At the heart of every story is the main character (or main characters). Without the characters, the story falls apart because the story is all about the character’s journey (or characters’ journeys). The journey can be emotional, physical, or spiritual. Whatever the case, the most important thing a writer does is bring forth characters who seem so real, the reader forgets they are reading a book and slips into the world with the characters, specifically the main one. You want your main character’s journey to become your reader’s journey.
But how do you write an emotionally engaging character?
An emotionally engaging character is one the reader empathizes with. Whatever your character feels, you want the reader to feel. But in order to get there, you (as the writer) must first feel it. You have to be emotionally linked to the character. If you aren’t, the character will come across as two-dimensional. Ideally, you’ll experience everything all of your characters do, whether they are the good guys or bad guys. But the main character(s) must be connected directly to you.
1. Be in tune with the wide range of emotions we all experience as humans.
Writers are sensitive by nature because they have to be. They feel everything deeply, and they aren’t afraid of emotions. If you need to cry, you cry. If you need to laugh, you laugh. When you are aware of how different experiences make you feel in your day to day life, you can start thinking of how these emotions will play into whatever situation you put your characters in.
2. Let the character lead the journey.
Do not tell the character what to do. Let the character lead. If you want the story to go one way, but the character wants to go in another direction, let the story unfold as the character wants.
This is a hard concept to explain to people who don’t write, but the idea is to free your mind while writing so the story naturally develops as you’re going. Don’t force the story. You might be leading things when you start a scene, especially if you’re having a rough writing day, but there should be a point where the flow starts to come in and you are writing what you’re seeing and hearing in your mind. That’s the moment where you are fully engaged in the character and letting him/her lead.
3. Be aware of your body’s cues.
Once the character is leading, be open to what is happening to your body. Often, your body will give you cues that can help you write down what the character is experiencing.
For example, while you’re writing a scene where the character is rejected, you might notice you’re tearing up. Okay, this is a great time to write down that your character also has tears filling his/her eyes. At this point, the character has three options: let the tears flow, fight to hold them in, or fight them but fail and cry anyway. Depending on the character’s personality, you will pick the one that best fits them.
Another example: the character is talking to another character. This other character says something that makes you laugh. At this point, you should write down that your main character laughs.
Having an emotionally engaging character requires the writer to be open to going through the journey with character while letting the character take the lead. I think the more in tune you are with your emotions on a daily basis, the easier this will be.