Today I have an extra special treat for you. Historical Romance author Ashley March is here to talk to us about character emotions. And believe me, this chica knows what she's talking about. Her characters are vivid and spunky and full of attitude. Seriously, if you haven't picked up Ashley's debut yet, Seducing the Duchess, you are missing out. Such a fun and heartfelt read.
Now I hand it over to Ashely. And make sure your read all the way to the bottom. There's a prize up for grabs! :)
Building Reader Rapport through Characters’ Emotions
When I started thinking about a topic to write about for my guest blog on Fiction Groupie, I knew that picking the right one would be difficult. After all, Roni is phenomenal with all the information she shares with us (yes, I’m a reader of the blog, too!), and I know that a lot of you could probably teach me how to write better. J In the end, I decided to blog about something that has helped me the most on my journey as a writer.
First, if you haven’t read Characters & Viewpoint, a Writer’s Digest book by Orson Scott Card, go buy your copy right now.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably read dozens of books about writing a novel. And just like me, you probably haven’t read most of them. But trust me, Characters & Viewpoint is one that you definitely want to read with your highlighter out and ready to go. I’ve heard a lot about how to create great characters, but the idea that was suggested by Orson Scott Card and has stuck with me since is this:
If you want readers to care about your characters, give them something to care about.
Sounds simple, and honestly, it is. But this idea isn’t talking about making your characters miserable just for the sake of entertaining your readers. It’s about getting your readers invested in your story and getting their emotions engaged. And the best way to build this kind of reader rapport is through the showing of your characters’ emotions.
We’ve all heard how important it is to show and not tell when writing description. Instead of “It was a windy day”, try “The leaves scattered across the yard, a frenzied kaleidoscope of autumn colors harkening another Halloween to be spent splashing through the rain.”
The same idea carries over for character emotions. Don’t say, “Adam felt angry.” Don’t even say “Adam’s blood boiled”; this is only a cliché way of saying the same thing. Instead, try to show Adam’s physical response to the correlating emotion. Does he punch his fist through a wall, slam it on a desk? If he can’t respond physically, maybe internally he swears, is sarcastic, or daydreams about physically injuring Peter while Peter gloats about the new promotion he received.
But there’s more. Why should we feel upset that Adam isn’t getting the promotion? We care because from the very beginning of the story, you’ve been building sympathy in us by showing his emotional stakes in other aspects of his life. Maybe he needs the promotion because he’s screwed up in so many other ways that his wife no longer has any respect for him. Maybe his child is sick with leukemia and he needs the better salary to pay for unexpected medical bills. Maybe Peter stole Adam’s fiancée and Adam thought he could show her that he was a better man by getting the promotion over Peter.
Make the reader care by giving them a reason to care. Show your characters’ emotions to invoke a similar, sympathetic response in your readers. Up your characters’ emotional stakes by revealing what’s at stake in the plot. If you’re able to do this and get your reader invested in your character, they’ll become invested in the story. They’ll turn page after page not because you’ve written the next episode of Jack Bauer’s 24 and the entire world is going to end, but because they care about the characters.
This kind of reader rapport is the kind where you actually get a physical ache in your chest when Rhett leaves Scarlett at the end of Gone with the Wind. It’s what makes you cry for Robert when his pet pig is butchered in A Day No Pigs Would Die. (Seriously—I remember my entire 8th grade English class sobbing at the scene when Pinky dies.) That’s the sort of emotional investment you want to create; that’s what will make your characters and your story memorable.
Although I wish I could give many more ways to build this rapport, this post is only meant as an overview. I really encourage you to read Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. It is a book that entirely changed the way I wrote and the type of characters that I created. Because I think Characters & Viewpoint is so awesome, I’m going to give away a copy to a random commenter. Just comment below and tell us about a book or scene that really elicited an emotional response from you because of the way the author wrote the characters and their emotions.
Ashley March (www.ashleymarch.com) is an historical romance author of Victorian romances that are sometimes sexy, sometimes funny, and always emotional. While you’re reading this, Ashley’s sitting at home on a couch trying to brainstorm her next book while she watches her 20-month-old daughter throw a tantrum and tries to keep her 3-month-old from spitting up on Ashley’s third shirt of the day.
Thanks so much to Ashley for stopping by! Feel free to ask her any questions in the comments. And don't forget to follow her instructions above to enter the contest!