Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Emotions Are You Inciting?

I've been trying to figure out why a story reaches some people but not others. Why you and I could both read the same story but one loves it and the other says, "Meh. It was okay."

Reading a book forces you into another character's head, and they in turn are in our heads, asking us the same questions we ask them. WHY do you believe that? Why would you do that? What on earth are you thinking?

Trying on these characters changes us, and that's part of the pleasure of reading. It's safe. I can follow along with Frodo as he approaches Mount Doom, trying on his courage and determination to do what is right without actually wrestling Gollum for the ring.

Sometimes we'll recognize a character as a kindred spirit. Other characters are more...challenging. Anne Shirley is both to me. When she's yelling at Rachel Cuthbert or climbing a roof to walk the ridgepole, I shrink back into myself. But when she's walking with Matthew in the field or laughing with Gilbert, I'm there, 100%. Why couldn't she just realize she loved Gilbert? Seriously!

I read "Twenties Girl" by Sophie Kinsella a few months back, and it was awful! The MC did the craziest things-like walking into a business meeting and asking a strange man out on a date simply because her Grandmother's flapper ghost wouldn't leave her alone. I was mortified with her! It was brilliant!

I think this is why it's so important to read widely, especially in genre writing. We have to know what emotions readers are looking for. Do they want to be thrilled? Do they want to fall in love? Do they want to live in another world for a while, experience another culture? Do they want to be uncomfortable?

Who would want to be uncomfortable? Lots of people. My hubby and I started watching The Office recently, and cringe through every episode. Steve Carrell gets most of his laughs by making the audience glad not to be him.

Where will your characters go? Will they drag your readers along or entice them?


  1. You make great points about knowing what types of emotions readers are looking for. Of course, each person perceives the story in different ways: some focus on the romance part of the story, while other readers may focus on living in another world with a different culture as a break from their day-to-day life. That's what makes having a great selection of genres to choose from, becomes there are seasons in our lives where we want to experience different emotions in our lives.

  2. Hey Jen- thanks for the comment:) What you say is true- we all bring our own experiences to the table. I don't think we can please every reader, but some stories- like Harry Potter- tug a variety of heart strings. Just something i've been thinking about.

  3. My favorite part of writing is targeting an emotion an making it come to life through my characters. My favorite books are the ones that have me thinking about them long after they ended!

  4. Since what I write is "character-driven" I'm in bad shape if people don't like my characters! When I'm reading a book, if I want to follow the character wherever they lead me, then I'm hooked!