertinent observation when it comes to the stories that we write.

Looking at my own writing—the short stories, novellas and novels—a trait that they share is the protagonist surviving awkward or dangerous situations, and coming through emotionally bruised, with their misconceptions about life changed for the better and optimistic about the future.

They're not so much feel-good stories, more conforming to what P.D. James said:

What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order.

A sense of order is restored in most of my tales, not just in my Cornish Detective novels, though there's still an uneasy feeling that things can go wrong and that it's wise to be watchful and kind to others, as we're all travelling a rocky road. I try to make my reader empathise with the humanity of my characters, including the antagonists taking them on a journey that reaches a believable destination, even if it isn't quite where they thought they were going. On the way, I want them to be intrigued, menaced, thrilled and relieved.

Occasionally, I'll leave loose ends to make readers wonder about the fate of a character, as not everything should be tied in a neat bow. I've also written a few horror stories, aimed at making the reader feel unsettled, at the very least, if not scared to venture outdoors ever again! :eek:

How do you try to make your readers feel?

Terrified?

Sexually aroused?

Angry?

Depressed?

Confused about a moral dilemma?

Excited?

Sleepy? Hopefully not, unless it's a bedtime book for youngsters.

Happy?



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Such interesting questions @Paul Whybrow. One quieter but persisting feeling I'd like to produce in the reader is curiosity. Not just 'what happens next?' curiosity but a general sense of wonder and intrigue: why doesn't she respond here? Is she hiding something? What happened to the blue sweater? Could she find someone who might be less charming but understand her better?

The kinds of questions we ask ourselves about friends and family, all kinds of little puzzles when tragedy occurs, the hopes we have for others and what might get in the way.

Horror of course can get us to raise all kinds of more intense questions. What does this ghost want from the living?
 
I want them to feel what I felt in writing it; that life is a mystery, that all the known facts in the world take us only so far, that there are problems for which there exist no solutions, only our own unique responses in handling the cards we're dealt.
 
I'd be happy if readers felt anything for my characters. Writing compelling characters is the thing I'm stuck on at the mo'. Need to write more...
 
Since I write erotic romance, I hope they're sexually aroused reading the book! LOL! But at the core of any romance is the idea that love conquers all. So mostly I hope they're left feeling happy and fulfilled about the journey my hero and heroine took to find each other and fall in love. :)
 
I wrote a story with a sort of misogynistic theme. Almost every man who read it told me he was repulsed. They were proud of their revulsion. As though they'd been accused but were happy to have the opportunity to exonerate themselves. Which isn't what I meant. I didn't mean to accuse men.

Many of them vehemently insisted they didn't feel that way about women. None of them said it was unrealistic. Which I found interesting. But they were definitely bothered by it. Women who read the story liked it. They didn't have a need to defend themselves but sometimes they wanted to talk about it.

A lot of my writing has a sort of feminist twist to it. Although, not always directly. It's not that I'm that much of a feminist. At least, not in the traditional sense. I believe our linear concept of a feminist and a misogynist is two dimensional -- for the most part. I like to turn things upside down and so a lot of my writing does that -- I hope.

One of my stories has a scene where a man gets raped and I wondered for a long time if should get rid of it. It wasn't a plotted scene and I couldn't decide if it was important to keep for character and world building. I learned things about the people around me when they read that scene. There is the group of men who doesn't think rape is possible but thinks the scene should stay, because they like it. I'm not judging them for liking it. It only interests me. Another group of men, a group of two to be precise, my grown son and one other person, says that rape is possible and that I should change the scene. The scene is in the beginning of the book and so I'm going to remove it. Although, I might put it further in. I think its just as possible for men to be sexually violated as women. But then I think part of not supporting sex as something men have that women might give them is understanding that not only do both men and women have sexual needs, both sexes have boundaries which can be violated.

So, I suppose those are two examples of horror, even though I don't write horror. Perhaps emotionally there is a difference between horrified and horror.

The story I am writing now has some of the same themes but there are parts which I hope make people feel happy, and feel hope, and although it's not a romance, there is a love story which I would expect to make people feel sad, and happy.

A lot of times I hear people talking about what happened in a book or a movie or a tv show. I wish my memory was better because with the exception of a few books or a few movies, I forget plot details. What I remember is how something made me feel. It's kind of the only part I care about. But also, I don't expect the feeling to be a positive one -- only an effective one. Which I suppose is similar to what Maya Angelou said.
 
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