Emotionally Connecting with Your Readers
I have three go to books on my writing shelf: Story Genius by Lisa Cron featured in my first blog post, Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl and Save The Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody. Yes, I’ve got other writing books, hundreds, but these three are the superheroes, the Avengers, of writing books.
Save The Cat! is about pacing. An expectation, of what will happen when, has been created in readers by television and movies: the sidekick should be introduced in the first quarter of the novel; at the midpoint someone will die; etc. Yes, you can break these rules, if you’re good, very good, but if you follow them, your novel will tend to be more readily accepted by agents and readers alike. The Save the Cat! formula begins with a single scene, an opening image, which should establish an emotional connection between the reader and your protagonist. Below is the opening image to my novel The Dream Seer. Your comments are earnestly solicited. If I don’t get this right, I’ll lose the reader on the first page.
I woke with a Cottonmouth hissing and coiling in my gut. The California sun shone all bright through my window—right into my eyes. Outside, in a tree, a little yellow bird decided to serenade me, chirping out happiness. I pulled the covers over my head.
Dad hadn’t called, not for three days. He always called. We had a standing breakfast Skype appointment. Grandfather would even set place for Dad at the table. If he fixed banana pancakes—Dad’s favorite—he’d make an extra stack and sit them right in front of the computer screen where Dad could see them, just to let Dad know that we were thinking about him.
Dad would look oh-so-longingly at those pancakes and say, “Thanks.”
Grandfather said Dad’s mission had probably gone long or the base was on a communications blackout. Guess that had to be it. I mean, everyone knows that its practically impossible to kill a Navy SEAL. SEALs are the most highly trained soldiers in the whole world.
Big feet moseyed down the hallway and into my room. Grandfather gave my hammock a swing. “Time to get up, sailor.”
Underneath the blanket my hands curled into fists.
“Hmmm…, Grandfather said. “I see.”
I didn’t know what he was seeing, but a lump of covers.
“Would you like to talk?” he asked.
“I’m here for you, son.”
“Don’t you need to be fixing breakfast?”
Through the covers he kissed my forehead. Then his footsteps headed for the kitchen. Soon enough came the sound of whistling and a spoon hitting the side of a mixing bowl.
Ding. Must have been heating syrup in the microwave.
I reckoned it was no use. I had to get up, and I had to go to school. That’s what it’s like when all the men in your family are in the Navy. You grow up knowing you’ve got to follow orders, even if nothing about the world makes you want to be living in it.
Tell me, do you want to read more?
Death is the absence of life. It is the white space on a painting, an empty hospital bed, a silent room, a closet of clothes. Death is the extinction of a species of only one. I closed my eyes. I woke, and he was gone. They took his body in the night. They came for the bed and the wheelchair by noon. We reduced his life to a photo and two columns in the newspaper. We sang his favorite songs. We spoke, “he was good friend, a wonderful father and an average golfer.”
Emotion is the currency of all good writers. But what if there is no emotion? What if death brings not regret, or anger, or longing, or even peace, but rather echoes? Did he call my name? I turned my head. Was that him, walking into his office?
Where is the salty taste of my tears? I become white space.
Can someone please tell me how to feel?
Introduction of my characters’ relationship
Josie got out of bed and searched for her clothes. She found her muscle shirt and panties but the sweats and sports bra were missing in action. (Sure I could have said â€˜nakedâ€™, but I liked that the action implied that. This passage felt sexy to me) She shimmied into what she had, glanced at the picture of Lexi, Archerâ€™s dead wife, and then went looking for the man they shared. (This note creates an instant characterization of Archer as unafraid of commitment and Josie as a woman who honors his first love). She found him on the rooftop balcony, a perk of owning the building.
â€œMorning,â€ Josie walked up behind him and wound her arms around his waist. He was a big man; made her feel downright dainty. She loved the smell of his shirt. Starched and pressed by the man who wore it. (Archer is a guy who can fend for himself, something an independent woman would love. Josieâ€™s note about his size making her feel dainty, tells us that she is not a small woman and that she doesnâ€™t mind feeling feminine.)
â€œDonâ€™t move,â€ he commanded.
Josie didnâ€™t but only because she didnâ€™t want to. (Josie chooses to do what her lover asks.) She held her breath, loving the feel of him when he was excited by what he saw through his lens. His gut tightened beneath her hands. A solitary muscle rippled. Quick like a snake. A click. He sighed with satisfaction and stood up slowly, surveying the beach once more before turning around to kiss Josie. (To me, a detail is very telling. Her notice of the one muscle rippling speaks to how familiar Josie is with her loverâ€™s body.) She kissed him back just long enough for them both to be happy. (She cares about his needs). When she slipped out of his arms, he let her go. (He understands her.) No nonsense. No jealousy. No neediness. Respect. Affection. Comfort. Chemistry. It was the kind of relationship people who could take care of themselves did well. (Deep love in a nutshell).
Writing love scenes is as challenging as writing sex scenes. Sometimes they are one and the same, sometimes they arenâ€™t. The way to create successful, believable relationships between characters is to â€˜showâ€™ their reality and shade a your characterâ€™s lives with the extra notes that provide a background to the more prominent melody.
The end result of communicating a fabulous fictional relationship should seem effortless despite all your hand work â€“ just like real life love.
Happy Valentineâ€™s Day!
*Josie and Archer’s love has lived on for 4 books, the fifth is being written. I love lasting relationships!
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