Tuesday, April 30

4 Ways To Get An Audience To Love Your Story

4 Ways To Get An Audience To Love Your Story

At first I was going to call this post, "How to establish character identification," but that sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Why do we want our readers to identify with our characters? For me it's because I want them to hang on every word the way kids around a campfire breathlessly listen to a well-told ghost story.

We establish that kind of dramatic tension by crafting characters readers care about.

Why do we keep turning the pages at 3 am when we've got an early meeting? Because we have to know what happened. Why do we care? Because we care what happens to the characters.


How To Establish Character Identification


1. Sympathy


As writers, we need to connect the reader's emotions to the story and one way to do this is to get them to sympathize with, to feel sorry for, a character.

How do we do this? Show your character experiencing a loss, a setback. An undeserved loss works especially well. For instance, a character might lose his job because of something that wasn't his fault. His wife might die in a car accident while she was shopping for his birthday present.

2. Empathy


When a reader feels empathy for a character she feels the emotions that character feels.

Here's the key. Over and over I've heard writers say: If you feel the emotion when you're writing the scene, the reader will feel it.

When writing these scenes:
- show don't tell
- use sensory detail from at least two senses.

3. Similarity of goals


Fundamentally, we all want the same sorts of things. I'm not talking about low level goals like cream for your coffee and no traffic on the way to work--though that would be awesome! I mean high level goals like the desire to be treated fairly and with respect.

If a character is denied one of these fundamental goals--some would call them fundamental rights--that's something a reader can identify with.

4. Inner conflict


Inner conflict occurs when a character has competing desires.

For instance, lets say that our hero is a upstanding lawman whose job is to catch the villain. Further, let's say you've done a glorious job illustrating how totally despicable the villain is.

Our hero is in love with Martha, someone who is as good as the villain is despicable. Or so he thinks. It turns out Martha is the villain. Perhaps the hero finds something, some clue, and everything falls together as he looks at it. Martha is in the room, she watches the play of emotions across our hero's face as everything comes together. The hero looks at Martha, the realization of her guilt in his eyes.

Or something. If that sort of scene is done right the play of conflicting desires will ooze with dramatic tension and the reader will be caught up in your fictional world/web.

Also, notice that not only does the hero achieve his goal--he discovers the identity of the villain--but we learn something about him. Is the hero the kind of person to let the villain go because he loves Martha? Or, like Sam Spade, will he refuse to "play the sap" for anybody? Either way, his character is revealed through his choice.

(Also see: How To Get Your Readers To Identify With Your Main Character for a slightly different take on this issue.)

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Yesterday I mentioned that I've been going through boxes of my old notes and found some great material, that's were this came from as well.

Question: How do you get readers to identify with your characters? 

Other articles you might like:

- 3 Steps To Better Prose
- Book Design: What NOT To Do
- Cliffhangers

Photo link: "Wet Lorikeet" by aussiegall under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

2 comments:

  1. Empathy is usually the hook that keeps me reading. I've said many times before that reading is an escape for me and finding a character that I can empathize with allows me to feel like a part of the story.

    "Over and over I've heard writers say: If you feel the emotion when you're writing the scene, the reader will feel it." This is oh so important. Like the saying goes "you will never understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes."

    It is easy for people to talk about what they would do in certain situations, but you never really know until you are faced with that particular situation. For example, before many people have children, they say "My child will never watch television. Ever." And then they become a parent and realize that sometimes, letting the child watch television in moderation is the only thing that will keep the child captivated long enough for them to be able to do basic chores like the laundry or dishes.

    Writing about something that you know very little about first-hand can make a reader feel like you are judging them for not handling situations a certain way. This will have the exact opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve.

    Another great blog, thanks Karen!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Elizabeth!

      "Writing about something that you know very little about first-hand can make a reader feel like you are judging them for not handling situations a certain way. This will have the exact opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve."

      Very true & definitely something to keep in mind.

      Delete

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