Monday, October 30, 2006

Do You Ever Wonder

Do you ever wonder why a reader reads our books? Or why you hear over and over again—show don’t tell?

Readers connect—or don’t!—with a book on a gut emotional level. Even when the book is nonfiction—history or science or philosophy—if the person is reading it by choice and not simply because he or she needs to do so for work, I believe there is an underlying emotional connection to the material.

With thrillers, part of the appeal, I believe, is the secret desire so many of us have to be heroes. For science fiction or fantasy where the theme is “stranger in a strange land” there is the connection of all the times we have felt that way. For romance, well, the deepest human need that exists is to be loved. Babies can literally die from lack of love.

What does this mean to us if we are writers? It means we need to keep always in our minds that our readers need a way to connect emotionally with our characters and/or the situations in which they find themselves. Readers don’t necessarily have to feel they would make the same choices, only be able to understand why our characters make the choices and take the actions they do.

This also means that the strongest opening to a novel will be one that resonates on a gut or emotional level with readers or it will be one that evokes laughter. Readers who quickly feel that they like the characters and want to spend time with them will keep reading. Readers who laugh and believe they will be entertained will keep reading. Readers who want to believe in the fantasy of power being offered will keep reading.

Example: Consider the impact of the following two possible openings for the same book.

Sarah sat down to pay bills. There probably wasn’t enough money in the checking account because her sister had taken most of it last week when she left town with her biker boyfriend. Now she was afraid her landlord might throw her out of her apartment before she could get a second job to pay the bills.


Sarah was going to kill Martha. She had it all planned out. She’d tie Martha to a stake, pile up all these bills at Martha’s feet, and light them with a match from her sister’s purse. It wasn’t as if she could afford to buy her own matches, after all. Not since Martha had emptied out Sarah’s purse and bank account and took off with that low down, no account biker who came through town last week.
Yup, Sarah had it all planned out. The only problem left was how to persuade her landlord not to throw her out before she found a way to get the money to pay her rent and other bills. Briefly she wondered how hard it would be to rob a bank but then concluded she’d probably end up feeling sorry for the teller and give it all back. Nope, she was just going to have to work two jobs. Again.

The second opening lets the reader deeper into Sarah’s world. Hopefully it makes the reader laugh a little and really feel the desperation that lies under Sarah’s fantasy, see her determination to succeed and ultimately care what happens to her. will you let your readers into the emotional world of your characters? How will you create emotional points of connection for them?

And if you are a reader, what draws YOU into a book? What do YOU remember most about the best books you have ever read?