In my opinion, all successful/popular novels, no matter what genre, have one key element: emotion. Emotion lies at the core of every character’s decision, action, reaction, and motivation. All of which drive the story. A character’s personal journey does not exist without emotion—it would be pointless. The plot would be made up meaningless events that a reader would not invest any time to read. Why? Because above all else, the readers choose a novel to have an emotional experience. Be it a wild roller coaster ride of pure terror in a horror novel; reliving the sweet courting experience of an inspirational romance; discovering a new unexplored, heart-pounding world of a sci-fi; the pleasure of solving a who-done-it; or, pure laughter and fun in a read-it-at one setting comedy—readers want to connect with your characters. With this connection to characters, who provide entertainment and whose trials and experiences may, in turn, add meaning to their own life journeys.
We are emotional beings. Feelings propel us. Drive us. Define us. Moreover, while it may seem that most of those exchanges happen during conversation, studies show that 93% of all communication is nonverbal. Even in instances where we try not to show our feelings, we are still telegraphing messages through body language. Because of the, each of us is adept at reading others without a word being uttered.
Readers have high expectations. Long done are the long intros: “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wander, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so somber, and a rain so penetrating”. . . I am certain you recognize the first sentences of my favorite classic novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. A delightful read, rich in detail and thick with emotion—but not a read easily consumed during a pause in a workday, or after getting toddlers off to bed. Readers no longer wish to be told how a character feels; they want to experience the emotion for themselves.
This leaves the writer with the challenge of ensuring that our characters express their emotions in ways that are both recognizable and compelling to read. Personally, I find that less is more. I am always aware of the pacing of my story. Too many clues to describe a character’s feelings can dilute the reader’s emotion experience. Backstory is only pepper in to allude to a ‘trigger’ emotion. Example: Marty, in the BACK TO THE FUTURE series of movies. A cliché, but calling Marty ‘chicken’ worked every time—the viewer knew and expected ‘something’ to happen. Not that I have ever, I hope, have resorted to a cliché, but my characters have a ‘fatal flaw’. I cannot divulge any that I have used because it would ruin the storylines. But we all have our ‘trigger’ emotion. If you have siblings, undoubtly, you were tormented with it on numerous occasionally. Our ‘characters’ may or may not recognize a personal tigger emotion. This is writer’s preference in relationship to plot and character development.
One emotion that I find fun to watch (in young children) and it easy to work into a YA story is amazement. To a toddler everything is new and amazing. The child’s eyes widen. The child becomes suddenly still. May suck in a quick breath/hand covering one’s mouth. Stiffening posture. Rapid blinking followed by open staring. Reaching out and touching or taking a step back. I am certain you could add to the list my recalling your personal experices or observations.
Now how would that young child feel, internally? A heart would seem to freeze, the pound. Tingling skin. Adrenaline spikes. The mental reaction in the amazed person could be disorientation, momentarily forgetting all else, or wishing to share the experience with others. Now say your character is a shy or too cool to give anything away. How could this emotion be suppressed? Self-hugging, jerky, self-contained strides, Eyes widening a bit before control is asserted, mouth snapping shut. The clues are always apparent.
I like to get to know my characters, savor my scenes, and always dig deeper for the right word. The right motivation.
I enjoy the journey to discover my characters, their hopes and wishes. I feel blessed to tell each one of their stories. And I hope that my novels, in turn, bring hours of enjoyment into each of my readers’ lives.
In closing I’d like to share a bit of my past.
When my first YA historical novel was published, I was honored at a Red Nations Powwow. The tribal elder, Jacques Condor, told me I was being honored as a StoryTeller. We both knew this was a great-honor among the tribes. He reminded me, always, to be humble, because it is the Story who chooses the StoryTeller to bring it Life.
My mandella hangs my living room wall, and my hand-tooled silver ring is worn to remind me of both my gift and my duty.
Thank you for taking the time to read my entry to my publisher’s daily blog.