I will beg your indulgence here for a few minutes. If you’ll click on the link below and listen to violinist Robert Gupta and cellist Joshua Roman performing Halvorsen’s “Passacaglia” for violin and viola as you read my post. (Note that Roman takes the viola part on his Stradivarius cello.)
I love music almost as much as I love writing. I played the piano for years (long before I realized what a great idea it was to take lessons and practice hard at something), and have a long-held desire to learn to play the violin.
A really good piece of music forges a connection. I have a visceral reaction to several different movie scores – most notably “The Battle” from Gladiator and “Arrival to Earth” from the Transformers score. At any given moment hearing these two pieces can stop me in my tracks and make my eyes well with tears. (I’m listening to it as I type this, in fact, and darned if I’m not getting all weepy. 😀 )
Like musical composers, a writer’s job is to make the audience feel. Without a sense of connection – be it to the characters, or the plot, or even the setting – a reader is going to put your book down and walk away. One of the greatest compliments someone can give me about my writing is: “I couldn’t stop thinking about _________.”
That’ll make me grin like a stupid person, let me tell you.
I want you to care. The most horrible sin I think a writer can commit is to not care about their characters and show it on the page. People are fascinated by the fact that I read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and often shocked when I talk about how much I hated it. Tolstoy himself said he didn’t care about the characters and that the story was little more than a vehicle to talk about what makes a man great. It shows. I cry at phone commercials for Gods’ sake! But I didn’t cry when he killed off Prince Andrei because I just didn’t feel any sort of connection with the man.
When I write, I laugh and cry. I hold my breath. I punch the air in triumph. Sometimes that’s all because I feel like as a writer I did something amazing, but more often than not it’s because I’m so immersed in my characters that I’m celebrating with them.
So how do you make that connection? As a reader, I want something I can identify with, be it a flaw or a strength. I want a quirk that amuses me, a phrase or behavior that specifically identifies a character out of all the others in the book. I want to have a sense that the character had a life before the story started and wasn’t just dropped onto the page without any history whatsoever. I want them not to annoy me. *grins* The list is really long and as individual as I am.
All that means is that getting readers to connect with your characters can be hit-or-miss, but that’s one of the reasons it’s important for a writer to read. You’ll learn just what it is that resonates with you as a reader and be better able to translate that connection into your own characters and writing.
Sound off! What gives you a sense of connection? Who are some of your favorite characters and why?
(I stumbled across this piece on Ted.com, a wonderful website filled with marvelous ideas. On there you can find talks about fashion, about science, about poetry and art, about mathematics. It pretty much covers the gamut of life and there’s just such a host of interesting ideas and people on it. I highly recommend you check out the site if you have some time.)