As writers, we need to have empathy to create believable characters. It could be argued that our fictional protagonist is a reflection of our own personality—though not to an autobiographical extent.
We’re all magpies, noticing things, picking them up and storing them away to use as adornments in some future literary nest. In this way, we form the natures of the people who inhabit our imaginary worlds.
While writing scenes I try to go with the flow of what’s coming to me, while choosing the most effective words and varying sentence and paragraph length to create an effect. I’m aware of the impact I’m trying to make, but removed from it. Reading things back afterwards proves how true it sounds, and I relate to it more having an emotional response.
For instance, I wrote a scene in the second story of my Cornish Detective series that affected me more than I thought it would. Briefly, Who Kills A Nudist? begins with the body of a 60-year-old naturist/surfer being found on a Cornish beach in winter. Various criminal investigations spin-off from this death, involving human trafficking, drug and gun smuggling—all beneath the shadow of violent retribution from organised crime.
For various forensic reasons, the corpse of my dead man has been stored in the morgue, but I had to lay him to rest. He isn’t just the victim but represents human decency as a theme within the story—a good man living a quiet life, doing the right thing for people and the environment, who was destroyed by straying too close to my evil antagonist. I found that surfers do something called a ‘paddle out’ to bid farewell to a fellow surfer, swimming out and forming a circle to share memories before scattering the ashes.
A famous Hawaiian singer called Israel Kamakawiwo’ole sang a medley of Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World which became an unexpected hit and has since been used as a song of tribute and celebration at such paddle outs.
I wrote this into my novel as a way of saying goodbye to my titular character and was unexpectedly moved by the sadness of the occasion, shedding a tear or two.
I’ve had other reactions to my own writing, feeling dread as a blundering detective walked into a death trap set by a serial killer, sharing the puzzlement of my protagonist at an unexpected event and relishing the situational humour of a misunderstanding.
I haven’t written any explicit sex scenes, as yet, and perhaps I shouldn’t—I might spontaneously combust!
This internal barometer of whether something works is useful. If it works for me, my readers will react too.
Do you react emotionally to your own writing or when reading a novel?