AS my mentor, the veteran South African filmmaker Elmo De Witt used to say, if we don’t feel emotion for our characters then we won’t care about their stories.
And if we don’t care about their stories we won’t care about the ideas behind them.
It is as simple and as complex as that.
Simple, because once we come to feel for the characters we will come to care about their fate and its meaning. Complex, because it takes great skill to find the words to make it so.
“The point is that emotion prises us open like an oyster. It shines a light on ignorance and prejudice. It discovers that precious and timeless wisdom residing inside the most shuttered heart.”
Primarily interested in communicating lofty, existential, philosophical concepts about the nature of reality and the human condition? Go write for a philosophy or psychology journal. Don’t focus solely on making your characters vehicles for conveying ideas. If you do, be prepared to have diminished success.
The Primacy of Emotion
Emotion that supports profound insight, however, makes a story unforgettable. Consider the following passages:
“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch.”
― Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray
“Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times pain acts as a compass to help you through the messier tunnels of growing up. But pain can only help you find happiness if you remember it.”
― Adam Silvera, More Happy Than Not
“Leaning against my father, the sadness finally broke open inside me, hollowing out my heart and leaving me bleeding. My feet felt rooted in the dirt. There were more than two bodies buried here. Pieces of me that I didn’t even know were under the ground. Pieces of dad, too.”
― Laurie Halse Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory
Moving, insightful, stuff and a reminder to writers that insight and emotion go hand in hand.
Use emotion to force your readers and audiences to care about characters and ideas.