Ways To Help Readers Connect
Readers love stories that mean something to them. They may never experience the same event or problem, but they’ve had similar experiences or fears that those things might happen to them. It’s through the emotion authors bring to the characters that makes readers care. Caring creates an emotional connection. This is what you want.
What are some problems that we share with others? Family illnesses, a child’s illness or handicap, the lose of a home, job, spouse, pride, reputation. These are not battles that only fictitious people experience. They are ones that are common to mankind. I’m sure you can list many more.
Whether you write fantasies, thrillers, family sagas or love stories, within the plot readers can find issues and fears that will draw them into the story. But this can only happen when we give them the emotional attachment. We want to create empathy (recognize emotions experienced by another) or even a stronger bond through sympathy (a feeling and concern to the distress or need of another). As you see, empathy recognizes the emotion, while sympathy causes the feeling of emotion for the reader.
So what can you do to create sympathy? You can give the character a hardship, make him an underdog, put him in danger, cause him to feel helplessness, and hopelessness.
∙ Hardship: This refers to a lack of something. This can be finances, love, family, job, and such things as disabilities that cause challenges. Ask yourself what your character lacks. Could you character lack something more? Something worse? How does this hardship create emotion in your reader? If you can’t answer this, then look for another possible lack that your character might have.
∙ Underdog: This implies the character has misfortune or a disadvantage. He had something and then lost it. He’s 60 lbs lighter than his attacker. He has a fear of heights but must climb to save himself. He’s in love with a beautiful woman but has never been called handsome. . .not even good-looking. He wants to save the family ranch, but he doesn’t have the finances to win the bidding against the biggest rancher in town. Look at your character and search for ways in which he or she has a disadvantage against the person who is threaten the character’s goal.
∙ At Risk: Put a major character in serious trouble, even jeopardy of his life or livelihood. Use a small plane crash, a hiking mishap, locked in a large freezer, stranded on a deserted island, or trapped in a loveless marriage with threats if she tries to leave. The risk can be as dire and threaten as fits your story or more simple. Your character could be accused of something serious and he is innocent. Study your storyline and see what situation you could include to arouse your readers concern or sympathy. The deeper the emotion the more successful the story will be.
∙ Hopeless: When anyone faces a situation that has no evident resolve or solution, they feel hopeless. Hopelessness is a very common feeling people experience, and your characters have numerous ways they can view their life problems as hopeless. A person with no car and no stable place to call home would have a problem getting a job. Most jobs require transportation and without an income taking buses and dressing appropriate seems an impossible situation. Hopeless. A woman who’s fallen in love twice and thought each time she’d found her soulmate finds him walking out on her. The woman sees no solution. She has no answers. It’s natural for her to feel love is impossible. You can look at your storyline and find numerous ways your character can feel hopeless. Use those situations to grab readers since most have also felt hopeless some time in their lives.
∙ Helpless: A feeling of helplessness happens in everyday life. A driver’s car breaks down on a lonely road, his cell phone is dead, and he will miss a major job appointment. A woman can’t afford to hire someone to do maintenance on her property and cannot accomplish it herself. A mother with a sick child is stranded in a electrical storm that has knocked out power. A woman pulls into a parking lot and is accosted by a man determined to steal her car while forcing her to drive. Again, these are situations that can really happen. We read about things in the paper each day. Find ways to take normal problems in life and use your character’s helpless, even hopeless, emotions to trigger the same feelings in your readers.
Readers want stories to which they relate. They have phobias and fears. They have issues that put them at risk, that cause hardship and that make them feel like the underdog. Use these situations to bind your reader to the characters. Leave them begging for the characters’ safety and rooting for their success. Let your characters do the work and hang on to readers. Readers will be looking forward to your next release.
Multi-award-winning novelist Gail Gaymer Martin writes Christian fiction for Love Inspired and has written for Barbour Publishing, where she was honored by Heartsong readers as their Favorite Author of 2008. Gail has fifty contracted novels with over three million books in print. She is the author of Writers Digest’s Writing the Christian Romance. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers, a keynote speaker at churches, libraries and civic organizations and presents workshops at conference across the US. She was named one of the four best novelists in the Detroit area by CBS local news. She lives with her husband in a northwest Detroit suburb. Visit her website at http://www.gailgaymermartin.com/. Her latest book, Her Valentine Hero, released in February. She has also had two ebook novellas release recently: True Riches and To Keep Me Warm.