Creating an Emotional Bond Between Character and Reader

[…and the winners are Lori Allman and Brenda Soules. Congratulations to them and thank you to all who left a comment. I always enjoy reading them.]

Coming on August 4: SILENT MELODY, a republication of a Georgian romance first published (with HEARTLESS) during the 1990s. The heroine is a deaf mute at a time when there was no recognized way of communicating with the deaf. The hero is her sister’s brother-in-law with whom she was deeply in love as a girl before he went off to India for several years. Now Ashley is back unexpectedly and Emily is about to marry another man. I will be choosing two winners of signed copies of both books on Monday, August 3. Read on…

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A love story is not just a narrative; it shows the growth of a relationship between two people, a growth through indifference (sometimes even hostility), through liking and friendship and being in love to the ultimate fullness of love itself. The ending of a love story should leave the reader sighing with contentment, convinced that this couple shares a love that will stand the test of time and last forever and even beyond. It should give the impression of happily-ever-after yet the conviction too that it is real. In order to get this feeling, however, the reader has to be drawn into the story and into the very souls of the main characters and into the love connection between them. The reader has to feel these characters, to be emotionally involved in their journey, almost to become them in imagination. It is the writer’s job to make this happen. But how is it done?

First of all, the characters have to seem real. Whether the hero is a tall, dark, handsome macho man or something quite different, whether the heroine is cover model gorgeous or not, they must feel like real people, ones with whom the reader can relate and identify. They really ought not to be cardboard characters with little depth beyond some character details the writer jotted down when creating them. They have to be living, breathing people with strengths and weaknesses, with triumphs and failures and problems, as full of contradictions as real people. The reader has to want to root for them in their struggles and fall in love with them in their vulnerability if this is indeed a love story.

In order to make characters real, the writer has to know them soul deep. It is possible to know a great deal about other people without really knowing them at all. Sometimes we do not even fully know ourselves. Do you ever find yourself saying or doing something that takes you by surprise? Do you really know exactly how you would behave in unexpected circumstances, a life-and-death emergency for example? When I am writing a book, I stop and go back and rewrite time and again before I come to the end and usually it is because I need to adjust the story as I get to know the main characters better. It is never easy because I am not satisfied until I feel I have them right. They are rarely willing to give up all their secrets early or at once. Sometimes—usually, in fact—I end up asking them where their deepest pain is. There always is something. Once I know it, then I can set about bringing that character to some sort of healing so that he/she can come to the point of being able to love and accept love and settle to a lasting, meaningful love relationship. This must happen for both main characters, and they must both be involved in the revelations and the healing. They bring each other to healing and love.

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There must be growth in the characters if the reader is going to invest time and emotion in their story. Admittedly there are action stories in which very little emotional involvement with the characters is necessary, but this is not often so with a love story. If the hero, for example, is just gorgeous and sexy and does nothing but macho things throughout—well the reader might enjoy reading about him being those things but there will be very little emotional empathy with him. He will be a cardboard figure.

The best way I have found of getting this depth of character and pulling the reader in emotionally is by making careful use of point of view. Point of view is the person through whose eyes and viewpoint the story is being told. It can be first person though then the action of the story can be seen through the mind of only the one character (just as our own lives are viewed). I use what I call third person deep interior point of view. I usually alternate between the hero and heroine, though there is no strict rule about it. I tell an episode from the hero’s point of view and then one from the heroine’s. That way, the reader gets to experience the story through the mind and emotions of the character experiencing that particular episode of the story. If you think about it, everything that happens in our lives has an emotional component. We are the ones who experience everything that happens in our own lives, and everything that happens is colored by our own experiences and character and background and emotions—mostly our emotions. Very little happens to us that does not carry some emotion with it. The aim of the writer should be to duplicate that with characters. They are living, emotional beings, and if their story is told from deep within them, then the reader will be there too, experiencing everything with them and feeling with them—living and loving with them.

Creating this emotional connection among writer, character, and reader is one of the greatest challenges of writing a love story, but is, I think, the key to its success. The author needs to make the reader laugh with the characters and cry with them—and fall in love with them.

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To two randomly chosen people who leave a comment below before the end of Monday, August 3, I will send signed copies of both HEARTLESS and SILENT MELODY, which is due to be published on the 4th. Good luck.

175 thoughts on “Creating an Emotional Bond Between Character and Reader

  1. Super excited to read this book! I just finished Heartless yesterday. I absolutely agress with you describe character development and the need to create empathy in the reader.

  2. I first fell in love with the Bedwyns… and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’ve not had a chance to read these. but i’m really looking forward to it!

  3. Silent Melody is one of my favorite books, the way each of your characters deals with perceived disadvantages is one of the reasons I admire your books. My copy is a little the worst for wear but still readable, as I proved last week when I reread it. Holds up well.

  4. I love your characters because they are so well formed. The explanation that you gave in your blog really shows. I appreciate that your characters are not “perfect”, but they manage to find the perfect love.

  5. What brings the characters closer in my view is when the author reveals the thoughts of the character – what is really going through the character’s mind as they interact with others. Many times the characters’ thoughts reflect their genuine emotion whereas what they actually say is sometimes very different. Those particular interactions reveal so much about the true feelings and also how much they trust the people they’re communicating with as well as how much they trust their own reactions.

  6. Two of my favorites. I have them both in books. Keep writing wonderful stories and unforgettable characters.

  7. Silent Melody is one of my favorites. Having gone to a deaf college, I was amazed that you could create Emily so well without having had some personal experience with deafness. I guess that’s the mark of true talent.

  8. What a treat to have SILENT MELODY in print again. It was the first of Mary Balogh’s books that I read, prompted by a writer friend who was amazed at the skillful telling of a mute heroine’s story. Yes, it was remarkable, and I liked the speaking heroines even better. So much to look forward to in the stories ahead.

  9. Two long-time favourites that, like most of my older Baloghs, are getting a bit tattered and looking well-read. Glad to see them back in print!

  10. I think that what I like most about the way you develop your characters is the fact they do appear real. Their beauty or lack thereof, their wealth or position in the world are a part of who they are, but it is not all of who they are. Some of them are very likable, but there has been at least one of your heroines I simply could not like. But, her story was a wonderful one. After reading biographies of some heroic people from the past, the best are written with humanity included. Being human, even for fictional characters, is a good thing.

  11. I just finished Heartless, and I ended up loving it. It was so different at first (Luke’s clothes OMG!), but after a bit, the story got me. Now I can’t wait to read about sweet Emily and Ashley.

  12. I love Heartless and can’t wait get my hands on Melody! Your character development is always excellent. You make all your characters feel like real people flaws and all.

  13. I absolutely love all of your books. My all time favorite is Slightly Dangerous. I have lost count on how many times I have read it. I can`t wait to read these as well.

  14. I am so excited to read these. I discovered you later in my reading career. I missed many of these during their original print and I can wait to get my hands on these two. I just read Longing and it just made me weep, in a happy way. ; )

  15. They way you involve your reader into your characters life is just a part of the many reasons I enjoy your books and have read almost all of them. I somehow missed this one and would really enjoy receiving a signed copy , along with everyone else!

  16. I have been a huge fan since I was 15. My Mom got me reading you and I still do to this day. One of the few authors that I refuse to Eread.

  17. I love your book, I’ve missed some and these two are some of the ones I haven’t read yet, so I’d love to win them!!

  18. These are new to me stories and they sound quite interesting. I think it’s brilliant that the heroine in Silent Melody is hearing impaired, as I have often wondered what life would be like for my husband without his hearing aids. To imagine the difficulty one would have is heartbreaking. I love that so many of your characters find strength in adversity. Keep up the amazing work!

  19. I don’t have either of these books. I can’t imagine how I managed to miss them over the years. Winning the contest & having my very own signed copies would be unbelievably amazing. Thank you for the opportunity! !

  20. Heartless is my all time favorite and you were kind enough to advise me of Silent Spring when I commented that I wanted the story of Ashley & Emily

  21. It is always easy to become emotionally involved with your characters. I am reading Ralph’s story now. Wonderfully written!

  22. Even though I have pre ordered these, which I do with all your books, I would love to win signed copies 😀

  23. How on earth is it that I’ve missed reading Silent Melody-? Can’t find it in my library in this large city, either! It would be marvellous to win a copy of it, but failing that, I’ll go looking for a copy online. Cheers. Your topics, settings, characters – always so satisfying.

  24. You’re information on character development throughout the story is great advice for me, I would never attempt a whole book but do some short stories. I have been trying to give most of that information before getting into the story plot. Just wasn’t flowing the way I wanted. Thanks for the information.

  25. I enjoyed reading these two books, and Silent Melody is one of my favorite books ever. I cried my eyes out at several points throughout this book. The love story is so beautiful and dramatic, much more than I was expecting…Ash and Emy stole my heart since Heartless. I would be extremely happy to have a signed copy. Crossed fingers! ♥♥♥

  26. I haven’t read these books but every other book of yours that I have read has been a joy. You create wonderful characters and stories that I love to curl up and reread whenever I can

  27. I adore a good story, especially a love story. It gives me hope that after 19 years of being along, I may find love again

  28. I have been a fan of your novels for a long time. I am so enjoying your Facebook page; you post the most interesting comments and pictures.

  29. I have been a lover of books since I was 13 yrs. old. Books saved my sanity during the time my 6 sons were growing up and now keep me company .my husband died and the boys are gone to live their lives. I have recently discovered your books and am in love all over again !

  30. I do so remember reading Silent Melody when it came out originally and being drawn into the story so deeply that I felt like I was an actual participant, though I remained unknown and unnamed. I also remember it bringing me to tears at time. I would be thrilled beyond measure to win both of these books.

  31. I really love the depth you bring to the characters, makes reading even more enjoyable (as if it needed any improvement!)
    Well… fingers crossed!

  32. I love your books. I have been reading them for YEARS. My favorite author as a matter of fact. Thanks for writing such great stories.

  33. Mary I love all of your books it would b nice to win but if i don’t it is ok. Thanks Renee Phillips Plymouth, Michigan

  34. Mary you always write a story that i know i will revisit time and time again to meet up with old friends

  35. Love the stories you weave and the series you create. I’d love the opportunity to read some of your earlier work!

  36. I so want sweet little Emmy to find her happily ever after with Ashly! I’m counting on you, Mary! Who will be the one to teach her to “speak?” Looking forward to Silent Melody!

  37. Your post is about creating believable characters- this is something you do very well. Thanks for the chance to read books I missed back then.

  38. I have read Silent Melody several times over the years. I love the characters and the self taught sign language. I like that the female character is strong, an able to over come issues. I love the story.

  39. i love all of your books I recently bought a copy of the first snowdrop you r truly talented thanks for the chance!!! 🙂

  40. Oh, Silent Melody was the one that made me seek out Mary Balogh on the shelves. Such depth. Glad it’s being reissued.

  41. I have always wanted to read both of the sisters stories. I have never been able to find them at my local library. I cannot wait for them to be re-released.

  42. I absolutely love your writing style because of everything you just listed. I fall in love with your characters each time I read (and often re read) your books. You manage to capture their ‘human-ness’, making them relatable thru every joy and sorrow. Can’t wait to read these as well! Please, never stop creating. 🙂 and thank you!

  43. I haven’t read these, but they sound wonderful. I love your other books – thank you for writing so many wonderful stories! I would be thrilled to win copies!

  44. I just picked up a copy of “Heartless” today (I had a 20% off coupon from Barnes & Noble burning a hole in my pocket, er, uh, I mean in my email!). Can’t wait for “Silent Melody”. I have paperback copies of 48 of your books (and 1 hardback of “Simply Love”). You are one of the authors that has me at B&N as soon as they open on release day for any of your new works!!

  45. Missed these the first time around. Would love to win signed copies. Currently re-reading your Bedwyn series and Simply quartet. Definitely on my keep me list.

  46. I would love some romance in the fall. Ummm… I MEAN I would love to read some romance in the fall. 😉 Oh heck, why not both!!

  47. I get emotionally invested in your books all the time!! I finished Heartless and I was reading it during my lunch break when I got to the part where Ashley leaves for India and says his goodbye to Emily and my employee came in my office while tears are streaming down my face. After an explaination of what was happening in the book she now wants to borrow the it! Can’t wait for Silent Melody!

  48. Thanks for the giveaway ❤ I would love to win. I love your books and to have autographed copies would be fantastic.

  49. You are an amazing writer. I devour your books. I have definitely laughed and bawled my eyes out with your characters. When I finish a book it is such an emotional time because I do feel as if I was really there living their life with them. Thank you for this opportunity and for all the journeys you have taken me on.

  50. I LIVE IN A CITY THAT HAS A SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF AND BLIND, THESE CHILDREN AND ADULTS ARE AMAZING PEOPLE. AUGUST 3RD IS ALSO THE BIRTHDAY OF MY MOTHER WHOM I LOST SEVERAL. YEARS AGO SEEMS LIKE IT’S A SPECIAL TIME TO WRITE YOU ABOUT YOUR WONDERFUL BOOKS.

  51. Mary, you are the only author whose books I reread. I would love to reread both books again. Sadly, I had to borrow them since they were out of print. I am thrilled that you are having your oldies, but goodies reprinted.

  52. I’m so excited for the re-release of Heartless (& Silent Melody, but mainly Heartless, which is my favourite of all of your books). It may well be my favourite book ever. I paid a minor nobleman’s ransom for my second hand paperback and I’ve never regretted a penny of it. It is a comfort read and a continual delight. It contains my favourite, most romantic sex scene and, strangely enough, it is not even particularly sexy. I adore Lucas and Anna and I’m so happy they will soon be able to be read by an entire new audience. I expect I will be quite obnoxious about it but I have no shame.

    The only thing better than my beloved pink paperback would be a signed copy. Pick me! Pick me!

  53. Truly, the most moving part of the story are the emotions of the characters. A skillful writer can move you when we identify or see ourselves inside the characters’ very soul.It is then when we form a connection, a bond. Something irreplaceable in the heart of the reader. Of course, Mary Balogh , is a master at this.

  54. Thank you for offering this give-away, and thank you for the writing insights in this blog. So interesting for an avid reader to get to appreciate the mechanisms you use and effort you give for our pleasure.

  55. Love, love your books! Your writing always gets me invested in your characters! I would love to read these too 🙂

  56. Character development – it’s your gift and it sets you apart from the rest of herd. I love romance and nobody writes them better than you.

    Seems like I’ve read a thousand of these books since I retired. I enjoyed them while I was reading them, but most of them are totally forgettable. I think this is because a lot of writers (even some that I like a lot) tend to write the same character over and over again. They give them a different name, hair and eye color and think they’ve created someone new, but they haven’t. They are the same character they wrote in their last book and the one before that.

    Not so with you Mary. Your characters have depth that gives your stories a depth that makes them stand out from the crowd.

    p.s. I’m counting the days till Imogen’s story is available.

  57. I hope the older books will make it to e books some day.’ A matter of class’ is one of my favourites. I have a paperback copy but would love to keep all these old ‘ friends’ with me. To dip in as the mood takes me. I am thrilled to see these two titles being released.

  58. While reading Heartless well into the night, I had one of those horrible moments when my Kindle died! As convenient as ebooks are, there is something to be said about being able to turn the pages of a great book without having to stop reading because a battery needs to be recharged.

  59. I have read and reread most of your books. I am still trying to locate some of your older ones and I already purchased and loved Heartless. I can’t believe it took me so long to find your books 🙂 Signed copies would be amazing.

  60. I love the way you develop the characters in your book. It’s one of the reasons I can read them over and over and still celebrate, cry, and smile each time.

  61. I find I struggle the most with writing the books where the characters take forever to reveal themselves. If I can’t find what makes them tick, it’s not happening, so this post rings very true.

    I haven’t read your books yet, but I’ll definitely give them a try.

  62. Emotional bond between character and reader is a good way to describe why some books are so much better than others. I’ve read plenty of books that are well written and the plot itself is interesting but I just didn’t like the main characters or thought they were too good to be true. Well, I know they aren’t real but I want to think that they could be. Heroes and heroines in your books make mistakes and don’t always be perfect, but that is part of their charm. It’s always worth rereading when I find a book where I really care what happens to them. And it is even better if I can meet them again in other books.

  63. Your characters always are easy to identify with. I find myself totally absorbed in your books, Mary- and I am always sad when I finish them. But then I realize I can go right back to them and re-read them. I so love the period of history on which you base your books. I send you goofy Facebook messages- and you give me wonderful books. Seems like I’m certainly getting the best end of the deal.

  64. Love all your books. First one I read was “Devil’s Web” and that was when I discovered your power to make
    me weep for a character. I can re-read your books over and over and your writing can break my heart every time.

  65. My mom has read nearly all of your books. My bday is August 3rd and I would love to give something to her. It would be unexpected but she deserve something nice even though it’s my bday.

  66. I have all of your books and keep rereading them. I love the stories you tell as we learn so much about the characters and come to care about them. I am so looking forward to reading Silent Melody!!!

  67. Como tem pouco tempo que conheci o seu trabalho através dos livros Ligeiramente Casados & Ligeiramente Maliciosos, devo confessar que me apaixonei por eles. Espero ter oportunidades de poder apreciar mais de suas obras literárias!!!

  68. I am looking forward to reading Silent Melody — and re-reading Heartless. Thank you for the many pleasant hours I have spent trying to keep up and catch up since I first discovered your books with A Summer to Remember.

  69. Would love to read these two book. I tried to request them through my local County Library (UK) but was told that they are unable to purchase them although they can get The Survivor Club Novels.

  70. Love stories are often stereotyped into being one track stories that contain girly-shallow-love. This is one of the things I find really annoying when I tell people that I read a lot of love stories/romance. It hurts that this genre is subjected to such things while other “intellectual” genres are being praised without looking at the romance as equal in value.The thing is that many published romance novels are being carbord figured books with one track stories about sexual fantasies and disregarding the main story. These types of stories are so rampant that other romance novels with so much more potential are being overlooked. Romance novels are so special and this kind of speciality is only seen in some books. Romance focuses on LOVE and love is the most versatile thing to describe. It is a feeling and it takes more than one emotion to spark in people. I really like your books because I feel that love is really wonderful after reading your books. I feel that there is something deeper than what other “love stories” do (which is sex..sex..sex). I really agree with you (in terms of building the story with POV–BEAUTIFUL THING) and thank you for writing such wonderful stories. Somehow I believe in love a little bit, even if it is really vague. Thank you Mary! 🙂

  71. I love your books and have introduced them to both of my daughters. We collect and keep all of your books, so would like to add these to our shelves!!

  72. This blog addresses why I love your books. You really get to KNOW them like members of you family or circle of friends. The LIFE lessons/reminders; overcoming difficulties, reminders to look at life in a different way.. . . Every time I read them again ( I only have a couple yet, but a long wish list 😉 ) i get to know them better . . . You describe their actions, postures & expressions so well, I can SEE THEM DO IT. Thank you! I hope the 1st 15 or so does not go out of print before I get the opportunity to buy them! Thank you Mary!

  73. This comment is related both to this entry and the one you wrote a while back about a series ending. I would love, love, love to read Constance Emes’ story and now that I have read _Only a Promise_, Graham’s Muirhead’s also. They both seem to be people of depth caught between different worlds, Constance between the bourgeois and the aristocracy and Graham between his religious calling and his future aristocratic responsibilities. I know that you said your next series is “out in the ether,” but it would be great if there were a way to work these two characters in as protagonists of their own stories.

  74. Thanks for the chance to win! The characters in your books become so real to me – I catch myself quoting them to my friends. “Like Christine told Wulf…”

  75. I have loved your books for years. Silent Melody struck a special cord with me as my second daughter was born with hearing problems around the time I first read this book.

  76. Mary, I know I missed the deadline above, but I wanted to say that I love your books and everything you write. Your characters make my heart melt away every time, and your books make me be thankful each and everyday for being able to read, and have people like you in this world writing them!

  77. Hello!

    I’m not entirely sure this is the right place to post my comment, but since there is no “contact the author” option, I’ll settle for here and I’ll also post in the Guest Book. I’m reading “Only a Kiss” and found an alarmingly inaccurate statement which, apparently, has gone unnoticed by both the author and the editor(s). There is a dog named “Hector” and the hero, Percy, reflects on its name, thinking the following: “The great Trojan hero Hector had shot the mighty and seemingly immortal Achilles in the heel and killed him. ” This is, unfortunately, incorrect. Hector was brutally killed by Achilles, who, in his rage, also dragged the Trojan’s body around the walls of Troy, to further make him pay for having killed Patroclus. After the war, it was another Trojan prince, Paris, who shot Achilles in the heel. I wish this Greek poem were not so abused, especially by Percy, who is said to have a great knowledge of the classics and even planned to read Homer in Greek. I hope this is just a misunderstanding and will soon be corrected.

  78. “third person deep interior point of view”
    I finally have a name for what draws me into Mary’s books.
    My favorite author!

  79. I just discovered your books this summer, and I have read 30 of your books. I love to read books that have characters in other novels. In fact, I have read the Web Trilogy, the Huxtable Quintet, the Simply Quartet, the Bedwyn Prequels, the Bedwyn Saga, and the Survivor Club Series. I can’t wait to read the story of George and Dora. I really want to read more about these characters that have become very real to me. If possible, I would like to hear from you about any other books that have some of these characters in them. You have more ties between books than I have found, and I really have enjoyed your books. Thank you for sharing your talent. I am fascinated with reading books about Jane Austen’s time. That is how I got started reading historical romances of the Regency Period.

  80. I just FINISHED “No Man’s Mistress.” It was so AMAZING! I read it very slowly, over the course of a month because, I didn’t want it to end. I thank you so much, for your creativity. Your story, is more then just a book. It took my away on a curricle to a different time period to make new friends, when mines all abandoned me, and became apart of the Dudley Family. I can not wait to pick up another one of your Amazing books and take a new Adventure, with a side of ice cream, making new friends while sitting on the edge of my bed, waiting to read what will happen next. Thank unit again so much!

  81. I have just finished listening to the audio version of Simply Perfect. The book has simply left me speechless. The characters were only too human and too memorable. Thank you for Claudia, Joseph and little Lizzy.

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