In the summer retreat I’m teaching, this week, we’ve been focusing on conflict and emotion. I told everyone that while we think we read books for entertainment, that’s only half the reason.
The other being emotion. A great story makes you feel an emotion, whether it be joy, anger, fear etc.
One easy way to get readers turning the pages is to present to them a character who is going through a similar emotion they’ve had at some point in their life. It doesn’t have to be the exact same thing like losing a spouse to cancer, but they know what loss feels like and it brings up the memory of that emotion. Done well enough, they might even experience it again.
Lots of students ask me how they can get that emotion across to their reader…to make sure they’re hitting all the right chords.
It is in fact, easy because you can draw from your own life experience.
Here’s an example and I thought of it because I’ve just got back from the dentist…yes, we’re going to use fear as the emotion here.
A quick back story here, when I was about three, my mom thought it would be a great idea to take me along to her dental appointment so I could get use to sitting in the chair, seeing and hearing everything that went on. Mom, didn’t know it at the time, but it was in fact, the worst day because the dentist let the drill slip in her mouth while filling a cavity. This young child witnessed pain, panic, and being almost thrown out of the room while they tried to stop the bleeding in my mom’s mouth. As you can guess, from that day on I had a fear of dentists.
Now I might have a character go through the same thing as me but I obviously can’t keep repeating the same cause of fear in every book. So when I use fear, I rely on my own sense of what it’s like to experience fear. The wobbly legs as I go through the door of the dental office. The foot tapping while I wait for the assistant to come get me. The shaky hands as I sit in the chair. My heart pounded as soon as I hear the drill.
Can you see how, one, you can use all this to convey fear in a character rather than just the he was scared. What a layered image your reader will get of the character as they experience all these symptoms of fear. And two, they’re going to think, I’ve felt like that, I’ve gone through that. Maybe it wasn’t at the dentist’s office but taking a test or their first time flying.
It’s the I’ve felt that too that seals the bond between character and reader. It gives them the emotional read they crave, and best of all, it keeps them turning not only the pages in your current story, but future ones too.
Readers will always remember and stay loyal to writers who give them both entertainment and their emotion fix.