My good writer friend, Mary Deal, has given me a great article she authored about emotional release through character conflicts. She talks about a subject that sometimes is so nuanced, that oftentimes writers neglect to go through the mental exercise of projecting their emotions into the characters they create. I can relate to this on a personal level. When I developed my protagonist’s character, I felt like I was on a roller coaster of emotions as he journeyed through the plot of the story. Air Force Special Agent Patrick O’Donnell’s dual — and sometimes competing — characteristics of being both a rough and tumble government agent and a loving, devoted, husband and father, made for some significant ups and downs. Read Mary’s article for her superb insight into this important element of writing. Of course, visit Mary’s website for more great articles on the craft of writing: Write Any Genre. Thanks, Mary!
Through Character Conflicts
by Mary Deal
Writers must allow themselves to experience all the emotion they create as they write.
Sometimes the lyrics in certain songs get deeper into my psyche each time I hear them. The accompanying instrumentals can accentuate that too.
An example I like is Joy Enriquez’s vocal from the movie Anna and the King. Her squeaks and voice-breaks and near-crying tone at the right moment reach deep into my emotions and opens them up. When the song is over, I know I have heard words and music that have touched a deeper part of me and I feel immensely satisfied.
It is one thing to hear a pleasing melody, another to have the words of a song put you in touch with your emotions.
As an author of words, you should strive to go as deeply into your reader’s psyche, to dredge up emotions and perhaps rake them over fiction’s flame. If you can do this, ultimately you leave your reader with a sense of satisfaction at the story’s end.
In today’s world, it’s not enough to write a story for the sake of telling a plausible tale. As purveyors of emotional satisfaction through words, writers must appeal to the reader’s need for a sense of fulfillment. Like music, a good story is a good story. But music or a story that enables the reader to experience a gamut of emotions will be a better sell.
A simplified difference in story telling is that a good romance, perhaps, shows the reader the attraction between two people, their differences and how they overcome them. They end up together and, voila! The story ends upbeat in spite of it all.
In order to make that story linger in the memory of the reader—which will make them yearn for your next book—your characters must not only have differences but they might be irreconcilable. Certainly two people in love and having those kinds of problems ache inside. You as the writer must ache with them. You must write that story so that you feel all the pain. If you do not feel the pain, you have not presented a plausible enough reason to keep these two people apart. More importantly, you probably haven’t written convincingly enough for your reader if you cannot convince yourself.
If you can write so that you ache for your characters, then can come up with a solution that alleviates your own pain, your reader will feel that same duress and subsequent relief for your characters. You will have raked the reader’s emotions over fiction’s fire, presented a viable solution, and enticed your reader to remember your byline.
Notice that I said “viable solution.” Your ending doesn’t have to be the perfect solution, only an acceptable one. Perhaps, it is some situation that both people must learn to live with if they are to be together. They swallow their pride; they compromise something of great importance to themselves and they hurt because of it—all so that they might remain together. Or perhaps the story ends with them going separate ways and that might be the proper ending. But they still hurt inside. Didn’t your heart ache when you heard Rick (Humphrey Bogart) utter those famous words to Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) in Casablanca before he walked away: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
When creating conflicts, check in with yourself and see how your heart aches for your characters. If you recognize that as something you feel as you conjure your plots, you will convey it to your reader who will absorb it and yearn for it as they gobble up your books.