CHARACTER EMOTION vs READER EMOTION
“It’s not about what happens to people on a page; it’s about what happens to a reader in his heart and mind.”~Gordon Lish
I agree with Gordon wholeheartedly. While we as readers enjoy reading about people we like to feel something. It is the author’s job to fulfill that longing in his/her reader. Character emotion does not equate to reader emotion.
If a character laughs in a novel I’m reading, it doesn’t make me laugh. It simply points to the fact that the character finds something funny. However, if the character does something that tickles me, I’ll be sure to giggle.
If you are relatively new to writing you might be wondering how do we, as writers, engage our readers emotionally?
I would say visceral reactions are the answer.
Surprise your reader. Make her curious, get her involved enough to become interested in what will happen next. Encourage her to anticipate what the character’s subsequent action might be. Get her excited, make her fear the worse, ramp up the tension, make her laugh, amuse her, make her empathize with your characters, fascinate her, intrigue her, give her hope and make her care.
But most of all entertain her! You do that, and chances are she won’t be able to put down your book. She might even find it unforgettable.
It is not enough to hope that by making your character laugh, cry, get mad, that your reader would experience the same emotion. Because your character is scared doesn’t make the reader scared. To draw the reader’s reaction we must tug at their visceral emotions.
Visceral emotions are the emotions/feelings you wish your reader to experience while reading your story. The ones you experience when reading a good book. The ones I mentioned above.
Ernest Hemingway said something that many new writers don’t realise. “When you have learned to write for the reader, it’s no longer easy to write.”~Ernest Hemingway.
As a teen, I remember when I first started writing, I found it so easy to bash out a story. I had nothing to consider except my own entertainment. Writing seemed effortless and I fell in love with everything I wrote. Then the rejections started flooding in and I soon learned the fundamentals of creating a story. All the rules, techniques, and craft of storytelling. Then it wasn’t so easy to dash off a story anymore. I now had to consider the reader. Examine every word and scene to ensure it comes over smoothly for my reader. That she might experience emotion and entertainment when she reads my book.
The last thing I wanted was to fall prey to the thing Larry Niven warns about: “The reader is entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused, maybe all three. If he quits in the middle feeling his time has been wasted, you’re in violation.”~Larry Niven
Give your characters compelling conflicts, make them change and grow. Use subtext, set up and reveal, back-story (filtered in, not info dumped J), give your characters traits, flaws, motivations, wounds and goals.
This biz is about delivering emotion and woe to us who forget that fact!
Here is your mission should you wish to accept it: evoke strong, vivid emotions in your readers! Take them on a roller-coaster ride of emotional ups-and-downs, the pull/push of tension and release. In other words, give her a memorable experience!
I leave you with this quote from Paul O’Neil as inspiration. Like any great piece of writing, it’s very evocative:
“Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, send your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tagline.” ~Paul O’Neil