A bit of a different topic for this discussion…
I have been thinking a lot lately about books I did not enjoy, but everyone else did and how that happened. I’ve also been thinking about author-reader relationships and how that affects books and the way we see them. All of this thinking got me stuck on one thing in particular – manipulation. I want to talk a bit about that.
I think that authors inherently manipulate readers. It’s the way it works. You write something and the way you set up the story and the characters is a sort of manipulation and not in a bad way. It’s just that you’re trying to build a story and so you have to navigate the readers through it. However, there have been numerous books I read were I felt manipulated. And that’s the key. I don’t want to see right through your intentions and I do not want to feel like I was manipulated into feeling a certain thing. I want to feel it, and think that that emotion is justified. Not that you manipulated me into having this emotional response. So that’s what we’re talking about.
When authors use emotional manipulation to illicit a response from the reader, it creates this false excitement and coverts that something isn’t working quite right. Queerbaiting is a great example of that. It’s the author constantly making two characters interact in a way that is clearly romantic, and yet never fulfilling on that promise. It creates a divide between what the readers feel and what they end up getting. It feels a lot like betrayal and not being a hundred percent honest with your readership. Emotional manipulation leads to the fact that the reader is blindsided by their emotions and hence cannot fully understand what happened in the book. And how it happened. So readers can miss some problematic or not really great stuff because they were emotionally manipulated by the author.
Of course, manipulation is the part of the process. You want to make your readership feel something. However, as a reader, I don’t want to know that you’re doing that. As soon as I become aware of what you’re trying to do, it ruins everything. I don’t want to know that I was manipulated into feeling something. It has to be subtle, and it has to be meaningful. It has to serve a purpose and make sense and it has to be honest.
J.K. Rowling basically invented this. Her books aren’t diverse in the slightest. Like at all. And Harry Potter books have a lot of holes in it. And J.K. Rowling knows it. So she starts confirming and explaining things outside of canon. Like saying these students could have been black, or Dumbledore is in fact gay, or any sort of thing like that. But she never explicitly said that in her books. Snape is the shinning example of that collection. She constantly tries to apologize his behavior, and she uses emotional manipulation to do it. I love Snape, because I feel that he is a great character, but he did some awful things. And why would you have to apologize that? Why can’t he be a bad person who did good things and a great and well written character? Do all of them have to be likable?
The Cursed Child is a mess precisely for this reason. You are constantly manipulated into feeling nostalgic and it constantly tries to draw on your love for the original series, while completely ruining the canon and adding a sprinkle (a HUGE sprinkle) of queerbating.
Sarah J. Maas is another prime example. She writes characters so they work for the plot she had in mind, and not the other way around. She constantly makes these sudden and big character changes so she can manipulate her readers as seeing these characters in completely new light that does not make any sense, just so she can drive the plot forward and bring in another romantic interest.
Jojo Moyes in Me Before You is another example. That whole book is a mess. By the end it sends the message that a quadriplegic life, no matter the circumstances, is not really worth living, while relying on incredible emotional distress to try and hide that and make her readers feel sad and basically awful. I talk a bit more about that HERE.
Finally, I want to talk about A Little Life and Hanya Yanagihara. I am sure you’re aware it’s one of my favorite books of all time. And it’s an emotionally draining read, most definitely. But a lot of people felt manipulated by the book and did not like it. I did.
So the key to this remains – I don’t want know your manipulating my emotions. I don’t. And that’s the whole point.
The question that need answering is is this intentional. Are the authors aware they’re doing it? I don’t have the answer to this, and I am sure there’s no universal one for that. I feel like some probably are, some probably aren’t. I think it boils down to skill and that interaction between the text (or the author) and the reader. I’d recommend checking out Mikaela’s post on more of that.
So I’d love to hear from you! What books made you feel manipulated? Do you think it’s intentional? I would love to know what you think on the topic!
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