Saturday, September 8, 2012
What is the difference between:
1) a story that is filled with action, adventure, and well written
2) a story that catches your attention, draws you in, and tugs at your emotions
Both stories show talent and creativity. The second story is one in which you and the author have made a connection.
As a school teacher I was trained to help children to make connections with stories so that they would learn to enjoy literature. We were to ask the students questions like, "Do you remember a time when you got lost, like Curious George? Were you afraid?"
Most adult readers do this on their own. We connect with a character in the story. We say the book interests us but we really have made a connection that keeps us reading. It explains why some readers love nostalgic pieces while others enjoy sci-fi. There is something in that genre or with that author that connects with the reader.
This truth about making a connection with an audience was really brought to my mind a few years ago when I watched the movie The Passion of the Christ. I tend to disconnect when viewing emotional works, so I found myself analyzing the theater audience. How were they responding to the movie?
There was a scene where Mary is watching her brutalized son marched to the crucifixion. The audience cannot connect with that. Very few women can empathize with a son who was treated like Jesus. Instead, the writers give viewers a flashback. We see the very young Mary rush toward her child as he is falling on the gravel road. Every mother remembers trying to help her child with a skinned knee. Every mother knows that pain! In an instant I heard a wave of sobbing in the movie theater. "Cinema genius," I thought. I, too, remembered holding my crying child. I, too, was weeping.
What did I learn about writing from that moment in the movie theater? If you want to make a connection, try hitting a universal experience. In A Changing Season, my main character is dealing with some post traumatic stress, in the form of a dream. I considered having her dream about physical abuse, but thought that most people could not connect with such behavior from a parent. Instead, she dreams about a sharp, cold man who cannot communicate. I felt that people might connect with this sort of relationship. Any other abuse is merely hinted at.
Did I wimp out or did I find a way of connecting with an audience? You tell me.