Weekly Writing Memo: Going Through the Motions

Weekly Writing MemoLately I’ve been coming across a lot of writing where the emotional connection has been lacking. If your audience isn’t invested or connecting with your story somehow, they will not want to stick around to finish it. There are a lot of ways your writing could lack an emotional connection, but the main one I find is when your characters or your plot aren’t ringing true to the audience. When it feels like the characters are just going through the motions of the story, rather than really living and breathing the story, then it starts to feel false. So how do you keep it feeling realistic so your audience is emotionally invested?

Actions and Words

One of the most important elements in a story to help it feel realistic is that your characters dialogue and their actions match up. To do this, make sure your character is behaving in a way that goes with their attitude and dialogue. If your character is angry, and is yelling, don’t have their body language be weak and cowering. If your character is shy and afraid, don’t have them adopting a dominant posture. These things are minor touches in your writing, but if your characters’ words aren’t backed up by their actions and body language, then their words won’t ring true and will make the audience feel as if something is off, even if they can’t put into words what exactly it is.

The exception, of course, is if the character is someone who says one thing and does another, or if your character is purposely behaving in a contradictory way because of anxiety, fear, or ulterior motives. In those cases, you still have to be consistent with that character and continue that behavior throughout the story. If they act irrationally when they’re afraid, then show the audience that and make them behave that way every time. If they are a perpetual liar, or manipulator, then again show that and make sure the audience understands the contradictions.

Sincerity

The second element that helps make your audience emotionally connect is to feel like your characters are behaving sincerely. I don’t mean they have to be telling the truth all the time or behaving kindly, they just have to be behaving true to who they (the characters) are. If a character isn’t behaving the way they would in reality, then the audience will pick up on that and feel like they’re being lied to and not connect with the story.

This comes down to one thing – you want your characters to be people, not actors. If it feels like they’re actors pretending to be someone, then it will create an unnecessary barrier between the story and your audience. You want your characters to always be themselves, and to behave in accordance to how they would naturally behave unless there is a significant reason for them not to.

Others

A lot of people think that the only characters the above stuff matters for is for the main characters, and maybe the secondary or even tertiary characters, but it’s more than that. Every single character in your story matters, and every single character should have a motive for their behavior that they drives their behavior. Without this, minor characters in stories will feel like placeholders and even disrupt the story.

If you have a ton of minor characters who just pass through the story without distinguishing them by giving them their motivations, it’ll be like placing a color photo on all gray background. While that can be pretty and help make the main photo pop, it’ll make the background uninteresting.

In a story, this kind of thing makes the story as a whole suffer because your character is living in this world, and if the world is boring and uninteresting, or unrealistic, then it’ll start to affect the main character. If you give your minor characters one thing, give them a motivation for being in the scene and every action they take. As long as they are clearly motivated, and stick true to these motivations, they’ll help give the scene more purpose and make the story more dynamic, which means it’ll be easier for your audience to get invested.

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One Comment on “Weekly Writing Memo: Going Through the Motions”

  1. Great post, Robin.
    I can only add that you can also look at character likeability as a reason readers may not connect, as well. I recently went through a whole short story where the main character was a self-inflated pompous ass. I didn’t like the character, and because of that, I felt as though the whole story was just there. The author of this story failed to make me care what happened to the character, or in the story, because he didn’t create a character with whom I could form an emotional connection.
    Also, I might share some advice I was given in one of my classes. If you’re going to write a big, emotional scene, such as a rape scene, where you want readers to become emotionally invested, don’t hold back – if you’re going to write it, write it all the way. Otherwise, your readers will feel cheated and won’t be emotionally invested.


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