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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Battle Between Manipulation and Believability

What are two of the best ways to kick a reader out of your story? Write a story that tries to manipulate the reader or test the boundaries of believability.

A few summers ago, I took my kids to see the newest Winnie the Pooh movie. At one point in the movie *spoiler alert*, all of the friends (minus Piglet and Tigger) fell into a deep pit. Their only hope of escape was Piglet. At one point my seven year old asked (loudly), “Why doesn’t Owl fly out?” This echoed what everyone else in the theatre was thinking. A few minutes later, Owl did exactly that. He flew up and gave Piglet a motivational speech so Piglet would brave the scary woods and search for Christopher Robin. Owl then flew back into the pit to face the shocked expressions of his friends. Only they weren’t shocked that Owl flew out of the pit. They were shocked at what he had said to Piglet. The friends applauded and the audience laughed.

So why didn’t the audience have a problem with the scene in the Winnie the Pooh movie? Because from the beginning of the movie, it was made clear that the animal friends lacked for intelligence. Due to the sequence of events that happened between the opening of the movie and Owl flying out of the pit, we could easily believe that none of the friends would question why Owl didn’t just fly out and get help. The audience didn’t feel manipulated.

Now contrast this to a book I recently read. In it, the hero and heroine got close to “doing it” several times. But each time they came close to going all the way, they were interrupted by either the phone or the doorbell. The first two times was believable. By the fifth time, half way into the story, I felt manipulated and annoyed. More so after the great build up for the sex scene that I expected to rival all others (maybe even Fifty Shades of Gray) turned out to be nothing more than a fade to black scene. Talk about a major let down.

To avoid the issue of lack of believability, always ask yourself: “Have I given enough set up to the story so my readers are able to believe this event can happen this way?” If you’re not sure if it is feasible, ask someone who knows the answer. For example, if your protagonist is caught with drugs in his school locker, ask a police officer what would really happen to the character. Don’t make things up and hope for the best. And avoid overusing plot devices that will leave your reader feeling manipulated and frustrated. Either of these could result in your reader quitting the book prematurely, never picking up another of your books, and/or telling her friends how bad the book was. If you’ve sent the manuscript to an agent or editor, you’ve increased your chance of receiving a rejection instead of an offer. But if you’ve used the plot devices in a believable and unique way, you’ll increase the chance of an offer.

Has lack of believability or the feeling of being manipulated thrown you out of a story?

Stina Lindenblatt @StinaLL writes New Adult and adult contemporary romances. In her spare time, she’s a photographer, loves hanging out on Pinterest, and can be found at her blog/website. Her debut New Adult contemporary romance TELL ME WHEN and LET ME KNOW (Carina Press, HQN) are now available.

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