Yesterday, 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.
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.)