This is a guest post by Tim White. Tim is a passionate blogger for the best essay service Essayhipster. He is also a fan of tennis, creative writing and good wine.
Anyone looking for a courteous, punctual guest blogger with something cool to say, should definitely keep Tim in mind.
Tips to create emotional connection with your reader
To better explain how you may connect with your reader, examples have been pulled from popular animated movies. This post is littered with so many examples because creating an emotional connection with a reader is a complicated process that cannot be fudged or faked with a few cheap tips.
People Connect With And Believe People Like Them
It has been proven time and time again that people connect with and believe people that are like them. It is why marketing companies highlight different testimonials depending on which country they are marketing to. It is why Beyoncé had the same image photoshopped for an issue of Glamour in Italy and Glamour in Nigeria (where she was visibly darker).
You do not have to write to please everybody because what they see as familiar can cross race, religious, sex and age boundaries. The little girl in “Home” was black and she still connected with audiences the same way the Caucasian “Boo” did in Monsters Inc. Plus, in Toy Story 3 people cried over toys about to be incinerated, and few people have much in common with those.
What Did Plastic Toys Have In Common With Their Audience?
The reason is both complex and simple. In simple terms, people could see themselves in the characters and could see themselves acting in the same way if they were in such a position.
The more complex reason is that people can identify with the underlying themes, motivations and emotions. People’s empathy is given a channel through which they may experience what the character is experiencing in a far deeper and more meaningful way (ergo, a connection).
Consider The Flip-Side Alternative
Imagine if Woody, one of the main stars in Toy Story 3, was very insecure and kept playing cruel tricks on the other toys, such as telling them the food processor was a foot massager. Do you think people would have cried so hard at the end when Woody panics a little and then finally accepts his fate bravely?
People connected with the character because they fully understood the themes, motivations and emotions involved, and then were given a backstage pass to experience those elements for themselves because they could relate and empathize with the characters.
Let People Connect With Characters They Can Recognize
If you have ever walked around a tough part of a British city, you will meet and recognize a lot of the characters that appeared in the Michael Caine movie “Harry Brown.” If you haven’t, then you may not fully understand or appreciate the depth and quality of the characters. You will also feel a little less connected with the movie, which may be why such a fantastic film didn’t become as legendary maybe it should have.
The Paranorman Example
A great example of recognizable characters is the movie “Paranorman.” This Focus Features film follows a young boy named Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is able to speak to the dead. When his small New England town comes under siege by zombies, Norman takes on ghosts and witches to save it from a centuries-old curse.
Not much to identify with, right? The creators could have very easily made their characters carbon cutouts and stereotypes that can be seen in every US sitcom. Instead, the creators made characters that are highly relatable and familiar. Here are a few examples:
- Norman – Outcast and loner, but with a unique understanding of the world.
- Neil – The bullied and dumb fat kid that is actually quite mature and grounded.
- Courtney Babcock – The blonde bimbo sister that is just love-starved.
- Mitch – The jock, who’s protective of his brother and turns out gay.
- Perry Babcock – Hard on his son because he is scared for him.
All of these characters are very relatable, and each one could easily have been a cardboard cutout stereotype. Instead, people empathize with them because they were not stereotypes. The writers took stereotypes and turned them on their head. As a result, the characters have a depth that is sharply different from the typical stereotype.
For example, Mitch is macho, but also gay. He’s big and strong, but looks out for his brother rather than picking on him. And Courtney could have been just another dumb and stereotypically ditzy blonde, instead of a multi-faceted character struggling with emotional issues.
So, the secret to create emotional connections is to treat your readers to characters that remind them of real people, in real life. And nothing destroys that connection faster that inserting shallow and stereotyped characters without building their story.
Thanks, Tim and Nicholas, for this interesting piece. It makes perfect sense. It’s something we should all remember when writing.
Glad you enjoyed the post, Suzanne! Thanks 🙂
A fascinating post, Nicholas. The comments were equally so.
Thanks, Michelle; I’m glad you enjoyed it.
The comments are the part of blogging I enjoy the most, to be honest! 😀
Me too. I love interacting with other bloggers. It definitely makes the world seem smaller, knowing you can “talk” to anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Have a wonderful week, my friend.
I’m planning to start relaxing a bit this week, so it should be wonderful indeed. You too 🙂
Glad you thought so! Thanks and welcome 🙂
So many people read to see themselves in stories. I love the emphasis here on helping people to identify with stories and characters by making sure the motivations and emotions are clearly demonstrated. Even if the story takes place in another culture or another world (SFF), emotions, feelings, goals, frustrations, and interpersonal struggles are all elements we can relate with. Depicting clearly what drives each character will hook readers’ interest and make them stick with a story, even if the setting or plot is absolutely removed from their world. And these in-depth character studies absolutely help characters feel real and interesting, rather than flat sketches of people we think we know, but in the end have no connection with.
–Sam Taylor, AYAP Intern
Thanks, Sam – and welcome 🙂
I completely agree. Regardless of culture or setting, we all share certain elements that make us human. As I point out in The One Story (https://nicholasrossis.me/2014/03/26/the-one-story-how-to-write-your-book-summary/), people say there are 21 kinds of stories, or 30 stories, or 7 stories etc. in the world. So, with a limited number of stories, it’s all about the characters.
PS. For some reason, your comment was caught by the spam filter – apologies for my delay in responding.
You’ve also illustrated the genius in making a kid’s movie with a certain depth that adults can enjoy ! Great post. ☺
Indeed, he has!
Great post. The examples from Paranorman are perfect. I like the idea of taking the stereotypes and turning them on their heads. To me, even a strong plot can’t make me care about cardboard characters. 🙂
I’m totally with you on that one!
Paranormal stereotypes, particularly those about vampires, were initially turned on their head by Anne Rice. Prior to Lestat, vampires were subhuman, almost pitiable demonic-type creatures. The young, sexy, wealthy and urbane male vampire was a completely different creature than from the original vampire legends and Bram Stoker’s novel. Other paranormal types subsequently experienced similar transformations.
Just as the ancients anthromorphised natural phenomena by creating human-like beings with supernatural powers who ruled the sea or threw thunderbolts, authors tend to give their monsters identifiable human motives. For those who write sci-fi in which mankind encounters another species, readers may not be able to sustain interest if the alien species is too different.
In his science fiction novel Blindsight, author Peter Watts explores different types of consciousness and ways of seeing the world and oneself. Published by Tor and nominated for numerous awards, Blindsight was nonetheless described as being “too difficult” by some readers. The truth is, however, that much of what Watts explores in Blindsightis based on philosophy, psychology, game theory, evolution and biology, etc. (Blindsight is available in electronic format under a CreativeCcommons license for those who are curious.)
I like this quote by Philip Gourevitch, author and staff writer for The New Yorker: “This is what fascinates me most in existence: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.”
Interesting Connie. I can see how “too different” can be difficult for readers as the ability to empathize is jeopardized. Your Anne Rice example of stereotypes turned upside down was a great one. My favorite vampire stories. 🙂
Thanks for the great comment and the Blindsight recommendation. I’m also reminded of Solaris (the book; not either of the movies), which explores the question of how to communicate with the ocean – an entity so alien that it only realizes we’re watching it when we accidentally nuke it.
Thanks. I’ll have to put that one on my TBR list!
I think you’ll enjoy it 🙂
Just don’t watch any of the movies… 😀
Makes a lot of sense. Though I do wonder if the shallow stereotype can still be used as a minor character since I’ve met people that fit those personality. A strange change that I’ve been seeing in a few places is the ‘undescribed’ protagonist. This is one that is very vague and seems to exist solely for the reader to put themselves in the role. Emotions and personality are rather bland, but this gets covered up by the exciting and active story. Not sure where this fits into stuff.
An ‘undescribed’ hero, huh? I’m intrigued. Do you have any examples in mind?
I forgot the series title, but it’s the one that the TV show ‘True Blood’ is based on. I asked someone who read it what the female lead (Sookie Stackhouse) is described as and they couldn’t answer. Either nothing was in there or it was rather forgettable. This can get a reader to put their own facade in the character’s place. Bella Swan from ‘Twilight’ is another example where she’s kind of a blank slate and the readers are subtly urged to slip into her role.
Thanks for that! Although I’m aware of both works, I haven’t actually read/watched them.
I’ve watched ‘True Blood’. The other one is only because of frantic debates with friends who were into it.
We all have them 😀
Woody’s dead? Oh, no!
No, no, it was all a huge misunderstanding!
But you don’t want to watch Bambi…
Subjecting children to the Disney movie “Bambi” is cruel and unusual punishment.
Lol – I’ll keep it in mind 😀
Getting the reader to connect emotionally with my protagonist was hard, and I’m still not sure if I’m there yet. I found I’m walking a tight line between making him sickly sweet and overly moralistic to being a little too distant for the reader to like.
I think this topic is one of the hardest for me to grasp as a novice novelist. Great post, thanks.
So glad you enjoyed it!
It’s a fine balance, for sure. With Pearseus, I thought I’d missed it when a friend complained he had a hard time connecting with the heroes. Still, when he finished Rise of the Prince, he said he could not sleep that night, wondering what happens to David. 🙂
Well, I ‘ve had the part of that experience, just need the second now…
Lol – hope it comes any day now 😀
I enjoy reading about people from other times, places, situations, etc. I think there is always, however, something I can identify with about the characters or the situation that causes me to truly connect with the story. For me, however, the “surprise” is not usually a surprise. Maybe I’ve known too many unusual people (not to name anyone in particular, Nicholas)?
Unusual people? Whatever you mean? 😀
As someone from one of the less salubrious parts of London, I certainly connected with ‘Harry Brown.’ However, ‘Annie Hall’ is also one of my favourite films, but i am not Jewish, and have never been to America. I am not certain that empathy or connection is necessary. If so, why would I feel a little sorry for Mrs Danvers in ‘Rebecca’?
I think it is all about good writing, and in the case of cinema, a good script and fine cast, handled well by a good director. But then, I never liked ‘Toy Story.’
Best wishes, Pete.
Gasp – not liked Toy Story?? You monster 😀
Seriously, though, how do you define “good writing”? Because I think that empathy is part of it.
I have never really tried to define ‘good writing’. If I knew the secret of what it was, I would hopefully be a successful author.
Perhaps it is just me, but although I have undoubtedly empathised with some characters, I do not feel that I need to have experienced the same events or emotions to be enthralled by storytelling.
Maybe the author empathising with their character is important, and I haven’t ever really considered that.
Best wishes, Pete.
Lol – sorry if it sounded like I was twisting your arm. I was merely curious as to what “good writing” meant to you. Your opinion counts double, exactly because you’re a reader instead of an author; hence my curiosity 🙂
No, my arm feels fine Nicholas. Sometimes, I just like to offer the ‘other view.’
No criticism implied, as the article was very good.
Best wishes as always, Pete.
One of the many reasons why I love your comments is the alternative viewpoint they offer 🙂
And as for ‘Toy Story’, it’s more about Pixar animation, which I never liked, compared to the old style of filmed cartoons. (But I can be a monster…)
Lol – fair enough 😀
Are you referring to Disney cartoons like Fantasia, or to ones like Miyazaki’s seminal Spirited Away (or, even better, Princess Mononoke – one of my all-time favorites)?
There is, of course, the alternative of stop-motion animation. Paranorman is a fine example of that, as is Park’s brilliant work.
Disney work such as Dumbo, Snow White, and of course Mononoke, Akira, Howl’s Moving Castle, etc. (As long as it’s the Japanese original, and not any dubbed version. (I know, I’m picky!)
Nick Park has had great success with Aardman animations, but I think stop-motion is best in small doses. Just me…
Actually, I know what you mean about the small doses 🙂
I hear they’re planning a Shawn the Sheep movie, mind you.
Well put. I’ll have to see Paranorman now just to see if I empathise.
Lol – it’s now on my “to watch” list, too 😀
Reblogged this on Books and More.
Now you’ve made me want to see ParaNorman.
Lol – I know 😀