As well as, or maybe because of, being a writer, I am a great reader. I have been all my life. More and more I am reading new writers who I find as I’m promoting my own books, and have been fortunate so far this year that most of them have been very good. There have only been a handful I couldn’t finish, and only a handful I finished but couldn’t give a glowing revue. Since I’ve read about 50 books so far this year, that’s pretty good going.
Earlier this year I read a strange book, and it was not just the characters and the monsters, who were intentionally strange (it was fantasy). The plot was great, and it kept me reading to the end. I wanted to find out how it ended, but the writing drove me mad. I’m not going to identify the book – I don’t do bad reviews. It could have been so much better. I thought it needed a good editor, who would have spotted the faults in the writing style.
The writing was strangely flat - although characters had emotions, they were stated but not explored. This is a fault I’m guilty of occasionally, but this was all the time. Phrases like, ‘she was worried’, ‘he was angry’, instead of describing how they behaved and what they said that made their feelings clear and brought them to life. If you have trouble with this, I can recommend The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Bella Puglisi. Here you can look up any one of 75 emotions and get a list of all the body language cues, thoughts and visceral responses for you to use.
Readers want to be drawn in to your story, to identify with your characters, to feel for them. Just stating how they feel doesn’t do it. As your characters act and react, your readers will find their heart in their mouth or tears in their eyes. They will really care about your hero or heroine, which keeps them reading, and will lead to them buying your next book. There are a few authors whose first book I got free and loved so much I bought every single subsequent book. I even pre-order, and I always review. I want fans like that!
Another aspect of emotions is how your characters react to developments in the plot. In this book I’m talking about, some amazing things happen, but the characters take them all in their stride. No one thinks it strange that an unmarried man suddenly acquires several young daughters he's never heard of - they are just welcomed into the family. The man discovers he can hear a voice in his head and follows it without question. When a dangerous creature appears in the night, he trusts it and follows it. This could be an exciting incident as he risks his life, but it’s just obviously the right thing to do. It falls flat again.
So take a look at your manuscript and make sure your characters have real emotions and real reactions to what happens. As for the book that sparked this post, I won't be reading the next one.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of three medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz