First, let me describe what I see as the Writer/Character connection. As writers we all feel some kind of emotional connection with our characters. This is what brings the character alive for us, and makes us want to tell their story.
Writer/CharacterThe Writer/Character is where everything starts. The more emotionally connected we are to our characters the more they will come to life on the page. If you have a character in your story that you really don’t feel anything for – they are just kind of there taking up space – they will be cardboard characters. So it is important to take the time to invent something about each character that sparks your interest and allows you to make a connection.
Reader/CharacterIn contrast, the Reader/Character connection is the connection that one makes with a character when they are reading another’s work. This is what keeps us invested in the story, keeps us turning the pages. On some level we have an interest in what happens to this character.
When I make emotional connections with the characters in stories I am reading – they seem more real to me. And the whole story seems more tangible, more intense. When I first read The Chronicles of Prydain in college, it was because my roommate suggested them to me. I can’t believe I got that far without reading them. Anyway, at one point in the story a character I cared very much about got wounded in a battle. I was so worried about what would happen to the character – that I stormed out of my room – found my roommate – and told that if he died I would never forgive her.
I continued reading. Then when I found out that said character was fine, I was so relieved. I rushed out, found my roommate and gave her I hug. I told her it was okay – the character was fine after all. That is how emotionally invested in the story that the tone of what was going on effected my whole day. Is it any wonder these are some of my favorite books?
Keeping them SeparateSo why is it important to separate the Writer/Character connection from the Reader/Character connection? Well first of all – as much as we would like too – writers cannot control the feelings and reactions of their readers. Every person has a different set of experiences and opinions and thus we all respond to things in a different way.
As I mentioned in Part 1, when I was reading The Peasant Queen, I had a (color/connection) with the antagonist King Gregory. I was rooting for him. I wanted to see him abandon his evil ways and win the girls heart. But, after being repeatedly hit over the head with how terrible King Gregory was – I finally relented and settled into being disappointed that he was not the character I wanted him to be.
I do not like it when a writer tries to force me to feel something about a character. I don’t like having my strings pulled like a puppet. In my writing, I try to present my characters in a way that will allow the reader to form their own opinions. Of course, they will always be colored with my personal feelings about the character. But it is okay as long as you leave the door open for the reader to make their own decision.
So, in the next part of this series I will talk about how a writer can build the bridge to an emotional connection with a character, and invite the reader to cross it.