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Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Good Kind of Reader Manipulation

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about a lesser-known reason why you shouldn't dump backstory up front in a novel. (Click here for the post.) In so doing, I gave a story about how I overheard information pertaining to one of my clients that impeded how I approached/perceived the client.

But I want to direct you to the comment section of that same post. Many of the readers offered really insightful reflections on why or why not to convey certain information about a character up front, and I wanted to capitalize on one in particular.

As authors, we write for a lot of reasons. But we all have stories that we want to persuade readers to read. Every word counts in that persuasion. Sometimes we have to manipulate the information we give to readers for a variety of reasons, some of which would be to entertain, educate, inspire, and convict.

But some stories require a little misleading up front in order to accomplish those ends. (I guess it's true that sometimes the end does justify the means.) I was actually accidentally mislead by the overheard comment about my client. But one of my commenters (thanks Kerry!) made such an excellent point that we might deliberately need to mislead the reader up front.

According to the Information Manipulation theory, we have to mislead a reader by breaking one of four conversational (or literary) maxims/truths:
  • Quantity: Information given will be full (as per expected by the listener/reader) and without omission.
  • Quality: information given will be truthful and correct.
  • Relation: information will be relevant to the subject matter of the conversation in hand.
  • Manner: things will be presented in a way that enables others to understand and with aligned non-verbal language.
Think about all the ways you can use this in your stories! You give a little too much info, or not enough. Or you give absolutely irrelevant info that they think is relevant or you sneak in information in such a way that the reader thinks it has to be relevant only to discover it wasn't and they were duped!


Debra E. Marvin said...

In a mystery or suspense, readers want to be misled at times. What's the fun in knowing who to trust?

chihuahuazero said...

Why does "JK Rowling" pop up in my mind like a Howler?

This is something my character Finn should use in regards of talking about his past.

McKenzie McCann said...

I think what makes some stories so intriguing is that they always leave you wanting to know a little bit more. Either wanting to know the background, know something about the community, maybe a secret, or they want to know what's going to happen next.

dolorah said...

I encounter this debate frequently in my womens fiction and horror writing. How much is too much, how soon is too soon. The entire first novel in the trilogy has a subgoal of manipulating the reader to want the MC to end with the best friend; he looks good comparatively. The second novel sets about tearing him down - no totally, just to show the flaws not shown in the first novel.

The expected result is to get the reader to accept certain characteristics of the female MC; and to agree with her choices of the moment.

Well, I'm still working on it :)


Miss Sharp said...

Hold on a sec, Jeannie, if you don't mind...are you implying that pulling a fast one on your reader might be a good thing?

Embrace said...

This is so true. I am just learning the art of writing so I do not know much, but ...
I ran into this problem with the second story I wrote. It wasn't a suspence or mystery, yet I didn't want my readers to dislike my mc until they could find out why she did what she did. Then if they wanted to dislike her it was okay. I could not figure out how to accomplish this because even though I could lie or mislead the reader, the MC's internal monologue would not lie.
So I rewrote the story from the POV of the hero and the MC's best friend.
(Sorry if I've confused you). I don't even know if this is doable, but my point is that sometimes you need to pull a fast one on your readers so they don't draw the wrong conclusion for the wrong reason - like you client mishap.

Just a thought;)

Debra E. Marvin said...

Jodi, there is a way to write internal dialog where the character is basically lying to themselves. I've seen it done. I can't say I know how to do it. (though, we all lie to ourselves at time, don't we?) Let's say your MC wants to lose weight. She tells herself. No more donuts. Then she pulls into Dunkin Donuts. Her actions are more telling than her dialog.

And I think it's important to keep the reader in the main character's POV,(or hero and heroine) or they may become secondary. Unless you are F Scott Fitzgerald...

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'm working on my second novel right now and I gave a secondary character a big secret, but maybe I need to rethink it. Perhaps my main character needs to be the one with the secret.

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