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…


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.


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.