First, let me observe that people have vastly different tolerances for the level of danger, tension, pain, and suspense they are willing/able to tolerate, whether we’re talking about the activities they enjoy or the books and movies they prefer. Adrenalin junkies aren’t satisfied unless they’re hurling themselves off a cliff with only a bungee cord or a parachute standing between them and certain death. I suspect these people demand stories whose characters also face the highest stakes, continually and unrelentingly (i.e. Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy novels). That’s not me. I prefer to get my thrills from the relative safety of a rollercoaster, and my stories from Jane Austen and the like. Those tastes are reflected in what I write as well.
Eager to save her mother from every unnecessary moment’s horrible suspense, she ran immediately into the hall, and reached the outward door just in time to receive and support her as she entered it. (Sense and Sensibility, chapter 45)
As I wrote in a post a couple of weeks ago (Drama, with a Twist – part 1), drama is the feeling evoked in the reader as a result of introducing 1)a serious conflict with 2)an uncertain outcome, 3)brought to a crisis that 4)forces characters to make hard choices and take difficult actions. The principle is the same whether the crisis involves nuclear destruction or a ruined relationship. The variables are the type of conflict and the level of intensity.
Personally, I don’t want to read about war or rampaging monsters. I don’t enjoy watching movies that are so suspenseful that I can barely breathe. Reality supplies more than enough misery and stress, as far as I’m concerned – no need to supplement with my leisure activities(hence, my favorite Jane Austen quote).
But I think most readers have at least one thing in common. Regardless of whether you like your entertainment heart-stopping, heart-pounding, or simply heart-stirring, we want to know the experience is survivable. We all like to be taken on a ride, but we’re trusting the author that, even against overwhelming odds, s/he will bring us safely through to a satisfying ending. It doesn’t matter if that means saving the universe from total annihilation or securing the happiness of a couple in love.
So what do you think? How much do the kind of books you read reveal about your personality, and specifically about your tolerance for stress and suspense in other aspects of your life? Is there a clear correlation or not?