Emotional Connections

Have you ever read a story that a friend raved about and then been stumped at the attraction?

That’s happened to me a few times lately, and I’ve been attempting to pinpoint why. Sometimes, of course, it can be chalked up to different tastes, or different life experiences that make a story resonate with one person and not another.

Lately, I’ve been hungering for stories in which I emotionally connect with the hero or heroine so much that my heart aches when theirs does.

This obsession seems to be spilling over into my people watching–an occupational hazard.

Sunday afternoon my husband and I and two youngest children went to a restaurant for lunch, and a young family caught my attention. There were four adorable blond children ranging in age from about four to eleven and a tired-looking dad. They were dressed like they’d come from church, well-behaved. The eleven-year-old girl was obviously used to mothering her younger siblings.

I wondered if the mom was trailing behind with a baby. Then when she didn’t appear, I wondered if she was sick at home, or had just had a baby and hubby was giving her a few hours of peace and quiet.

Nosy writer that I am, I soon found myself trying to catch a glimpse of the father’s left hand.

My heart sunk when I saw his ring finger was bare. I doubted he was divorced. He looked too melancholy, and I figured that if this was his weekend with the kids, he’d be more…alive.

So I naturally assumed he was widowed–every happily-married spouse’s worst fear.

Instantly, I was emotionally connected.

My heart ached for that little family even as my mind began re-writing their happily ever after.

Hours later, I found myself wishing we’d introduced ourselves, perhaps invited the children to come out for a ride on our sweet old horse. That’s the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of actions I yearn for my characters to inspire in readers.

Your turn: What kind of scenario squeezes your heart, or plays on your mind for hours after you’ve put a book down? Has a fictional story ever inspired you to change something about yourself or do something differently?

Get that Plank out of my Eye!

Since we talked about villains last week, these verses in Proverbs 24:17-18 caught my eye yesterday. “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.”

Isn’t that an eye-opener?

Yeah, the villain is a bad guy, but taking pleasure in his punishment isn’t good either.

So…at the end of the book when the bad guy gets his just desserts, my hero better not gloat, or the next thing he knows his author will have to help him confront his pride issues!!!

As a writer I spend a lot of time contemplating the truths my characters need to learn. My understanding of these truths, and my need to embrace them in my own life often grows as a result.

Oftentimes, their complexities don’t fully gel in my mind until I tackle crafting the study questions for the back of the book–like the ones we’ve been exploring here each Monday.

That’s where I’m at right now with the third book in my undercover cops series. Originally titled Dose of Deception, the book, at the spiritual level, explores many levels of deception, but most importantly how we deceive ourselves.

In a romance, someone who has been burned by love may say they’re not interested in dating again, but really they’re afraid of being hurt again. Deep down they know they will be…

Even deeper than that, they don’t trust God to be sufficient when the inevitable happens.

Your turn: Can you think of a time when you tried to convince yourself that you were doing the right thing and perhaps even offered noble reasons for your choice or decision, but deep down that choice was driven by fear?

Fighting the Villain Inside

I love writing villains. 
Not the mustache-twirling villains of old that modern readers find laughable. Multi-faceted characters that I can exploit for good and evil, and in the process, surprise the reader. At his best, a villain will make the hero stop and take stock. 
If the reader does too, all the better.
One trick writing books suggest for humanizing villains is to look at them through the eyes of someone who loves them.
In Deep Cover, the reader sees Emile Laud through the hero’s eyes as someone who would torch buildings for the insurance money without concern for who might be hurt as a result. We also see Laud through his niece’s eyes as someone who is generous and supportive.
The reader, of course, is left wondering who is right.
Laud is driven by ambition. He wants people to believe he’s wealthy and altruistic so they’ll admire him, because as a child he was scoffed at for being poor and unpopular.
By the end of the book, we see the consequences of his obsession. (no spoiler!)
Witnessing firsthand the villain that lurks inside each of us, the hero finds himself evaluating his own decisions.
Your turn: Is ambition a bad thing? Why or why not?
Food for Thought: Do you unconsciously try to fill a deep-rooted need in ways that might lead to unwelcome consequences?

Rediscover the child inside…

Lately I’ve been looking at characterization in an entirely new light. I’ve been watching my baby grand daughter discover the world.

She approaches every new experience with a sense of wonderment and awe, from lingering over the texture of carpet fibers to delighting in the sound of clanging one block against another.

And watching how a baby explores the world adds new meaning to the verse “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Everything goes in the mouth!

As a writer, I’ve learned to linger over sensory details at key emotional turning points in my stories to draw the reader deeper into the moment. Because of that, I find myself spending more time modelling my grandbaby, and really noticing the sights and sounds and smells and textures around me.

One of the blessings of being a writer is having an excuse to stop and smell the flowers or pause long enough to feel the warmth of the sun on my cheeks or to listen to the patter of rain on the window pane.

It always amazes me how pausing to delight in the smallest of things awakens the child inside and refills the soul. And I’m reminded of Jesus’ statement that we must become like little children.

Your turn: What have you delighted in this week?

The Real Story…

Thank you to everyone who hazarded a guess yesterday as to why my daughter was duct taped to a chair. I loved your creativity! I decided to share the answer here, but if you’d like to read the rest of the post on Five Ways to Improve Your Characterization, you can check it out at Jaunty Quills

The real story…the other night my daughter and son were sitting in the room below my office when my teenage daughter started squealing about how thrilled she is with the characters in the novel she’s writing. The next thing I know, she’s calling for help.

Preoccupied with my own writing, I called down, “Can’t your brother help you?”

More cries rose from the floor below. Muffled this time. Something like, “He did it.”

None to happy about being interrupted, I tromp downstairs, to find out what’s going on. Imagine my glee when I find my daughter duct-taped to her desk chair!

“Wait, don’t move,” I exclaimed, and ran back upstairs for my camera. You see, the heroine in the book I’m working on gets duct-taped by the villain to a chair. I’m seeing … research opportunity!!
I want to know how her muscles feel straining against the tape; the yow of ripped hair when its tugged off; the sensation of the scream building in her throat; the taste of panic when she realizes she can’t get herself free. And just how loud can she shout with a piece of duct tape on her mouth?

Our dear pup even decided to get in on the action and play the hero, doing the courtesy of ripping her free!

By this time, my daughter is getting right into the “research”, and my son is rolling his eyes, no doubt thinking that instead of quieting his nutty sister, he’d created two monsters!