Caren Crane on Having Your Emotional Chain Yanked

Caren Crane Helms photoPicture 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?

Kick StartCaren 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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Caren Crane on Having Your Emotional Chain Yanked — 10 Comments

    • Liz, that”s fair enough. I say as long as that’s the ride you want and expect, it’s all good! It seem like something else entirely, though, when you think the emotion is heading one place and then it turns on its heel…in a bad way. Boo on that! :)

      I do love to climb on the emotional roller coaster when that’s what I’m looking for. I totally agree with you that it’s exactly what things like all those Hallmark movies do for us. Good thing we have them, too! 😀

  1. Welcome to the Cafe, Caren!

    There are lots of movies that turn the water works on for me. There are scenes in Pretty Woman and Pride & Prejudice (the A&E mini-series) that make me cry, yet I can watch them again, and again. Then there are movies like Little Women which I absolutely adore, but I only watch every five years because it is so emotionally draining. Still, I love it, and I love when a story genuinely gets me caught up in the emotion of the characters and makes me feel for them.

  2. Hey, Caren! What a fun post. Hmm, I wonder if you’re referring to a REAL story with that shipwreck thing. Seems a bit silly to me, LOL! Actually I didn’t read that particular book but I saw the film and thought, huh? What did his dying prove other than that the writer wants me to cry at the end? There was no dramatic necessity for it at all (whereas when she throws herself under the train in Anna Karenina, it is dramatically necessary). You’re right about finding the obvious stuff a bit irritating, but I love it when an author has my eyes welling with tears because I care so much about the characters. Happened to me recently in an outwardly light mystery called Aunt Dimity’s Death. I was a howling mess at the end – which was happy but SOOOO moving. Hmm, clearly we need to go to the movies together!

    • Anna, we definitely need to go to the movies together! And dancing. And lots of other things, too! I do love a weepy movie or book, though. When I’m up for it, there is nothing I love more! <3

  3. Caren, I’m so with you there. Give me a good story, great characters and take me on their journey. If it touches something inside me, I’ll cry or laugh depending, but don’t, Don’t, DON’T pull my chain just because you want a certain response. If it doesn’t further the plot or enrich the story, I am not likely to buy another book!

  4. I love Untamed Heart and SEP books! Kristan Higgins had me bawling in the doctor’s waiting room just a couple of weeks ago. The looks I got. *shakes head* I have mixed emotions about having my emotional chain yanked. If I feel like the author is doing it intentionally, I tend to get a bit contrary and refuse to give in. But oh, when it sneaks up on you, it’s a sweet sorrow. :)

    • Suzanne, I feel exactly the same way! I would love to know which Kristan Higgins it was. I’ve read three of hers in the last month. They always get to me! :)

      I love the sneak emotional attack, but only when it makes sense! 😀

  5. I’m with Liz. I read romance for the emotion it evokes; I want to feel something. But I also agree with you. The emotion has to come naturally out of the story and the characters, and has to makes sense. I want drama, not melodrama!

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