Making the connection

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, 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.)

K.B. Wagers

13 responses to “Making the connection

  1. I really enjoyed your blog, just stumbling across it as I’m fairly new to all of this. Your reflections on writing really made me think about why writing is important and how it impacts on us as individuals and also potentially connects us with others, or not – interesting. Thank you.

  2. Awesome post, Katy. When we create a reality on paper we believe, it’s chilling (goose bumps kind of chilling). But when a reader responds in the same way, it’s like a standing ovation.

    Of all the characters I’ve ever read, Kate in Steinbeck’s East of Eden sticks with me the most: a monster with no human emotions, a soulless sociopath capable of anything. Scares me to this day, nearly forty years after I first met her in Chapter Five.

  3. Jar O' Marbles

    I generally find myself drawn to characters who despite whatever circumstances, still pick themselves up and keep going. I don’t like “perfect” characters, but prefer a little flawed and quirky.

    Characters that has connected with me most is Anne Elliott from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. She’s flawed..and weak, yet manages to rise above and show real strength of character.

  4. ooohhhh, Annette, you’ve picked my favorite character – and my favorite Jane Austen book. I LOVE Anne – she’s really is flawed and weak at the beginning but she becomes so strong. She’s my idol.


  5. Actually, one of my favorite characters – I just re-read all 1000+ pages of Stephen King’s The Stand – is East Texas aka Stuart Redman. He’s the kind of down to earth guy who just does his job, whether that’s working at the calculator factory or saving the world, and manages to figure out a way to do whatever it is he HAS to do. Sometimes we – and our characters – are forced into situations where all the choices are lousy and all we can do is do our very best. Those are the characters – like Anne Elliott and Stuart Redman – who I love.


  6. For me, the connection to a character and my ability to empathize and/or lose myself in their story is all about authenticity. I want the characters to jump off the page at me, alive and real. A writer can tell me whatever they want about a character, but if I don’t feel that thing, if I can’t see that quality expressed in the character’s personality, in their actions, thoughts and words, I don’t buy in. I can’t. And if I can’t buy in, I don’t care, so I’ll set the book aside because my precious reading time is too limited to spend on a book I don’t love. This might sound harsh, but the truth is, I’m a character oriented reader. Plot is good, yes. Necessary, even. But I want to experiece the ride through the heart, eyes and mind of the characters. I adore visceral writing – heart pounding, eyes welling, laughing out loud, falling in love, cursing at the top of my lungs, whatever. It’s all good, as long as I’m feeling something.

    Seems to me you bought a violin at an antique store a while back. Why haven’t you started taking lessons, hmm? Life’s too short not to give in to our powerful yens…which is why I jumped at the chance to take painting lessons this summer. 😀

    • *laughs* I did, Brat. I’m going to get to it. (I’d do it sooner but my petitions for a 35 hour day have been ignored)

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