Aliens in the Barn

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Question of What A Reader Can Handle

What is too much for the reader to handle?

This is my main question in writing, because I can write some tragic stuff. In romance, one rule remains steadfast...and that rule is that the characters have to live and be together in the end. However, anything can pretty much happen to them in between, and what happens to people or beings they know seems to be fair game. But, what would be considered too much? What can a reader handle reading about? What would be too tragic? What is too real? What hits home too much?

I do not want to turn a reader away by having something that is too hard to handle in my work, yet I also don't want to limit myself. So much good can come out of a tragic situation and that's what I love writing about the most.

A little over a year ago, when we lived in the same area, a friend of mine (who has a couple of published books, actually) helped me outline a book. There was an element in it that she said I should remove, stating that many readers wouldn't want to read what it entailed. I was so bummed by the prospect of having to remove it that I didn't continue with the story.

However, I had a situation with my main characters in another story that I sent to a friend in California. After reading it, she sent to me that she couldn't continue with her day. I was convinced that I should scrap that as well. Then, a couple days later, I received another email from her telling me that I shouldn't change anything at all. She thought I should keep the situation as it was. She said that it stirred so much emotion in her that she was speechless...and that that is what good writing is all about.

Yet, as I get closer to writing something for publication, I find that I'm at an impasse. I could go with a tamer situation that wouldn't 'traumatize' people, but I feel like that would be limiting myself from my strongest style of writing and plot.


  1. One of my watchers said Blogger hasn't been letting her leave comments, so I'm writing this comment as a test...

  2. huh... now it really got changed up...

    anyway, in terms of your writing, i'll admit and say i read a lot of work... disconnected... i think is the word i want. perhaps it's my nature of being a deep, logical thinker, but i try not to let my emotions control me... otherwise i'm known to completely come apart.

    Honestly, i think you fear ruining your stories by altering it to be 'reader friendly'. i say do what feels natural, if it makes the story 'mature adult' or whatever the rating ranks of books are, so be it.

    in the end, while others offer views that should be considered, it's up to you how you want to go about it. i'd be honored to read some of this stuff if you want, you kinda have me curious about how 'dark' you can write ;)

    be in touch

  3. For Flameshield:

    Thanks for the advice! I think you've read my darkest work already, though. It doesn't really get darker than what you've seen with my fan-fiction; I just wasn't sure if I could go mainstream with that situation. Some people might be too disturbed. But maybe I should consider my fan-fiction audience to be representative of what a mainstream audience wants anyway...

  4. Some of the most iconic and influential pieces of literature in history have been the ones that disturb people at a fundemental level. Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" comes to mind, or Mary Shelley's original conception of "Frankenstein" (not what Hollywood has made of her character).

    Written media was the first, and is now one of the last places where artists can feel free to fully express themselves. Don't limit yourself to what you think people want. Your readers may surprise you -- and your best readers will appreciate you all the more for staying true to yourself.