We all want our readers to follow our lead character to the last page. Writing passionate characters will give you increased reader engagement.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few tips to increase your character’s emotional passion:
Let Em Mingle
One of the surest ways to turn off readers is by writing long soliloquys, especially at the story’s opening. While it can work to intro a person by allowing them to talk on the page, be careful. By isolating your character, you remove a potent way to keep the character’s emotions up front—making them interact with other characters who oppose them.
While you get others onstage with your character, beware of being too nice. Most of us won’t get emotional over our goal unless we are pushed into a corner. Same goes for your protagonist. The contrast between what your character wants and those who try to stop them helps readers identify with your character and their goals. Keep the feet to the flames.
Keep interactions pointing toward the goal. While a couple of subplots give stories more texture and nuance, don’t forget to keep your character fixed on what he/she wants. Ask yourself why this subplot? How does it contribute or take away from the main goal?
Emotions on the Page
If your character is under great stress, it makes no sense to insert witty observations. Highly skilled authors sometimes get away with a dark humor, but most of us react to high stress by keeping emotions raw and close to the surface. It’s why we snap at our loved ones when we’re really worried about something that’s happened at work.
Some characters (and people) deal with high stress by avoidance. Yet in fiction, it’s harder to write a character who wanders aimlessly, has no goal or who does a lot of nothing. In my classes, I often see protagonists facing some sort of mid-life crisis, wandering through life with no real purpose. This happens in real life, but is much harder to pull off in fiction.
When you portray a character’s emotions, remember that attitudes can be more effective than a lot of sighing, fist clenching or tears. Your main character (at least in first or third person POV) filters thoughts and attitudes through dialogue and thoughts. Use these thoughts to convey the level of concern, thereby increasing tension.
Just before the climax, your character will face an “all is lost” moment. If you have built up the tension over the course of the story, this nadir will seem logical. The lowest place for your character must feel authentic. If you’ve shown a lot of melodramatic moments prior to the low, you can go back and temper some of those handwringing moments. Just be sure to keep the tension rising.
When the climax arrives, your character somehow finds a strength they didn’t know they had. It’s often a moment of growth—your character sloughs off the shackles of whatever has been holding them back for one last try. When you consider the emotions of your story’s climax, think growth as a person rather than a lot of chest-beating heroics.
As I like to say, emotions are what make stories meaningful. Manage your readers by carefully building rising tension through your character’s actions, attitudes and reactions. If your character is passionate about the goal, chances are your readers will be passionate too.