Join Lisa Cron for an in-depth discussion in this video Story check (Feeling what the protagonist feels), part of Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story.
Now for a handy list of questions to make sure that your reader is able to feel what your protagonist is feeling. First, is the reader aware of your protagonist's specific expectations so we can tell whether they are being met or not? This is something that writers very often forget to tell us, why? They assume that the reader knows what the protagonist expects, or just as common, they assume that a general answer will suffice. James going to a party and Jane expects to have a good time, but that's a general and a given.
Who wouldn't want to have a good time? The real question is what specifically would have to happen at the party in order for Jane to have that good time? Second, does everything that happens affect your protagonist emotionally in the moment? This doesn't mean that the protagonist has to get all emotional and weep or laugh or go nuts and slug someone. It means that the reader must know what emotion the protagonist is feeling, especially when that emotion is at odds with what he is saying.
Third, does your protagonist react to everything that happens? Sometimes this is a physical reaction. Sometimes it's what the protagonist thinks or feels. Remember, a story isn't about what happens on the surface, it's about how what happens affects your protagonist. Fourth, can the reader see the causal link between what happened and why your protagonist reacted the way she did? This comes back to making sure that the reader knows what the protagonist's expectations were.
If they know what she expected, chances are they will understand why she's reacting the way she does. Not only that, but they will be able to anticipate what she might do as a result. Finally, if you're writing in the first person, does everything reflect to protagonist's point of view? Remember, in a first-person account, nothing is ever neutral, even for a moment. This means the narrator will never tell us about anything that doesn't affect him in some way.
Think of the narrator as a narcissist, but in a good way. Everything in the story relates to him, which is why he's telling us about it in the first place. Now that you know how to make sure the reader can feel what you're protagonist feels, let's practice doing it. Open the example from your exercise files. Can you improve this very rough draft by showing us how the protagonist is reacting to what's happening?
- What is a story?
- Hooking your reader
- Feeling what the protagonist feels
- Being specific
- Creating suspense and conflict
- Writing flashbacks and subplots