Last weekend at my writer’s group, we were discussing how necessary it is to develop an emotional connection with the reader through your work. In fact, a strong emotional connection between the reader and the character can translate to a best-selling book that many of us might not think is all that “good.” It can also translate to the proverbial nerd rage when someone doesn’t like the same book, character, movie, game or comic that someone else love with all their heart.
Those common emotional experiences can range from love to hate and everything in between. They can also range from unhealthy experiences to empowering ones, too. To understand what my characters are going through, I sometimes use a technique that I call “method writing.” This technique helps me get into the mind of the character; sometimes, I try to write the character’s mindset before I write about them so I understand their voice. (If you’re interested, you can read about how that process works for the character of Mahochepi in my e-book THE QUEEN OF CROWS.)
However, in my mind “how” we as people deal with emotions is not the same as “what” we are all experiencing. Take death and grieving for example. Although the experience of grief has been well documented and described in stages, the actions we take may be different from one another because we are different people. One person may grieve by getting rid of old photographs; another may grieve by looking through them or putting together a scrapbook.
I feel that this is what makes us, and subsequently our characters, all unique. Sure, there will be similarities, but how we deal with our emotions is never precisely the same from one character (or one person) to another. My job as a writer is to explore the common emotions and express it in a way that reaches a common level of understanding. In some cases, especially within the realm of genre fiction, it can be difficult because the character might be experiencing something that we, as people in the real world, have yet to experience on a broad scale. (Cybernetics, anyone?)
Often, to reach the heart of my characters I use music as a way to feel what they might be feeling. Music, for me, is a very powerful medium that acts as my emotional barometer. To that end, my music tastes vary widely, and I often listen to music I don’t normally like because I feel it fits the character I’m writing about.
Perhaps this is why the genre of romance is so popular and why there are so many reader expectations surrounding it. If you stop to think about it, that pretty much makes sense because in a romance — the focus is on the relationship. If you strip out the setting, in many cases the relationship can stand on its own two feet. Love, sex, heartache, etc. are common experiences that we all share.
When was the last time a book, movie or comic touched you on an emotional level? Do you remember how it made you feel?