Sensory Fiction: An Excuse for Poor Writing?

Would you wear a vest that physically manipulated your emotions in order to enjoy a book?

That’s the idea behind a vest developed to allow a reader to experience the physiological emotions—heart rate, body temperature, chest tightness—of the protagonist. Now, this device isn’t going to be available at your local bookstore any time soon. It’s the product of what sounds like a fascinating class at MIT, Science Fiction to Science Fabrication (more on this in a future blog).

Basically, you wear the vest while reading, and the specially constructed book triggers the vest to induce certain responses, like vibrating to influence your heart rate, or shifting sound/light to convey mood. The lights are on the book cover, so I’m not sure how useful they would be, since the cover is hidden when the book is open, which it necessarily would be while you were reading it.

My response to the idea, as I read the National Public Radio story, was that this was a shortcut to actually writing good fiction. Apparently an NPR editor felt the same way, saying “…it just means the writing won’t have to be as good.”

A well-written story makes me bite my nails when my favorite character is in a sticky situation, laugh out loud at a witty quip, or cry tears of despair or joy. I appreciate the time and energy the author expended to craft his or her words in such a way as to elicit these responses. Having emotions forced upon me would be like listening to a laugh track for a show that’s not really funny.

So which would you prefer: electronic stimulation, or just a really good book?


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