On being a writer...

A celebration of the writing process, of being a writer, of all the weird things that pass through a writing brain...

Monday, 17 January 2011


To see the English National Ballet at the Colisseum dance Romeo and Juliet. I remember once being accused by a critic of manipulating my reader, and when I see a full-blooded tragedy like R and J I wonder again what that means. Because what is that story but true manipulation? Everyone knows the pair are doomed. Everyone knows Juliet will wake up just too late to save Romeo. But as the audience, we just abandon ourselves to the plot, and let it sweep us along, knowing full well it all end in tears.

I wonder if manipulation, a bit of a dirty word, in a literary context is to use tricks to tweak the audience's emotions rather than fine writing, characterisation and so on. If so I can think of a fair few manipulative novels. Or perhaps it means to be too obvious in straining the plot or character to fit the overall requirements of the novel. Either way, it suggests a degree of consciousness in the reader that the author is engaging them in some kind of sleight of hand. I once read an entire novel full of shocking events which involved a woman who it turned out, in the last chapter, was a ghost. I felt very cheated. It's like that child's trick of ending a story: It was all a dream.

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