Tag Archives: character development

Does Your Reader Care?

Yesterday I made a bold assertion in my post. I said, “What keeps a reader going is his care about what happens to the character, as much as his interest in the story line.” I believe that. And I’ll give a real life example.

I was watching an episode on Animal Planet about abused and neglected animals and the people who rescue them. Early in the segment, an SPCA staff member receives a call about a cat locked inside a house. No one lives in the house. It is for sale. The SPCA staffer calls the real estate agent to let him in the house. Sure enough, an emaciated cat, which is so dehydrated that it is unable to stand or walk, is found. It is barely alive.

Now, let me interject that I am a “dog” person by nature; dog stories captivate me more than cat stories. Nevertheless, I am invested in what happens to this cat. I want to know if the animal survives. I want the cat to make it. I care about the cat.

My concern about the cat kept me watching for the next twenty minutes, through rescues of pot belly pigs (an uninteresting animal to me) and other animals. I thought to turn the channel more than once, but I wanted to know what happened to that cat.

Finally, the program returned to the cat’s tale (pun fully intended). With rehydration by the vet, the cat’s bodily functions returned to normal. Kitty looked like a new creature, healthy and beautiful.

“Yes!” I shout.  I fist pump.  The cat made it.

The point is I sat through a story line that didn’t really interest me for twenty minutes to find out what happened to a cat. The segment writer evoked caring in me for one of the featured characters. That caring kept me involved in the story to find out what would happen to the character I cared about.

Therein is the lesson for the author. Make your reader care about a character. When the reader cares about a character, he or she will stick it out through parts of the story that may be less interesting to find out what happens to the character that matters.

Emotional Intelligence in Writing

As an author, I create characters. I also have to understand, or get inside, my character, in order to bring the character to life.  I have to know what makes a character tick; to know, to act and to feel as the character does – to translate how feelings impact actions. This ability is called emotional intelligence. I use it, and my characters use it.

Maybe the words of others will make this principle clearer:

David Caruso:  “It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head — it is the unique intersection of both.” –From (“Emotional What?”)

Peter Salovey:  “I think in the coming decade we will see well-conducted research demonstrating that emotional skills and competencies predict positive outcomes at home with one’s family, in school, and at work.” –From “Emotional What?” EQ Today

Freedman et al.:  “Emotional Intelligence is a way of recognizing, understanding, and choosing how we think, feel, and act. . . Research suggests it is responsible for as much as 80% of the “success” in our lives.” –From Handle With Care: Emotional Intelligence Activity Book

(Note from Fay – I think my ability to use emotional intelligence in story telling is responsible for 80% of my reader’s buying into my character. What keeps a reader going is his care about what happens to the character, as much as his interest in the story line.)

John Gottman:  “In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships.” –From Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child

(Note from Fay – You have to address emotional awareness and abilities in character development.  Without it, a character is flat. Based on the quote above, a character without emotional intelligence is unsuccessful in relationships and unhappy. Unless all of your characters are socially inept, you have to manage a character’s emotional intelligence.)

Salovey, Mayer, Goldman, Turvey, and Palfai:  “People in good moods are better at inductive reasoning and creative problem solving.”From Emotion, Disclosure, and Health, 1995

Mayer & Salovey:  “People high in emotional intelligence are expected to progress more quickly through the abilities designated and to master more of them.” –From “What is Emotional Intelligence” in Emotional Development and Emotional Intelligence: Educational Implications, by Peter Salovey and David Sluyter. 1997

(Note from Fay: Character development has to ring true to reality. Your characters who are in healthy relationships with others will also have an abundance of emotional intelligence.)