Picture this. You settle in to read a fabulous new book. Before you know it, you are completely sucked into the story. The chapters fly by. Then…it happens. A loved one dies, a child is lost, the heroine’s heart is ruthlessly broken or the hero’s beloved childhood sweetheart is swept away by a tornado. Something happens and your protagonist’s world is turned upside down. Tears well in your eyes and many tissues are sacrificed to your newfound grief. Your chain, my friend, has been officially yanked.
I have conflicting feelings about having my chain yanked. Many times I am, admittedly, in the mood for a tearjerker. I will pop something in the DVD player that is guaranteed to leave me sobbing (personal favorite: Untamed Heart with Christian Slater and Marisa Tomei). I have fond memories of going to one movie when I was pregnant with my firstborn. I was the only person in the theater and I was watching The Color Purple. I was crying so much I went to the lobby three times for more napkins. My mother has said of me, “Caren’s so much fun at the movies. She just cries and has the best time.” So, when I’m in the mood, there is nothing I love more than something that plucks every emotional string.
These days, though, it takes a mighty act of emotional manipulation to make me cry. Some writers I admire who do this for me are Kristan Higgins and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It was easier when I was younger, probably because of hormones and the exhaustion of having small children. If something makes me cry unexpectedly now, it’s a major event. I’ve also been writing long enough to recognize when an author is pulling out the stops and torquing up the angst in an attempt to make me cry. If I’m not in the mood for it, this overt chain yanking can almost annoying. Sometimes I can ignore it and just move on. Most times I understand why the author did it and forgive it entirely. Every once in a while, though, I clearly see the strings, feel the puppet master pulling them and get so irritated it ruins the story for me. Not often, but every once in a great while.
Then again, I am a writer, so there are times when I am the puppet master pulling the strings. I want to elicit a big emotional reaction. This mostly happens in an organic way, though, and I am always surprised when I make myself cry when I’m writing. Sometimes I identify so closely with a character’s pain I find myself experiencing what she is experiencing. In those cases, I certainly hope my readers are swept along on the same emotional journey.
That sort of emotion is genuine on an author’s part and feels different to me then the old chain yank. I can tell when I am reading something that simply evolved as the author immersed herself in the story and is filled with true joy/sadness/pain. It is very different than when an author, say, brings a couple happily together in love, sets them up to share a future, and then randomly drowns the hero in a boating accident. During a storm. While saving the lives of strangers. Mm-hm. Chain yanking!
How do you feel about having your chain yanked? Can you forgive the blatant manipulation of your emotions by an author or screenwriter or evil marketing genius? Do you ever seek it out just to have an emotional catharsis? What is your favorite weepy movie or book?
Caren Crane grew up in Nashville, TN, and as a result does not care for country music. However, she cares a great deal about family, friends and men in boots. She blames her love of reading on a childhood devoid of TV and heavy on amusing oneself. Reading books was a lot more fun than playing with Barbies and playing “library” was far superior to playing “school.” When she discovered romance novels, the librarians at her local branch were horrified but Caren was delighted.
She now lives in North Carolina with her tall, handsome husband. She is sometimes visited by her three grown children, who are busy having wonderful lives and only require: beds during college breaks, food, rides back to school (though a bus ticket will do) and sometimes cash. Which leaves her with lots of time to write funny, heartwarming stories set in her adopted home state, North Carolina. She fills all of her books full of family, friends and happy-ever-after endings. Which all books should feature, in her opinion.
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