Emotional investment in a story is what separates good fiction from truly great fiction. (Of course, this works with almost any form of writing as well, but as I know fiction best, that’s what I’ll be addressing.)
An emotional connection between your characters, their story, and your readers is what will make your story one that they won’t be able to stop reading or put down (kind of like that magic book in Harry Potter that no one could bear to stop reading. Except less magic and destruction. Maybe.)
Here are five tips to foster that emotional connection and make your story stay with your readers long after they’ve finished reading it:
1. Manage your information wisely. If there’s an crucial insight or piece of information that might change the way that people think/feel about or perceive your character, don’t just throw it out there at the first opportunity. Think carefully about how it’ll affect the story, and the place that will have the most impact, the moment that will affect the story the most. (Think Snape from Harry Potter: we don’t get a glimpse of the deeper characterization, whether good or ill, until a crucial moment at the end of the last book. The information revealed there sheds a light on the actions he’d taken and the things he’d said throughout the entire series—and this would not have been half as effective if this information was revealed earlier or during a different moment.
2. Choose your POV wisely. So I was writing for my Secret Novel Project and then I realized: I was writing all of my character from the third person—except for one. Now, that one character is what I would consider the “traditional” main character, but the way that my novel is, it’s not a story that belongs to any one person. Instead, it’s the story of all of them, and each person’s viewpoint and insight is valued and important. So, this POV discrepancy was really odd and really frustrating. Should I make it all Third Person, and risk a kind of distance between the reader and the character? Or should I make it all First Person and just put headings up like in Game of Thrones, to show whose perspective the different chapters are told in?
In the end, I opted for the First Person/GoT route, simply because I know that these characters are all valuable and the connection that they make to the reader is crucial to the stories that are being told.
3. Likewise, choose your tenses wisely. I also had another conundrum when writing my Secret Novel Project lately. Depending on when and what I was writing, the tense would change from present to past. Now, I like using present tense instead of past, because (at least for me) there’s a sense of this is happening, this is happening right now, this is happening right now as you read it it’s happening that just… isn’t there with past tense. I opted to go for present tense (just like I opted to go for First Person) because I believe it works to foster the connection between the reader and the characters better. I could be totally wrong about that, but that’s what I believe.
4. Make your characters and their stories matter. I know, I know, this seems obvious. It’s their story, after all, why wouldn’t they matter?
To which I have this to offer: I’m not talking about physical value. I’m saying, make your character’s story hold some kind of weight for the reader. Make it impossible for the reader to put the story down or abandon it; make it so that everything that happens in that character’s story is every bit as emotional and important as everything in that reader’s life. We make connections in real life based on what we perceive as a kind of emotional kinship (common interest in books, movies, food, mini-golf, stuffed animals, you name it…) If you provide your reader with that kind of emotional kinship (by making that character not only sympathetic but also paying attention to the emotional level attachment that that character has to the events of their own story, as well as that of the reader to the character), then you will be able to drawn the reader in even more and connect them in more ways.
5. Lastly, pay attention to your characters. Is there anything specific about your character that would be good to mention or keep in mind as you’re writing them? Maybe it’s a matter of point of view or opinoin that was formed or influenced by their past that comes into play in the circumstances or situations they find themselves in—keep in mind that just like for people in real life, characters will be uniquely affected by their own past. It’ll drive them to change, or stay to the same, to fight back or keep a low profile. Where they’ve been will definitely affect where they are and where they want to go, both literally and mentally/metaphorically.
If you do all of these things—manage the information reveals wisely; consider your POV’s and tenses carefully (before you start writing—trust me, changing them once you’ve written a significant portion of your writing is a rough deal); make your character’s stories and journeys hold some kind of significance and weight for the reader; and pay attention to the nuances and subtleties in your characters, er, characterization—then you’ll no doubt have you reader’s attention. They’ll be emotionally invested in your character’s stories and journeys, and in turn they’ll want to read more about them.
As always, happy writing!
You know you have senioritis when you listen to Bon Iver for hours before remembering that you were gonna take a shower. 12 am and I’m still not sleepy, time to watch stupid tv shows until my eyes get tired.
Let’s play a game.
Type the following words into your tags box, then post the first automatic tag that comes up.