A simple piece of writing advice has become my mantra: Disturb the reader.
It’s found in the introduction to Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias. This book does not target novelists, but screenwriters. Here, the reader is the person who decides whether or not a screenplay has a chance of becoming a movie. “You’re literally trying to disturb the usual life of the reader; you’re trying to move them, disturb their hearts and minds, in a sense.” Not to offend, but to unsettle at the very least.
I’d read this advice many times before, in other books on writing craft. No matter how it’s worded, disturb the reader is the essence of it.
In Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass tells novelists to provide “a truth that the world needs to hear, an insight without which we would find ourselves diminished.” As writers, we can cause our readers to look at something in a way they never did before–and may never again.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King advises that writers use POV to cause the reader to feel like the character. “And that kind of emotional connection is exactly what you’re after.” Funny how we often avoid strong emotions in real life but expect a novel to evoke them. As readers, we desire to be frightened, outraged, saddened.
Victoria Hanley, in Wild Ink: How to Write Fiction for Young Adults, suggests: “Sometimes the best books for teens allow the raw truth of a writer’s innermost heart to bleed onto the pages.” Teens expect disturbance and they respond to it.
Will you remember to disturb your readers? Do you have a mantra to remind you?