Target reader emotions when you plot


I just had a tough decision to make in a scene.

I waffled – there were two ways to write the thing, and there were pros and cons for each of the ways.

Until I hit the right question.

The two ways were:

for a character to stew all day hoping she could achieve her goal that night


to be confident all day that she would achieve the goal, and spend the time planning how she would enjoy it.

The first way is more dramatic – for the character.

The question?

What is worse – for the READER?

The actual plot will go to the same place: either she will or she will not get what she wants; that was predetermined in 2000 when I started this.

But now that I’m writing the scenes, I need to shift a bit from ‘what happens’ to ‘how do I PRESENT what happens’?

I know where it’s going – the reader does not.

I created the rollercoaster – the reader wants a good ride and a thrill.

My virtual teachers (writing books) teach me that the reader can handle the centrifugal force from being thrown around curves in the plot.

More than they can handle being on a nice calm piece of exposition which is BORING.

Once I asked the right question

the answer was obvious.

The ride for the reader is MEH if they see her seethe all day – they can hope she won’t achieve her goal, assume something will come along, again, to defeat her.

Instead, if I write it right, the reader will see her confident – and reviewing all the reasons she is sure to get – what they don’t want her to get!

And that will torture the reader more than the feeling of ‘she has failed before, she will fail again’ READER certainty.

Can’t have the reader comfortable, now, can we?


This is why I spend the time arguing with myself, in writing, and asking myself why my brain isn’t letting me go ahead with the writing – because it needs to know which plan we’re following here before it will set out the tea lights in their little tin holders and illuminate the path we’ll walk.

I never get much lighting beyond what I need strictly not to tumble over roots and rocks. Then I pick my way along.

It works better for me to know – and the reader to have to guess – where we’re going. I already discard great gobs of ideas and executions which are not what I need. I can’t afford to make decisions on the fly.

I like my shiny new toy. I’ve been using an intuitive version of it for a long time, but I love having the tool be something I am conscious about, in the top tray of the toolbox. Makes it more likely that I’ll pick it up.

If you’re a writer, do you do this?

If you’re a reader, admit it – you want drama, not a smooth ride. You want that ending EARNED.



3 thoughts on “Target reader emotions when you plot

  1. acflory

    You’re right, Alicia, it’s how the reader gets there that’s important, at least in fiction. In non-fiction you can’t afford to stray from the straightest path possible. I guess that’s why I write fiction, or I write non-fiction. My brain can’t seem to flip from one mindset to the other, or at least not easily.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris

    What you’re describing comes very close to the concept of Narrative Journeying that I have analyzed in my post on how to pick narrative endings:

    A novel is a text that tells a story. In order for this story to be engaging and convey rich meanings, it must be structured. Imagine leaving your house to go to your friend’s. There is a direct route, but often you might take a longer one because it’s more scenic; or, perhaps you want to pass by the grocery store first. A narrative works the same way: you go from one point to the next, but you don’t take the straight road – if you did, the result would probably be lackluster. Indeed, the journey is often more important than the destination or the departure point. […]

    Imagine you’ve left home on your way to your friend’s. You could pass from the grocery store or you could pass from the liquor store; maybe you could pass by the scenic park or by the port. You have full control of these choices, you can pick your route. But, once you’ve made your choice, certain repercussions are generated.

    As a writer, I do the same. But I write having in mind not an audience but an intended audience. The difference is subtle, but crucial. This intended audience is basically modeled after myself; what I would like, what I would understand, what I would interpret. This allows me to write without having to explain too much, without having to worry whether the readers will “get it”, and, consequently, without having to dilute any symbolism.

    Clearly, this has drawbacks. Recently I got a 2-star review for Illiterary Fiction that missed the point entirely. The reader was woefully unable to see what existed beneath the surface. As a writer, I could’ve made it easier by spelling out the allegories and metaphors. But then I wouldn’t like it, and I can’t have that.

    It’s a matter of balance. There will be readers who’ll sulk facing the rollercoaster you mentioned, but this is insignificant. Readers who can’t handle a complex book don’t deserve it. On a more personal level (and, at that, one going outside the confines of literature that we’re discussing), I’m sick and tired of this mentalité that wants people to please everybody and make sure not to offend anyone. We’d still be living in the caves chasing mammoths if we did that.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I couldn’t possibly please more than a tiny fraction of readers, but I like your concept of the ‘intended audience.’

      Mine consists of intelligent, well-read, omnivorous readers of almost any age, and all genders. My beta reader and several of my favorite reviewers are obviously in that audience – because they do ‘get it.’

      Which means it’s ‘gettable,’ if I may coin a term. I would have been satisfied with finishing the whole trilogy for that single copy in my room in the nursing home with a short book shelf, but I don’t have to – we’re a relative minority.

      But there are over 7 BILLION people on the planet, and at least 10% of them speak English, so even a tiny fraction of those is a very large potential number of readers.

      I need to reach them. We’re widely scattered among those who found a life in books.

      And we don’t share well – because we don’t know we’re NOT odd, and that others exist, so even recommendations are not a way of finding those readers.

      We depend on the ages equivalent of ‘going viral.’ I’ll let you know when it happens. Meanwhile, it’s deathly slow getting new readers.

      Liked by 2 people


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