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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is a partial repost from my blog:

There was a guy in my woodworking class who was using the band sander the other day. But suddenly, his finger got caught and was forced through the tiny crack between the metal slot and the blazingly fast sandpaper. The tip of his finger was ripped off almost instantly. You could almost hear his screams from outside the building.

Not a very pretty story, but more to the point, I'd be willing to bet you couldn't help but wince a little as you read that. Even though you know nothing about the guy (not even his name), you could still relate to him, because you can imagine how painful it would be to have your finger violently ripped off by some sandpaper. By the way, that's a true story. It really did happen to a guy I once knew in woodshop, way back in Jr. High.

This makes me wonder, are characters really as important as we believe them to be? After all, when we write from a character's point of view, what we actually want is for the reader to put themselves in the character's shoes and imagine it was happening to them.

Why is it so important that we have believable characters? I guess it's because we want our readers to relate to them, right? We want our readers to feel the emotions our characters feel, such as pain and happiness. But does having a believable character make it easier for our readers to feel emotions, or does having the reader feel emotions create a believable character in their mind?

I don't know. But how do we make our readers feel emotions? It's a tricky proposition to be sure. And I'm not sure what the answer is. But it may not be as hard as we think it is.
Creating an emotional experience is such a difficult concept. I suppose the easiest way to go about doing is to have a clear idea beforehand WHAT emotion you want to convey to your reader before you write.

I've actually posted my thoughts on how one would go about creating a strong emotional experience for their readers, including a few tips for quickly creating conflict. But it's a bit too lengthy (keyword: boring) to post in full length here. If you want, the full post is here: The Emotional Experience Readers Crave and How to Give It to Them

But anyway, how do you create believable characters/a powerful emotional experience for your readers?
 

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My aim isn't to create an emotional experience. It's to tell a good story, and yes, I believe that well-defined characters are essential for telling a good story.

Maybe you don't need that for a single paragraph. For a novel of 100,000 words? Yes, you need something more than a wince.
 

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I don't create realistic characters. They are as real as I am... to me, at least.

That said, I like to put them through the flames, drop mountains on them, etc. It tends to satisfy my sadistic side and enable people to connect with them. :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
JRTomlin said:
My aim isn't to create an emotional experience. It's to tell a good story, and yes, I believe that well-defined characters are essential for telling a good story.

Maybe you don't need that for a single paragraph. For a novel of 100,000 words? Yes, you need something more than a wince.
Okay, so how do you do that?
 

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My goal when writing is to create an urgency to turn the page, to know what happens next. I use mystery, suspense and tension to get there. I hope my readers feel emotion when reading, but this is not my ultimate goal. I want them to not be able to put the book down.

Vicki
 

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Just to be clear, I don't put my characters "through the flames" in order to provoke emotion, though I know it will. My characters tend to have difficult lives, which is expected. Conflict must exist, or there isn't a story at all.
 

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I don't know if we are supposed to create emotional experiences, but establish the conditions in which the mind can create them.  The same for characters.  I have been progressively noticing something more and more in the best fantasy I read.  Writers don't have to describe every single thing in a room, but instead describe key points in the room, and they invite the reader to fill in the gaps between these key points.  It's almost Hemingwayian in a way.  

For example: The wind howled outside, but in the corner of the room a huge clay oven breathed dark breaths of blood-red warmth.  An old table long past giving up its last splinters to wear, sat in the center of the room, and an even older man's beard rested on the table.  His hands, knobbly like the roots of a cypress tree, folded together as the old codger prayed over his meal in a wooden bowl.  

This was off the top of my head, but it makes a point.  I didn't describe every little dust mite in the corners.  I didn't say how much money was in a pouch somewhere.  I didn't say exactly how old the man was, nor why he was sitting alone, nor who he was really.  I didn't say what he was wearing, either.  We know he's old, bearded, etc.  I'd be willing to bet that everyone reading that part filled in some gaps in the narrative of their own.  They likely established that it was a particular time of day (probably night), and etc.  

What's more, hopefully, I made a cozy, comfortable feeling.  I hope I've made people curious.  The idea is to make people want to ask questions about the situation.  I'm no master at it of course, but I think that's what we're striving for, yes?  

 

 

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I think believable, relatable characters--whether you love them or hate them--is all important.

We've all heard that old saying that there are no new stories; every conceivable story has been told a jillion times already.
So what makes a story feel new? Fresh, unique characters.


Shana
 

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Joshua Rigley said:
Okay, so how do you do that?
How do I tell a good story? By... telling a story that I would want to hear. As for my characters, as Ryne said, to me my characters are real. They're as real as I am. I try to convey them the way I see, hear and feel them.

I don't over-intellectualise the whole process. I'm a storyteller. That's all. I'm the inheritor of a tradition of the bard, of Blind Harry the Minstrel, who sat in the village square spinning tales.
 

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Anna DeStefano does a workshop on Plotting through Character. We've taught together and we critique together. What is interesting is that we are polar opposites about the way in which we go about plotting and developing character. But when I started using her Plotting through Character chart, getting that emotional kick from my characters really started to click for me. She has a post on it on her blog under How We Write. www.annawrites.com/blog.
 

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Plotspider said:
This was off the top of my head, but it makes a point. I didn't describe every little dust mite in the corners. I didn't say how much money was in a pouch somewhere. I didn't say exactly how old the man was, nor why he was sitting alone, nor who he was really. I didn't say what he was wearing, either. We know he's old, bearded, etc. I'd be willing to bet that everyone reading that part filled in some gaps in the narrative of their own. They likely established that it was a particular time of day (probably night), and etc.

What's more, hopefully, I made a cozy, comfortable feeling. I hope I've made people curious. The idea is to make people want to ask questions about the situation. I'm no master at it of course, but I think that's what we're striving for, yes?
Worked for me! ;D

Shana
 
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