Thursday, January 12, 2012


I was recently studying about the scientific model of stimulus-response and was interested in how much could be related to literature. The idea of a quantitative stimulus causing a quantitative response could easily transfer over into writing as what is known as cause and effect. This isn't a new idea, of course, but I think as writers, we need to consciously think about our strategies that will tease a response from our readers. Thus, the stimulus-response effect.

Sometimes, as writers, we can get busy constructing our story and we can forget that not all the stimulus-response is what's built into the story. Your story is a stimulus for your reader. If you give them a good enough stimulus, they WILL respond.

I recently purposefully left out the identity of the main character. All I gave was her name, that she looked very feminine and that she worked in a very busy emergency room. Invariably, the readers assumed she was a nurse. Then, in a scene where she was mistaken for a nurse, she drawled, "I am the doctor." My readers gave me a definite response:
1. "It was a tickle to find out she was the doctor."
2. "I naturally assumed she was a nurse."
3. "It was good to see her playing a different role." (different than this reader expected!)

These readers were given a stimulus that caused each one a different response.

This made me realize that we owe it to our readers to give them a little shocker once in a while. A stimulus to keep them guessing. How dull it would be if all we got to eat was the same thing day in and day out. Our readers' diet is no different. Even if you write horror and that's what your readers are expecting, make sure there is a little spice on the table once in a while. Otherwise, your horror will be dull and boring to a reader who has seen it, heard it and read it. And that would be horrible! (Yes, I had to put that in there!)

So enjoy your writing and try using the stimulus-response model if you don't already.

Happy writing!

"Life is chocked full of humor---look for it in your work!"

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