Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Emotional Jeopardy in Stories

by Stephanie Morrill

Today's dose of Tuesday inspiration is longer than normal, but I just couldn't resist. It comes from Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland, a book that talks a lot about why people read and what makes a book powerful. He says:

"When we read, we buy into a shared dream, a shared fiction, and by doing so we put ourselves in emotional jeopardy. If the emotional jeopardy is too small, we get bored. If the emotional jeopardy is too great, we'll close the book. If the author abuses our trust ... we will no longer trust the author and we'll shun his fiction."
When he talks about "abusing trust" he means when authors do things like write an ending that's too ambiguous or if the story doesn't end in a way that rewards us.

As a reader, I've experienced the truth of this. I've read books that bore me because I just don't care enough. I've closed books because the content is completely different than was advertised. And I've sworn off authors because an ending irritatedor even angeredrather than satisfied.

I don't want us to engage in book bashing in the comments, but have you had a similar experience with books? How do you think you're doing on your own manuscript?

22 comments:

  1. Cool quote. I read a book not that long ago where the ending wasn't as big as I'd hoped it would be. I do hope I don't do that in my own manuscript, thought that's probably something for the editing process, right?

    I was wondering... I MIGHT want to be an editor of fiction when I grow up. It would be so great to hear the insight of someone in the profession. Something like you did with literary agent Amanda Luedeke? http://goteenwriters.blogspot.ru/2014/02/a-day-in-life-of-agent.html. Or if you already have something like that, can you post the link? Thanks so much!!!

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    1. Hi Sofia! Let me send a few emails and see what we can do for you :)

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    2. There's this one, too, that has a bit from a bunch of different editors. Not exactly "a day in the life of...", but it gives some fun perspectives on how editors get to be editors and the highs and lows of the job.

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/02/how-do-i-become-editor.html

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    3. Thanks so much, Stephanie!!! Thanks for the link, Roseanna!

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  2. Well, as much as I loved it, Firewing by Kenneth Opel made me slam the book at the end. I was so excited to finish it, that I insisted on reading the last few pages in bed. Then it had such a sad ending and not what I expected at all so I moved onto a happier book to read for the night since Firewing would be in my head all night (it was anyway :,( )

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    1. That's the toughest thing about reading before bed!

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  3. Hi, Stephanie. I've wanted to share this and another recent post on Facebook but get a message that the link may be unsafe. Just thought you might want to be aware of that. These are such informative posts. Thanks.

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    1. Thank you so much, Cynthia. We've noticed the same thing with Facebook and have told them approximately a million times that the link is safe. I'm not sure what else to do it about it except keep clicking the "Report an error" link when I can. I really appreciate you letting me know it's still occurring.

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  4. Hi, I think that an ending that I was not happy with was the end of Mockingjay, I thought that they deserved a happy ending after all that they had been through.

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    1. I don't think you're alone in that opinion :)

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  5. I read a book a while back where a character went through all these struggles and such, and then at the end it turned out all his problems had been planned by people he knew because they thought he needed to experience life more or something like that. It just made all his struggles seem fake and unsatisying.

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    1. I can definitely see how that would just feel like pointless suffering. I felt that way at the end of the show Lost. Like, "Oh, so basically it was all pointless. Great."

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    2. Fortunately as a writer you can at least learn from it, so it's not a totally wasted experience :)

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  6. Ugh, yes. The Winner's Curse was a totally disappointing ending. Such a let-down. And the end of Inheritance by Christopher Paolinj was the same way! Both books had you hoping for a ending in which everyone was happy, and the couples were together, and the evil had been defeated. Both satsifed the evil being defeated bit but totally let you down as far as the characters overcoming the obstacles in their relationships.

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    1. Oh, that's a hard blow to take. I'm such a character girl, that I would almost always prefer the character fail externally but succeed relationally. (That word makes spell-check mad, but you know what I mean!)

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  7. I feel betrayed when the book ends on a cliffhanger and the next book doesn't come out for an entire year!

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  8. One of the books on my school summer reading list - not naming names - didn't, in my opinion have a theme that came to a full circle; I read hundreds of pages of scenes between the MC and her lust interest and slogged through the out-of-place, melodramatic conclusion, but was there an emotional payoff? None that I could discern. Maybe analyzing fiction has somehow made me less perceptive to these things, (This book is on the "teen picks" list at my school library), but I doubt it. Maybe it's popular because the hunky hero has absolutely no flaws? Besides, I mean, the fact that he sleeps with the MC when they've known each other for less than two months, which is presented as a virtue(!)

    Sorry. I guess this has descended into book-bashing. So I'll try to balance it out by saying there were two side characters I really liked. Unfortunately, I have to write a report on it tomorrow, so it had better not be one of those convince- others -to read- this -book" type things, or my grade won't be stellar if I give an honest review. I mean, how many books have 'the main character's boyfriend's paranoid little brother is adorable' and 'the portrayal of the perpetually wasted peripheral character really had potential' as their primary selling points?

    Reading through my own first draft, it's hard to tell...The beginning's so slow I haven't gotten to any of the highly emotional bits yet... However, since all the less-overpowering emotions are told in excruciating detail, I'm shuddering to think of how the emotional bits will read.

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  9. I have to confess, I'm really fond of ambiguous endings and unfinished thoughts. I don't know why! But it always make me love the author/book more...although, there definitely needs to be a conclusion. I think, though if the book stays true to the characters and the thoughts then endings usually feel right. Mm. It's a really good quote though and makes me think. I don't like it when I'm reading and the book's stakes are too high ALL of the time. It desensitises me. Like if the characters spend the whole book about to die about to die then I lose meaning of that, because obviously they haven't so I'm no longer scared.

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    1. YES. In books where the MC is always in danger of dying, I'm not even worried by the end of the book. ("They've made it this far, they'll make it a few more chapters.")
      That's one of the things I may need to work on in my novel.... *runs off to edit*

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  10. I read a series once where the ended of nearly every single book was almost the same: The MC ended up having something to "save the day" planned pretty much from page one. But we readers never knew about it. Even though the story was told in first person.

    I guess that's not the most terrible sort of ending ever, but it really annoyed me. Since I'm such a character person, I have to be totally inside the MC's head and know everything they do, and "little surprises" like that... urgh. It felt almost deus ex machina.

    As for my own novel... Hrm. I don't know. I'm trying to make the ending worthy of the rest of the book, make all of my promises pay off, but it's tricky to know what readers pick up when you're the writer and you know a ton of stuff the reader doesn't. (Thank the stars for critique groups!)

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    1. Oops, meant "ending," not "ended" in the first sentence there. ;)

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  11. It's totally true, for me :) I read books because who they are or are not written by

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