Thursday, December 21, 2006

What makes writers crazy

Busy with Christmas preparations, I was thinking about giving the old blog a rest today, but then Kristin Gillenwater had to go and make trouble. She just shot me an e-mail with the subject line, "Brenda, you know you want to blog about this."

Oh, all right. Kristin linked to a December 19 New York Times article that begins:

As if mystery writers did not have enough to do just trying to come up with a good yarn, now they may have to worry about their readers' psyches.

A new study finds that people with low self-esteem don't seem to like it much when a story ends with a twist. In a whodunit, they like the 'who' to be the person they suspected all along.

The findings appear in a recent issue of Media Psychology, and were prepared by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick of Ohio State University and Caterina Keplinger of the Hanover University of Music and Drama in Germany.

Oh, swell. Now anybody who doesn't like a given book's twisty ending is going to have to keep quiet about that or risk exposing herself as an individual with low self-esteem. And will mystery writers tie themselves into knots trying to decide whether to write for self-confident readers or for shrinking violets? (Quick! Somebody commission a study! Which group purchases more books?)

A smart-aleck friend (which is about the only kind I seem able to attract these days) recently suggested to me that the inclination to write must be a form of insanity. "No," I protested, "it's the writing that makes us insane." But on further reflection, I have concluded that the conflicting expectations of readers (and editors and agents and critics) must surely make a significant contribution.

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Mirtika said...

I love it when the author outsmarts me. In fact, if the person I figure "dunnit" early on IS the person who "dunnit", I feel cheated. Like it was too easy.

The joy for me is in totally being flummoxed, but then seeing the trail from the perspective of the ending and going, "Oh, yeah, now it's obvious."


Alphabeter said...

I second what Mirtika said.

While I've come to expect knowing the killer pretty quick in movies, I really prefer being surprised---naturally. Twisting the ending JUST to avoid the obvious is worse!

Brenda Coulter said...

Right. But some books, TV shows, and movies twist the ending too much, and that's no fun because it calls attention to the writer's technique. I'm still deeply offended by the Agatha Christie book in which the narrator turns out to be the murderer. It simply wasn't possible to guess that the person who had been telling the story had been lying all along. It didn't strike me as a clever device; rather, it was annoying in the extreme. It was like being poked in the ribs by an obnoxious individual crowing, "Betcha never saw that coming, didja? Huh? Didja?"