Monthly Archives: December 2015

Make Readers Care: Creating Emotions in Readers

7977102431_1b9d99abf5_zYesterday, I finished a novel where I felt that the author kept me at arm’s length for the entire book. This made me ambivalent about the characters, even though the setting and plot were incredibly unique. But since I didn’t care for the characters my overall enjoyment of the story went down and it was relatively easy for me to stop reading and do other things.

On the other hand, I’ve read books where the plot was unoriginal and the setting vague, however since the characters were engaging I enjoyed the books immensely more than I did the novel I finished a day ago.

Why?

Because I cared about the characters. They made me emotional. I laughed, sometimes cried, got angry, etc. I felt their emotions.

The story moved me.

How can you make readers feel emotions?

One way is to write in such a way that readers can picture what is happening. It’s one thing to state, “Jeffery was sad.” It’s another thing to show Jeffery sitting on the edge of his bed, the shades drawn to block the sunlight, and staring at a half-crumpled photograph of his deceased wife.

Another way is to make sure readers sympathize with the characters. Readers won’t care if Jeffery is sad if he’s a serial killer. They will care about him if he’s a hard-working dad, whose wife – his high school sweetheart and the love of his life – just died of cancer last week.

Readers need to be able to identify with the characters. This doesn’t mean that readers have to literally share experiences with the characters. Not everyone has had a wife that’s died of cancer. However, people can relate to a lost love, whether that’s a parent, a sibling, a friend, a spouse, etc.

An important point to note is that readers won’t identify emotionally with a character from the get-go. First, readers must become tied in some way with the characters. They must be grounded in the story. This includes knowing the setting, picturing the characters, understanding at least the beginning of the plot, and getting to know the characters’ hobbies, goals, fears, etc.

What are some of the ways you create emotions in readers?

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Conor Keller.)

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir Book Review

13643683595_fb282dfbf6_zWhat a phenomenal book. The Martian is so well written, realistic, and has such a fantastic voice that I was endeared to the story and, especially, to Mark Watney.

With the movie out, I told myself I wouldn’t see the movie until I read the book. So, I bought the novel and turned to the first page. Two days later, I’ve finished the novel and am processing the roller coaster of emotions I experienced, while being entertained by Watney’s sarcasm, humor, and MacGyver-esque abilities. (Let’s just say I was a bit more tired for work than usual.)

The biggest strength of this novel is Mark Watney. No matter how hard the Martian environment tries to kill him, Watney manages to be humorous. One of the my favorite pieces from the novel follows (don’t worry these few lines don’t spoil the story):

“What must it be like?” he pondered. “He’s [Mark Watney] stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.”

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.

Mark Watney’s voice makes the story. Without it, this novel wouldn’t have been nearly as popular.

Why? (Besides missing Mark Watney.)

Because of how technical it is.

Which isn’t necessarily a negative. It wasn’t for me. Not because I understood everything. I’m not an astrophysicist. Nor have I studied orbital mechanics or relativistic physics (two of Weir’s hobbies), and I am far from any sort of engineer (Weir is a software engineer). But because Watney’s wisecrack comments after longer technical bits often clarified what he was doing, I was able to enjoy fundamental parts of the novel. Let’s face it, like how this book wouldn’t be the same without Watney, it wouldn’t work without being so realistic.

However, after reading multiple reviews of this novel on Goodreads, I noticed a pattern forming. Of those who didn’t enjoy the book as much (thus giving the novel three or less stars out of five stars), the major complaint seemed to be that this book had too much math. And because there was so much technical stuff, the tension slowed and people got bored.

I admit that there was a few times I skimmed over some of the more science heavy bits, but Watney is an astronaut. Science and math are necessaries for him. This book wouldn’t have been believable if Weir didn’t include all the science and math.

Watney’s strong narration and the Martian environment trying to kill him at every turn (not to intentionally personify Mars, but you get the point) balanced out the more science heavy sections.

When all is said and done, The Martian is a science fiction novel. It just happens to be one of the most realistic modern sci-fi books on the market.

Read the book. You’ll find yourself laughing at Watney’s dark humor and rooting for the astronaut who refuses to let a hostile, barren world kill him.

Human ingenuity, survival, and collaboration at its finest.

(Photo courtesy of Joel Tonyan.)

Life of a Pirate: Getting Content for Free

Lately, I’ve been spending more of my paycheck on buying books than I should. It doesn’t help that I’m a fast(ish) reader. I tend to read a book a week. Sometimes I manage two, typically depends on what else I’ve got going on. So, I buy a lot of books (and that’s with also using the library).

15053279396_07b157a002_zAbout a week ago, I was talking to some of my friends about how I should be using the library more than I do, but how it’s frustrating having to go on waitlists all the time for in demand books (yeah, I know. I’m impatient). One of my friends mentioned trying to find free downloads online. They said they could give me a list of sites that specialize in free book downloads.

I admit that I was intrigued, but my moral compass started screaming at me after a few seconds. Authors work hard to produce a book that will sell. Not to mention that for many authors, writing is their full time job.

And, to go elementary school for a moment, pirating books is stealing and stealing is wrong.

I stumbled upon a post by Susan Dennard, author of the “Something Strange and Deadly” trilogy and the upcoming “Truthwitch” novel. Her post’s title sums up her post nicely: “Please Stop Pirating Books.” Though the post is a few years old, I thought I’d share it here because not only does it still apply today, but it gives you an author’s perspective and brings in an emotional element to a legal situation (pirating = stealing). Plus, reading the comments was pretty fun too.

The following post comes from Susan Dennard’s website:

Please Stop Pirating Books

I saw someone complain that the illegal version of my book was taking too long to download, and I wanted to take a moment to apologize to this person. So here we go…

Dear Person Pirating my Book,

I am sorry you can’t have your instant gratification. That book that I spent 3 years of my life working on full-time is now taking you a whopping ten minutes to download illegally. I mean, jeez. Talk about injustice.

I honestly can’t wrap my head around the fact that you’re waiting so many  minutes when I only spent 9 to 5 of every day since 2009 typing at my keyboard.

Okay, I’ll admit I wasn’t always typing. Sometimes I was scouring the document for plot holes or hand-writing my characters into corners only to then hand-write them back out again. Sometimes I was on the internet researching Victorian fashion (the book is set in 1876, in case you aren’t aware of exactly WHAT you are illegally downloading), or I was online seeking out a critique partner. Other times I was honing my query letter to get an agent or working on my 1-page synopsis.

But most of my time was spent writing (weekends included). So comparing all that time I spent on my book to your 10 minutes is just inconceivable for me (and I do think that word means what I think it means).

Wow, 10 minutes is just SO huge.

And you know what else, my dear, dear pirate-friend? I am so sorry you have to wait 10 minutes because that book (which, by the way, pays for my food, my mortgage, my heating bill, my health insurance, and everything else that sustains me in life) is really good. I mean, honestly, I’m really proud of it, and I think that once your copy finishes illegally downloading, you’ll really enjoy what you read.

I do want to point out, though, that you wouldn’t have to wait on my book if you bought it for your kindle or ipad or computer. Why, you’d have the file in mere seconds! And, because you would’ve BOUGHT the book, then I would get paid. And the cool thing about me getting paid is that I can afford my bills and then continue to writemore books. I mean, hey–sitting at the computer all day ain’t fun and it sure as hell ain’t easy. Making enough money to keep my electricity turned on (so my computer will also stay on) is kind of important if I’m going to finish this series…and maybe even start the next.

But if you don’t want to pay for my books, that’s cool. I get it. You probably steal other people’s paychecks too. Or maybe you just walk into book stores and take the book right off the shelf (‘cos clearly you’re a no-fear badass like that). Either way, I guess the whole free-factor means you’ll have to wait a few more minutes on this illegal download, and I’m just so sorry about that.

I hope you can forgive me.

Happy reading! ❤

-Sooz

This post endears me to Dennard. She’s got some snark to her, but she’s also being honest. Writing is her livelihood and there can be major consequences when someone messes with another person’s livelihood. As Dennard states in a response to one comment, “I have author friends in a TOTALLY different boat–their publishers canceling their series because sales are low…yet illegal downloads are high. It just sucks that people can’t see the monetary value of an author’s hard work.”

Wow. That’s like getting fired from your accounting, medical, teaching, or whatever job you have for something completely out of your control. Or like someone else taking credit for your hard work. (We’ve all experienced that second scenario at least once in our lives.) Neither situation feels great. In fact, both are horrible positions to be in. So, why would anyone consciously put someone else in a similar situation?

(Photo courtesy of Robert Pittman.)

Yikes! My Character’s Bipolar: Keeping Characters Consistent

2438792982_6e89624d17_zWriting a novel is a long process. Not only that, but when you’re writing 80,000 or more words, there are numerous chances for inconsistencies to crop up. This includes character inconsistences. The best example I can give you is from a novel I read over a year ago. The protagonist is falling for Character B. Introduce Character C. Character C is a much more likeable character than B, so much so that I wanted B to disappear. The author must have realized that she made C too likeable because from one page to the next (and I mean this literally, as in from page 126 to page 127) C went from nice caring guy to arrogant bad guy. The change was abrupt, made no sense, and made me question the author’s writing ability. In other words, I no longer trusted the author.

That is a problem.

Even if your goal is to have an unreliable narrator, readers need to trust you as the author. But that’s a blog post for another time.

Character consistency is when a character acts in line with how he is expected to act. If your character has an extreme fear of heights, he will not cross a thirty foot high swinging bridge over a gorge (unless there is an excellent reason for him to do so, say if he is protective of his little sister and she is trapped on the bridge and panicking/about to fall to her death).

How do you ensure your characters are consistent?

The best way is to keep track of your characters. Use a separate Word document or a notebook and jot down relevant character details. This includes important events that happen to them.

A cool thing to do is to think of several situations and then dump your character into the middle of them to see how he’d react. For example, your character witnesses two people assaulting a third person. What would your character do? Perhaps this situation would never occur in your novel. It’s still important to know how your character reacts because you need to know what sets your character off, etc. You need to know your character’s core personality – what makes your character believable as a unique, stable individual – and the only truly effective way to do that is to put your character in pressure-filled situations.

There’s a reason many authors say that they don’t know their characters until a third of the way through their novel (and then have to go back and edit the beginning of the novel). Figure out who your character is ahead of time and your chances of running into character inconsistencies while writing your novel will decrease.

(If you think character inconsistencies aren’t a big deal, they are. Readers will notice when a person acts out of character, and if there’s not a good reason for that breach in character, readers will be annoyed/angered/confused…they’ll experience some sort of negative emotion that might be strong enough to make them put the novel down.)

Other ways to keep your characters consistent include character motivation (knowing your character’s goals, what they want and need), knowing the direction of the story (where is the plot going, how is the story going to end), and being aware of your character’s limits (what would break your character). To achieve these things requires you to write at least elementary character and plot outlines, which may seem like a waste of time where you could be working on your novel, but by taking the time to get to know your characters beforehand, you’ll make your life much easier in the long run.

Writing a novel is fun. Going back and ripping it apart because of a tremendous number of inconsistencies (perhaps having to rewrite huge swaths of your novel), not so much.

How do you keep your characters consistent?

(Photo courtesy of David Yu.)