If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve likely heard, more than once, the need to “show” and not “tell” – to get inside your characters and allow your readers to experience what they are experiencing, instead of just telling your audience what the character is going through. If you want your readers to connect with your chIaracters, they need to feel like they ARE your character.
My first novel-length manuscript (currently unpublished ) is a non-fiction book about God’s work in my family’s life during my husband’s health struggles. I was six months pregnant when my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and he went through three brain surgeries and six weeks of daily radiation during that first year.
It was, needless to say, a very emotional, difficult time, full of struggles. And writing the book was emotional for me as well. Though, apparently, not emotional enough.
A year or so ago, I had my full manuscript looked at by a dear friend who was also a professional editor. And after reading just the first dozen pages or so, she sent it back. I had too much telling, and not enough showing.
After pondering it for a while, I realized exactly why that was. In order to show the emotions and struggles we’d been through, I had to relive it in my mind—only then could I truly show it in my writing. And I didn’t want to. It had been hard enough the first time.
But God impressed on me the need to write this book, so I “put on my big girl pants” and put myself back into those difficult situations. I became myself again, if you will. I cried again. I feared again. I despaired again. And my book is much stronger for it.
And now, somehow, it is easier to put myself in the shoes of my fictional characters. If I want my readers to connect with my books, I need to be sure the emotions are real. And the only way to do that, is to live them myself.
This point became even clearer a bit later, when I was reading an interview with Christian romance author Karen Witemeyer. She was asked if she ever had a crush on one of her characters. I found her answer very interesting – and completely in harmony with my thoughts.
“I’m afraid I’ve had a crush on all my heroes. After all, what would be the fun in creating a romantic male lead if I didn’t find him attractive myself?… If I can’t fall a little in love with him, how can I expect my heroine to?”
And how can we expect our audience to connect with our characters if WE don’t connect with them?
What makes a compelling character to you?