Deepen Emotional Connection to Your Characters

Deepen Emotional Connection to Your Character

It’s easy to feel an emotional connection to a picture, but it can be hard to create that using only words.

Lately I’ve connected with several established authors who are having the same problem: not enough emotional connection to the characters.

Here’s the scenario:

The author writes an awesome book, revises, and sends it to their editor and/or beta readers.

When they get it back, there are notes that the story doesn’t seem urgent enough. Or that they are having a hard time connecting emotionally with main characters.

The author rereads everything and just can’t see it. Zero passive voice, show don’t tell, natural dialogue…they did everything right.

Well, crap. What now?

If you ever find yourself in this position, here’s my best advice to help you deepen emotional connection to your characters.

Pacing

Focusing on the wrong details is as bad as not having enough. By necessity, writers put a lot of energy into creating dynamic action sequences. But if there isn’t enough attention paid to the characters’ reactions to those events, the scene can still feel a little flat. If it happens often enough, it can affect the tone of the whole novel.

Strong verbs

I know you’ve heard about strong verbs. Instead of writing walk, you should write stroll, saunter, pace, or stride. But when you’re crafting an emotional connection, the connotation of the verb is just as important. Consider this example:

She stared into his eyes, seeking comfort and help.

It doesn’t say looked or asking, so it’s following the rules, right? Now try this one:

She studied his eyes, demanding comfort and help.

What if we changed the first verb to gazed or glared? What if we changed the second one to pleading or craving? See the different emotions conjured by words with different connotations?

Deepen Emotional Connection to Your Characters

Physical responses

Depending on who you ask, up to 93% of real life communication is nonverbal. 55% is body language, and 38% is tone of voice. Think about how many times you have said or heard someone say, “It’s not what they said, it’s how they said it.” Without those visual and auditory cues, your readers are only getting 7% of your intent through the words you actually use.

Use physical responses to convey your meaning. If he is grief-stricken, does he look like a small child? Do his hands get cold, or is his heart beating rapidly? Does his voice tremble, or is it so quiet it can barely be heard?

Have you ever experienced problems with an emotional connection to your characters? How did you overcome it? Leave me a comment or tweet me @jenichappelle.

Jeni Chappelle

Jeni Chappelle is a freelance editor. She considers herself a hobbit lives in an itty-bitty town a few miles from Charlotte, NC with her family and a menagerie. Jeni is a participating editor in #P2P, #RevPit and #ShoreIndie. You can visit her blog and learn more about her editing at www.jenichappelle.com.

Posted in Writer's Life
5 comments on “Deepen Emotional Connection to Your Characters
  1. Peggy West says:

    I have had trouble with making an emotional connection to a character. That happens when I want my character to be a particular way but that makes her less than perfect. Perfect characters aren’t interesting. Characters who are less than perfect are interesting. I can’t write emotionally connected to a character unless she has a backstory so I write one and understand the character more. I am writing a fiction where a secondary character now has little personality and I know I’m facing some backstory writing. I can’t really solve this by making her whoever I want her to be that moment, rather, she stands in the center of things, foibles and all, and I have to live with what I write.

    • Jeni Chappelle Jeni says:

      It can be hard to really understand a character if you don’t know about their past. And I agree that flaws are what make a character feel real. It sounds like you’ve got a handle on it, Peggy!

  2. Glenn says:

    Good article, and your first description of ‘who this article is for’ is exactly where I am with the novel I finished last year — so no need to go into that, you could have been in the room with me and my agent when I said, “Well crap. What now?”

    Thank you very much for the posting. It cleared up what I was missing and gave clear examples of how to find solutions.

  3. Hi Jeni. I appreciated your article so much that I was disappointed when it ended so quickly. Please consider expanding on the topic of emotional writing as it seems to be either widely ignored or poorly executed.

    As you know, people don’t remember much about what we say or do, but they do remember how we made them feel.

    The same is true with writing fiction. Character motivation is established, plot is precisely woven, setting and exposition are ready to be devoured. But where is the feeling, the embedded emotions that drive the whole story. The emotional connection is what writing is all about.

    We must always ask ourselves as writers: how do we make our readers, our agents, our editors and publishers feel?

    Your article targeted this issues expertly, albeit not quite at the depths I was hoping for.

    Thank you for all that you do so well.

    Sincerely, Christina Gross, author of Rescue the Innocent

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