Because above all else, readers pick up a book to have an emotional experience. They read to connect with characters who provide entertainment and whose trials may add meaning to their own life journeys.~Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, The Emotion Thesaurus
Surveys have discovered that people read for three basic reasons: to be entertained, to be educated, and to escape.
As writers, we’re competing with other forms of entertainment—television, movies, video games, family time and so forth. Generally, reading requires more work than some of these. The reader must actively choose to do it and isolate himself from the more passive, undemanding forms of leisure.
Can a novel educate? Certainly. But not always in the classical way we think of education. Through a novel, the reader can gain insight into themselves through the characters.
I think we can all relate to reading to escape. At times, it’s into the lives of the characters who seem more exciting or more in control. Or maybe even less in control, and we feel a little better about ourselves. Sometimes, we look to escape into the future where our present day problems are things of the past. Or, we look to the past, to simpler times.
The common factor in all these reasons is emotion. We give our characters emotion in how they react to the plot, to the setting, to the other characters, to the dilemma they face in the story. The reader connects on this emotional level. This connection allows the reader to experience all three reasons for reading: entertainment, education, and escape.
As Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Without emotion, our stories are just sentences on a page.
As a writer, what are some ways you bring emotion alive for your readers?
As a reader, how does emotion draw you into the story?
Great post, Henry. I like to take common experiences, especially painful ones like rejection and fear, and draw on what goes on internally during those situations. Then I keep digging until what comes out of the character is as raw and real as it can be. Since we all hide truth at some point in our lives, I like to expose it in my characters, even if it’s just to themselves.
I was just reading a piece about the need for a protagonist to have an internal agenda, something important to him/her. Your post– and Tina’s comment– provide valuable ways to bring that agenda forward for the reader. Thank you.
PS: That Emotion Thesaurus is great!
I totally agree! I find the blogs/scenes that I’ve cried over are normally the ones that get the most response.
Thanks for this post. Great reminder, Henry!