Monday, November 14, 2011

Building the Emotional Bridge

In Part 1 of this series I discussed the various types of connections I make with characters. In Part 2 I discussed the difference between the reader/character connection and writer/character connection. In this third and final part I will discuss what a writer can do to build the bridge and invite the reader to cross it.

Showing Character

I must admit that both in reading and real life - I try to save making a judgment about a person until I get a chance to see what kind of person they are. Often when I am reading I withhold my contempt for the antagonist until I am shown why I should hate them. The same hold true with heroes.

For example, in The Black Cauldron there is a character that is set up to be a semi-antagonist to the hero. Even though the characters entrance shows him to be rude and arrogant - I gave him the benefit of the doubt. It was not until his true character is revealed (he abandons his comrades in their time of need - twice) - that I finally decide he is worth of my contempt.

On the other hand - Taran the hero of The Black Cauldron does not fully when my loyalty and admiration until he shows just how brave and self sacrificing he is.

Simply listing characteristics of a character does not create an emotional connection. The reader must see the actions of the character whether good or bad in order to form an opinion about them.

Proxy Connection

Another way I come to be attached to a character is through other characters reactions. Going back to The Black Cauldron - part of the reason I love Taran so much is because his friends love and admire him. Their loyalty and friendship to him helps me form the same attachment. It most often helps if I have already made an emotional connection with one of these other characters. In The Black Cauldron Gurgi could easily be my favorite character - and so I tend to feel the same towards other characters as he does. Especially when they are first introduced.

Kindred Spirits

Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables speaks of kindred spirits - two people who are almost instantly connected through some shared experience or goal. It is easiest for me to connect with a character if I can identify with something they have experienced.

In The Black Cauldron I identify with Taran because I to have experienced the struggle of trying to find where I belong. On the same token, I can form a negative connection with a character if I see them doing something hurtful that has been done for me. Like when characters belittle Taran, tease him or make fun of him. Because I have been on the receiving end of such things I instantly feel negative emotions to characters who dish it out.

In short, emotional connections make the story have more depth for the reader. These connections start with the writer having a connection with the character then building the bridge and inviting the reader to cross it. Showing the reader how a character behaves, how others feel about them, and what they have experienced in life - will help the reader cross that bridge.

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