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June 12: Reader’s Discomfort = Writer’s Success

June 13, 2015

Unknown-2Looking at my own instructions at the beginning of the week, making abstract emotions concrete, I caught myself in an all-too-familiar experience today. I got back to the house after spending the morning helping our friends’ daughter and two grandchildren decorating for Gayle and Dennis’ fiftieth anniversary party tonight.  I got there early–I thought–and parked in the shade in from of the Mosteller Mansion, waiting for someone to arrive. I turned my car to “accessory” so I could listen to my audiobook, Disclaimer by Renee Knight.

The book is quite suspenseful, with alternating readers.  The first person narrator is actually the antagonist, while the woman whose life is told through a third person narrator is actually the protagonist, or at least the most sympathetic character of the two.

As the story has progressed, revealing little bits of the mystery, but never enough, I find myself with this gnawing discomfort in my stomach.  Even when I’m not listening to the CD, I’m feeling vaguely queasy. I wasn’t able to put my finger on what was wrong at first. It took me awhile to realize I was experiencing vicarious unease.

The same thing happened awhile back when I listened to Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, a novel told through the point of view of a dog.  Nevertheless, having to stop the story, get out of my car, and teach, I carried the weight of suspense. I worried as much about that the predicament of the dog’s owner as if it had been my own.

I realize that when I write fiction, I am too protective of my characters. I keep them just out of trouble, which would be fine if I were their parent, not an author wanting to make readers keep reading. Now that (a. I realize what I’m doing and (b. I know as a reader I want trouble–as long as it’s resolved in a satisfactory way, it’s time for me to turn back to the story that has become my focus this month.

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