Monday, July 12, 2010

Creating Character Emotion from Michael Hauge

Good mornin’ all.

Pepper here, and I’m currently going through a great DVD series by famous scriptwriter and speaker, Michael Hauge. It’s called The Hero’s Two Journeys and is filled with fantastic info I want to share with you guys.

First of all, I’d like to ask you a question.

Why do you read fiction?

I mean, really. Bare bones answer.

If you’re really honest, one of the reasons you and I read fiction is to experience adventures we don’t experience in the everyday. To become emotionally involved in a story. To escape into someone else’s journey.

At the heart of it all – emotions.

Usually, the reason we keep reading a book is because, from the first page, our emotions become involved and we MUST finish the story.

Michael Hauge gives 5 ways to help readers identify with the characters, thus building emotion. What does your hero/heroine need to capture a reader’s emotions?

1. Make the character sympathetic – For example, in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, we immediately feel sorry for Tom Hank’s character because we learn from the first that he’s lost his wife. We’re emotionally drawn into the story to see how the character will overcome, or move past this heartbreak. Or in Laura Frantz' newest novel, Courting Morrow Little, about a young girl whose family was wiped out by rebel Indians. The first chapter grabs the reader and has him/her asking questions about 'what would this type of loss cause a girl to be like when she's grown?"
2. Place the character in jeopardy or danger – Your best suspense stories start this way. Peril. All the CSI shows, or Castle (one of my favorites), or Criminal Minds. They all start with peril. The Fugitive with Harrison Ford starts off with a tragedy that immediately puts the hero in danger, AND builds sympathy because his wife dies. Jamie Carie in her novel Love’s First Light starts the first chapter with the main character running for his life during the French Revolution. While he hides, he watches his entire family go to the guillotine.

3. Make the character likeable – Good people cause us to want to read more. Not only does Julie Lessman make Faith O’Connor passionate in A Passion Most Pure, but she is kind and giving. Her inner conflict with her love for Collin versus her love for her sister and her God, makes us want to root for her.

4. Make the character funny – Nobody does character humor like Mary Connealy, and in all of her books, she starts off the stories with humor…and peril. – so you get two for one. Usually the characters are likeable too.  Humor immediately builds emotional connection. We love to laugh, so it makes us want to keep reading.

5. Make the character powerful – (skilled, determined) Is your character good at something? Skilled. Most of John Grisham’s novels have a hero who is brilliant at some occupation or particular skill. Tillie, in Deanne Gist’s novel Maid to Match, is very good at her job as one of the head maids for the Vanderbilts. Harry Potter’s own Hermoine was brilliant, a walking encyclopedia, on The Mentalist , the main character has a way of reading people’s body language to solve crimes. (He gets some of the best lines in that show too).

So, here are a few tips. Which ones are you using in your wip? It’s important to employ 2 or more to get the most emotional bang for readers.

Tell us about it.


Krista Phillips said...

I definitely use humor.

In one of my novels, I use sympathy and humor with my heroine who has rebelled against God after the loss of her mother... (sympathy) however she still is very fun and snarky so she makes you laugh even through her pain. She gets herself in some very wacky situations, however through the course of it she learns to stop blaming God and start leaning on him.

Some don't find her as likable though (i.e. contest judges), because she is blaming God. I have a hard time with that though ... should people like that break our hearts instead of getting us irritated at them? If we are irritated at a fictional character who rebels against God, are we going to then also be unsympathetic toward a real person who is struggling?

Sorry, off subject, *grin*.

rbooth43 said...

Pepper, I agree I read fiction to experience adventures I don’t experience in everyday life. To become emotionally involved in a story. To escape into someone else’s journey and get away from the mundane life. At the heart of it all – emotions and of course humor added in the mix. Without God in my life I'm lost. Thanks to a God that is with me each and every day.
God Bless.

Laura Frantz said...

Hi Pepper and gang, This post is so sweet I tweeted it:) The Michael Hague series sounds fascinating ~ I am always searching for ways to make my hero's journey more credible and heart-reaching/heart-rending. Love your 5 point list! You provide such good examples for each (thanks so very much for including Morrow!). I think I best employ character sympathy and jeopardy or danger (or try to). It's a hard balance. I'll tell you a secret. I'd LOVE to write humorous fiction like Gist or Connealy but mine is always just intensely serious. Humor is such a wonderful gift! Bless you for a fabulous post!

Pepper said...

I'm all for some good humor and it sounds like your characters certainly show their fair share of it :-)
One key ingredient to building emotional connection is helping the reader identify with the character in some way. Humor is a pressure point, but sympathy (or danger) is an even stronger one. I think peril and sympathy might be the two top ones for most people.

(So you're on the right track, Laura ;-) - which is obvious from your fabulous books!!!!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I think I prefer to use a combo. I like to throw humor in along with sinking the character into some precarious situation. Where is Sherrinda's dastardly laugh?
Great post Pepper:)

Pepper said...

You know, rbooth - I think God has a great sense of humor too. :-)
some of the things that happen in life, or some of the crazy antics we do, are probably followed by a chuckle from up above :-)
Btw, I love to read humor. Great drama, but humor too

Pepper said...

I think your books are just the way God wants them to be. With or without the humor. They are beautiful stories, both heart reaching and heart rending, as you put it.

I think, just like God creates different people to function as different parts of the body of Christ, he creates different writers to provide different stories that will touch a variety of people's hearts.

In some amazing way - they all work for His glory :-)

Pepper said...

A combo is incredibly important. All of those examples in the post have a combo of more than one characteristic that creates an emotion grabbing character.

Julie Lessman's book has Faith O'Connor as a sweet, good person, but she is also in emotional peril from losing the man of her dreams.

Deeanne Gist mixes humor in with her skilled heroine.

Casey said...

I try to put sympathy for my character, but one of things I want to really be aware of when I go back through for editing is to make sure I made her likable. I don't want her bad decisions to be tiresome for the reader. Know what I mean? I would love to throw in humor, but I am terrible at writing it.

Anyway, great post. I would have been here sooner, but VBS calls and we had a blast. :)

Julie Lessman said...

Pepper, great post!! I've heard SO much about Michael Hauge from the Seekers, that I cannot wait to attend his seminar at ACFW this September about plotting.

And like Laura commented (hi, Laura!!), I put my characters through so much angst and drama that I don't think I could carry humor off like a Mary Connealy does, who in my opinion, is Queen!

Thanks, Pep, for using A Passion Most Pure as an example! You're a sweetheart.


Sidney W. Frost said...

As a reader, I judge a book, and keep reading, because of the characters. I think the main thing for me is whether or not I like the character. Aren't we all attracted to people we like. As a writer, there is the thin line of developing a strong character who is also likeable.

Pepper said...

Hi Case,
You know, sometimes likeability (is that a word) is subjective. There IS the universal ones we just love from first read, but others are a bit on the edge.
I'm working on one of those characters right now - and you know what, I figured out if I show her weakness or show her being kind to someone - it increases her emotional attractiveness.
Unfortunatley, sometimes that takes an outside reader to point it out to me :-)

Pepper said...

That angst makes for FABULOUS romantic tension (of which I think you are the Queen) I cannot WAIT to read Katy and Cluny's story :-)

Pepper said...

I agree - definitely. It's hard to read a novel about someone we don't like. The Count of Monte Cristo was difficult for me because of that.

Constance Phillips said...

Great post. Sometimes making a character likable and giving them a nice growth arc is hard, but you're absolutely right that the reader has to like...or at the very least understand the motivation.

Pepper said...

Thanks for stopping by, Constance.
Michael's entire video series is great and I'm going to try and post more gold nuggets from it later :-)