Lack of emotional authenticity is the trap door of the literary world. Readers can be skipping along, humming cheerfully to themselves...

Emotional Authenticity Emotional Authenticity

Emotional Authenticity

Emotional Authenticity

Lack of emotional authenticity is the trap door of the literary world. Readers can be skipping along, humming cheerfully to themselves as they explore a lovely story and then WHOOSH! Down they go. Because suddenly, NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.
You can have the most flawlessly crafted plotline in the whole history of bloody creation, but if character motivations and actions don't line up? IT WILL ALL BE FOR NAUGHT.
I'm using lots of caps locked phrases here so you know this is serious stuff.
Our first issue is Main Character Inauthenticity:
This. Is. The. Worst. And novice authors aren't the only offenders. Sometimes, we get such a firm vision in our minds of how the story is SUPPOSED to go, we forgot that the plot isn't the only path that needs following.
Picture yourself as a road builder, except you've got to lay two roads at the same time and they need to be parallel as much as humanly possible. The plot road and the emotional road should not diverge from each other, no matter how many bumps they hit. What we sometimes see is a straight plot road with the emotional road wibble-wobbling all over the place. Those wibble-wobbles are the places where your main character is making no sense whatsoever.
For instance: Despite having been a complete coward during the first half of the story, the main character runs TOWARD the bloodcurdling scream out of CURIOSITY. I'm sorry, but cowardly people do NOT run towards bloodcurdling screams. It's not in their (okay, OUR) character.

But say you really need your main character to do just that. Pause for a moment and consider what motivation would be required. Perhaps they have reason to believe someone they care about is doing the screaming? Perhaps they just mastered their power and are ready to kick ass now? Perhaps they think it's a television set playing a favorite horror movie they're keen to see? Whatever the reason, make it a good one.

Another example: Your main character decides to go somewhere with a handsome stranger who's giving off a dangerous vibe. I see this situation in a lot of fiction for teens and frankly, it ticks me off. Just because a teenage girl thinks a guy is hot, doesn't mean she's going to ignore her feelings of unease and toss aside all the "don't get in a car with a stranger" advice her parents have been hammering into her head since she was three years old.

For once, I'd love to see a young girl tempted to go somewhere alone with a mysterious hot guy play the "Stranger Danger" card and make a run for it.

It comes down to who your character is, how they were raised, what their basic beliefs are, and how they react in difficult situations. And don't forget the crucial element of what's happened in your story up to that point. A character who's been put through the emotional wringer will react differently than one who's had a pretty happy go of things so far.

Consider the emotional angles of each scene. People don't always make sense, looking from the outside in. But if you've got a decently deep POV going on (something I highly recommend and will write more about next time), your reader will be looking at the story from the inside, which makes emotional authenticity all the more crucial.

2) Secondary Character Inauthenticity:
This is more common than the first issue, but it's a literary trap door all the same. A well-disguised one, perhaps, but just as effective. I see it a lot in the form of the best friend/sidekick character, who blithely goes along with whatever the main character says, seeming to possess no free will or independent thought of their own. 
I sometimes mollify myself with the thought that these characters might turn out to be cyborgs, but I am almost always disappointed. Usually, they're more like cardboard cut-outs of the people they COULD have been if the author brought them to life properly. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid this . . . 
- If your main character says/does something dumb, have a secondary character call them on it. Real friends don't let friends be stupid. Unless they're super sadistic and like watching the inevitable fallout, of course. If the latter is the case, HIGHLIGHT IT. Build on it! This could lead to some brilliant conflict later on.
- While your main character's story arc is important, and they need to act and not just react to the events of the story, your secondary characters should have some input. They can make suggestions. Try and fail at things. They can become pissed off at your main character for ignoring them due to their pursuit of the main goal. They have feelings and opinions of their own. We should see them.
- Try writing a scene from a secondary character's point of view. Visit the inside of THEIR head for a while. It's amazing how much more of your story you can see this way. 
- You should know what your secondary character's personal goals are. If they don't have any, you're still in cardboard cutout mode. Even if their main goal is to support the main character, they need to have a REASON. If the main character is trying to save the world, the secondary character is probably super keen on them succeeding. If the main character's end goal is a romantic relationship, ask yourself if their best friend would be in favor of the main character's plan, and why.
Above all, your main character and secondary characters need to make a certain amount of sense. The reader doesn't have to love the decisions they make, but they do need to understand them to a certain degree. All of your characters should be three dimensional, flawed human beings (unless you're writing about aliens, in which case, more power to you). In other words, THEY SHOULD BE LIKE YOU (unless you are an alien, in which case, AWESOME. Let's do lunch).
Remove the trap doors from your story. Build your roads as parallel to each other as you can. And don't mix your metaphors the way I do. It's totally lame.

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing how much you can get away with if you have a character acknowledge something is coincidental or convenient.


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