By Jill Eileen Smith, author of The Heart of a King (Release date: April 30, 2019)
When was the last time you read a novel that truly tugged at your heartstrings? Made you laugh? Cry? Feel deeply?
When you write, do you find it hard to create emotion in your characters? I’ve heard it said that novelists are aiming to create an emotional experience for their readers. Actually, all artists should have that as their goal, shouldn’t they? If I go to the movies, I want to feel something from the actors on screen. I want to laugh or jump from a sudden scary plot twist or weep with someone who is oppressed or…feel so deeply that I walk away in utter silence.
If I listen to an orchestra or piano recital, I want the music to move me. If I visit an art gallery, I want the paintings to cause me to study them, to learn something about myself, not just the artist.
Great writing does the same. And I’m not talking sensual writing that evokes passion that may be only skin deep. How do we make characters that live in the places we do? If I’m writing about a character that lived many millennia ago, how do I make her relatable to modern-day readers?
We have to dig deeper. We have to go beyond the basic descriptions of what they looked like, where they lived, and all of those charts we can fill out to describe them. We can work out an amazing plot, but if we don’t give our reader that deeper feeling of connection to our character, our novel will be mediocre at best.
Some say digging deeper is like opening a vein and bleeding all over the page. I say it’s opening our heart and pouring our joy, sorrow, pain, struggle, whatever we are facing in our life and infusing those emotions into our characters.
Many, many times when I am facing one of life’s new trials, I will pause in my praying or crying out to God over my issue and have one of those “ah ha” moments. Perhaps Abigail or Hannah or Sarai felt this way when…And even though their circumstances are not mine, our emotions can be similar.
The next time you face a trial or challenge or something joyous, pay attention to how that feels to you emotionally and physically or even in what you say. Then when one of your characters needs that emotion, describe her physical or verbal reaction to the news or challenge. Does her heart leap or do her palms grow moist? Does shock paralyze him? Does joy lift her feet and make her dance? Does he talk too fast when anxiety strikes? Descriptions are endless, but find a way to infuse those feelings from your memory banks into your character. Digging deeper isn’t always fun because we have to be in the character’s skin. We have to be real. Difficult at best, but always worth it.
Jill Eileen Smithis the bestselling and award-winning author of the biblical fiction series The Wives of King David, Wives of the Patriarchs, and Daughters of the Promised Land, as well as the nonfiction book When Life Doesn’t Match Your Dreams. Her research into the lives of biblical women has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times. Jill lives with her family in southeast Michigan. Learn more at www.jilleileensmith.com.