I admit that I’m still a bit “high” on all the stuff I heard at the Donald Maass presentation. But maybe that’s because I’m convinced that a story that moves a reader emotionally is the most powerful.
Writing Tip for Today: Emotional response from your reader could, I suppose, mean that said reader hates your story so much that they want to scream. But most of us really do long for an emotional connection with a story/character and the best response is very technical (not): AAAWWW. Before you throw your existential library at me, consider these things:
- Pack a Gut Punch. Your story will be far more powerful and memorable if your character demonstrates qualities that readers cannot ignore. Few among us can turn our backs on a valiant effort (even if it fails), a personal sacrifice, an extension of forgiveness or generosity. The emotional reaction to these acts should be even greater if the receiver is undeserving. Even if you’re not religious, think of Jesus extending mercy to the two thieves crucified with him. A character who does an unselfish thing with altruistic motives (that is, no personal gain), evokes a “punch to the gut.”
- Puppies and Kitties and Kids. This may sound gimmicky but try incorporating an animal or child into your story. We judge others based on how we treat the “least of these.” Think about it: When a cute small child or animal comes into a room full of adults, where does all the attention immediately shift? And isn’t it hard to like or sympathize with a person who hates animals and kids? While it is possible to write an non-sympathetic character, it’s much easier to portray a character with whom the reader identifies–and most of us don’t think we are all bad. Especially with “little ones.”
- Wants Vs. Gifts. We are always asking ourselves, “What does my character want?” This is a good thing, for a character with no goal is a muddy, confusing and uninteresting fellow indeed. When you answer that “want” question, go deeper. What is your character willing to sacrifice to get this goal? Is this character capable of redemption? How far will your character go to save someone/thing other than herself and her own interests? The answers not only allow you to write a more solid character. They build a bridge of emotional connection from you to your reader. Complete the bridge successfully and you have a powerful story not easily forgotten.