Loving Your Characters

When I start reading a book, there are many factors that might prevent me from being able to immerse myself in the story. One of the biggest is unlikable characters. I imagine that’s the case with many readers, especially if you enjoy character driven books. We don’t want to cheer for a character that we just don’t like. Sometimes I don’t like characters because they’re boring, other times it’s because I don’t respect them. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that writing likable characters is essential for an author’s success.

What’s the first step to writing likable characters? You have to actually like them yourself. If you don’t love the characters you create, then how can you expect readers to love them? Continue reading

That Time People Thought I was Crazy

I was headed home from college in Virginia, on a flight out of Roanoke. Roanoke is not large. The airport has all of five gates. I once checked in only 45 minutes before my flight and the lady said she wasn’t sure I’d be able to board on time. I couldn’t help the look I gave her. Did she really think that walking up the escalator and down two gates would take more than five minutes?

Small airport means small planes. The one I was on this time had maybe thirteen rows, consisting of three seats each, two on one side, one on the other. I was on the side with one seat. That’s what I preferred, since it was both a window and an aisle seat. I like being able to look out the window, but I also like being on the aisle due to having a bit of claustrophobia.

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It was spring or summer (not sure which), warm enough to be muggy. I happily pointed the air vent on me as I buckled in and pulled out a book. I was reading and ignoring the people around me when a snowflake fell on my book. Continue reading

Empathy, Validation, and Vocabulary

I was contacted last week by a good friend of mine from High School. Abi does short interviews with all kinds of people on all kinds of topics using SpareMin. This week she wanted to interview different people about the value of literature and she asked if I’d have a couple minutes to talk with her. Of course, I said, “Yes!”

As I thought about the topic, there was no lack of ideas that came to mind, but the three that made their way to the top of my list were these:

  1. Books teach empathy.
  2. Books can validate our own experience.
  3. Books give us an emotional vocabulary.

In the interview with Abi, we only spoke about the first, so I wanted to expound here.

Let me explain.

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Books Teach Empathy

When we read books, we usually get inside the head of one or more characters. We get a detailed view of their situation and their reaction to it. Good books will make us sympathize with the character. Great books will make us empathize with them. A well-written book will immerse us so fully in the character’s plight, that we can’t help but feel what they feel. And because the situation and emotional responses that can be contained and explained in books are unlimited in their diversity, it gives readers a chance to experience, in some small way, the life struggles of a vast number of people.

Books Can Validate Our Own Experience

When we find a character that we can relate to, someone who has experienced what we’ve experienced, or felt what we’ve felt, it can make us feel less alone. I’m thinking especially of middle school and high school aged kids and young adults. Kids who are experiencing huge emotions for the first time and who might feel like they are completely alone in what they’re feeling can find validation and camaraderie with fictional characters. It can give them a chance to realize, “Hey, this character feels the same way I do; maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe I’m not wrong to feel this way. Maybe other people feel this way too.”

Books Give Us Emotional Vocabulary

Yes, they teach us just plain old vocabulary as well. However, I think the more important aspect is being able to learn how to speak coherently about our own emotions. If a reader can identify with and relate to a certain character, there is a good chance that the way that character discovers, identifies, and labels their emotions with in turn teach the reader how to identify and label their emotions. Books give words to feelings. Words that people, especially kids, will be able to use when communicating their feelings to others. Has that ever happened to you? You’re reading a book and the character suddenly drops this perfectly worded truth bomb that describes what you’ve been feeling, but haven’t been able to identify for who knows how long? That’s a powerful thing. It’s a gift.

Books are a powerful tool. They can teach us a lot about ourselves. And they’re cheaper than therapy. 🙂

Finally! A scene from James’ point of view

Now that Saving Marilee has been out for more than a year, I finally got around to writing a scene from James’ point of view. It’s the scene of their first meeting, and if you’d like to see it, please go sign up for my newsletter. That will give you access to all of my extra content. Those of you who have already signed up should have an email in your inbox with the link.

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