What would you do if I asked you to allow a complete stranger to control your thoughts, senses, and emotions? Just for a little while, of course. Would that be okay? I hope so…
Because that’s exactly what you’re doing every time you open a book. Fiction is, at heart, just such a subversive little beast.
Most fantasy and science fiction readers will immediately recognize Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s catchphrase “the willing suspension of disbelief”, which describes the recipient’s intentional receptiveness to storytelling of any sort, be it written (novel, short story, poetry) or performed (theater, movie, music, television program). In all these cases, the recipient seeks out these experiences for the pleasure of leaving their own lives and being immersed in someone else’s dream, created for their pleasure.
Therefore one of a writer’s primary goals is to create something that readers find pleasurable. Of course, if fiction were all friendliness and goodness, people would soon find it tedious. Like yin and yang, goodness only exists in the presence of evil, and triumph can only occur where there is a real likelihood of loss. That’s why authors must concern themselves so much with negative things like the various types of conflict, foreshadowing, plot complications, and dramatic tension. In order to make you feel good, a good writer must first make you feel bad. But both of these depend on one thing: that you give the author the power to make you feel what he or she wants you to feel.
This conspiracy between reader and writer seems, on the surface, very one-sided. You give the author the freedom to control what you see in your mind’s eye, so that you can vicariously experience the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensory images that he or she creates. Furthermore, you allow the author some ability to manipulate your emotions when you become engaged with a work of fiction. The author’s first concern is to get you to care about the characters in his or her work, and then use that leverage to take you on an emotional ride through the events of the story. The writer can also expose you to new ideas or ways of thinking that you might otherwise avoid or not consider.
Yes, as a reader, you let the author get away with a lot, expecting only that the writer entertain or amuse you in return. But what happens when the reader’s pleasure isn’t the author’s only (or even primary) motive? What if the author wants to make you consider a new idea or convert you to their way of thinking on some controversial topic of the day? One doesn’t have to look very far to see this in action; the world’s greatest literature is filled with examples of stories that were specifically written in order to manipulate the readers’ opinions — some subtly, some less so. Any story with a clear theme, rather than one written simply to entertain, has some element of this.
Of course, no writer can force you to see or think or feel something you don’t want to; you can always put a book down if you don’t like it. But if you are indeed willing to suspend your disbelief, that’s our opportunity to connect with you. While it’d be unfair to say that all writers want to manipulate the hearts and minds of their readers, it’s true that every story requires you to be open to the images and concepts that the author chooses to depict.
One of the biggest challenges for DargonZine’s writers is to learn how to show you what we want you to see, tell you what we want you to think, and compel you to feel how we want you to feel, in a package that’s delightfully pleasing and enjoyable to read. As our contributors develop into really good writers, we hope that we can exercise that control proficiently and with subtlety, while providing you with entertainment that is second to none.
In this issue we begin two new series and introduce you to our newest writer.
Nicholas Wansbutter returns to DargonZine with the first half of “A Matter of Faith”, which follows one of the two protagonists he introduced in his first story, “A Matter of Honour”.
It’s always a particular pleasure to print the first story from a new writer, and our second debut of the year is New Jersey resident Dan Toler with “William Zeneca’s Bad Day”.
Finally, after a year’s hiatus, Rena Deutsch returns to the pages of DargonZine to begin a new series entitled “Spirit of a Woman” which I hope you’ll enjoy.
Our next issue will be a little delayed by this year’s Dargon Writers’ Summit, but we’ll get it to you as quickly as possible, along with Summit photos and a debrief.