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.
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.
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?
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.