Thursday, May 01, 2014

Delivering All the Feels

I finished reading through the book, so now I just have to do some work on an author's note to explain the alternate history and then I can move back to other things. I don't know how long it will be before I get the copy edits, but I want to get my other books ready for publication before then. I also survived my last night of children's choir. We had a small group and they weren't at all interested in singing, which is going to make Sunday morning interesting. Fortunately, I have a lot of other things to worry about on Sunday. By that point, I'll be willing to let the kids skate on "cute."

Because I figure that if it's worth analyzing, it's worth overanalyzing, I like to skim around the major book review sites to see what tends to get big responses, and something I'm seeing is that readers will apparently forgive a book a lot of things as long as it delivers "all the feels." Emotional intensity seems to be more important to a book's success than decent grammar and spelling, internal consistency or story logic. Some of the wildly successful self-published books are criticized for being very badly written and having terrible characters, but they're still like crack because they take readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride.

I have to admit that I give higher marks to a book that really makes me feel something, though I figure that laughter counts as much as tears. I don't like being emotionally manipulated, though. I remember the time I figured out the trick that a certain bestselling author who shall remain nameless uses. I was reading books to judge for the Rita award, and I read one of this author's books on an airplane. There was a scene near the end that brought tears to my eyes so that I was still teary-eyed when I got to the ending. And then I almost started laughing out loud when I realized what had happened. The tearjerking scene had almost nothing to do with the plot. It was like throwing in a Kodak or Kleenex commercial just before the big finale. The big finale wasn't all that emotional, but if you read it with tears in your eyes, then that made it feel emotional, and you tend to give books that leave you with tears a higher mark. Obviously, this doesn't bother a lot of people because everything this author writes becomes an instant bestseller.

I'm just not sure how to work this as an author. I'm a fairly reserved person, and I'm not willing (or really even able) to pull off these kinds of tricks, and I'm certainly not willing to write the over-the-top angst that's found in the "crack" self-published books. I also tend to write reserved characters who suffer silently. I do know that I need to be a little meaner to my characters -- they need to overcome more, and a lot of emotion comes from that. I think most of the emotional moments that have gotten to me in books, TV or movies have come from sacrifice, loss and triumph, not from characters who are over-the-top emotionally. So I guess if I don't write characters who hit every emotion at about 11, then I need to really put them through the wringer. The use of humor can help there because it creates what I think of as an emotional sucker punch -- you lower your emotional guard when you laugh, so you're more vulnerable when something bad happens next. That's why a comedy is more likely to make me cry than a straight drama that I know is going to be a tearjerker.

Any thoughts on this or nominations for books you think are really emotional in a way that you liked? This is the area where I most need to improve, so I need homework.

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