All writers learn that it is not possible or desirable to control how a reader responds to story, or even a sentence. But you can influence reader response, and you should.
How your reader responds is a crucial consequence of the writing process. To paraphrase a famous literary scholar, you may create the text, but it is the reader who turns that text into a story. And, as we know, each reader brings his or her autobiography to the experience of a text.
For example, I have read The Great Gatsby four times: in high school, college, as a young literature teacher and as a mature adult. The author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, stayed the same. The text stayed the same. But the experience of reading proved different each time — because I, the reader, was different. It almost felt that I was reading four different books.
Themes of love, loss, death, wealth, decay work at the macro level, but readers also respond at the micro level: to paragraphs, sentences and words that are written in a way to elicit a certain reader response.
An important example involves what I call the “pace” of the story. How fast do I want the reader to move through the narrative? At times it will be fast, but at other times very slow. Why would I want to set a slow pace? Perhaps for suspense, or emotional impact, or to make a complicated subject crystal clear.
But how would I slow the pace?
I talked about this and more in the chat, which you can replay here: