We open on a distressed young woman, her heart racing with fear, her eyes welling with tears, her body racked with exhaustion from the constant emotional turmoil she faces. Her life is a struggle, and she has no idea when or if her prayers will ever be answered. She cries. A lot.
Okay, readers. How long do you give her before you tell her to get over it? One chapter? Five chapters? Stick with her until the end of her journey?
In one of my novels, a romantic suspense, my main character finds herself in a situation that is so emotional, so frightening and so frustrating, that her outlook for a good portion of the book is bleak, to say the least. She fights feelings of depression with every ounce of strength she can muster, yet isn’t very successful for much of the story. She’s a real damsel in distress, and just like in any good romance, a hero will appear to help her out, but not before she’s gone to some really dark places within herself.
But it’s a normal, human reaction. Her setting and issues really give her a great excuse. Her circumstances are completely out of her control, and she feels lost. In fact, I think that her reaction to the horror, anger, and frustration is far better than my own would be, if I found myself in the same situation.
But does a reader want to read a story about a girl who is truly suffering, even if her situation calls for it? Can she still be classified as a heroine if she spends much of her time struggling against her own emotions?
The concern is not whether or not the reader will permit the leading lady to have her emotions, because they will immediately recognize the truth and organic nature of them.
The concern is whether or not the reader will stick with the emotional roller-coaster that the story presents in order to find out whether or not our heroine is able to battle her circumstances to achieve her happy ending.
I recently made a few edits to my manuscript because I wanted my main character to be a bit stronger. Even though I know how strong she is, I worried that the reader would find her to be too weepy. I wanted her to cry just little less, and fight against her situation a little more, even if that meant I replaced a few tears with anger.
Anger seems a more powerful emotion than weeping fear, and therefore the reader would find her to be someone who refused to accept her situation, even though I had already written her to be a character of great faith (although desperate for answers).
Depression is powerful. Conveying those emotions of hopelessness are necessary for a good part of the story, for the situation truly calls for it. But deep inside her, even when she can’t see it, our leading lady is truly strong enough to become a hero.
Share with me: What do you think about characters who delve deeply into emotions? When the story calls for it, are you willing to stick with it until the end to see if that happy ending is possible? Or do you prefer your heroines to be just that, strong heroines from page one, with only slight vulnerabilities?
5 responses to “Sob Story”
It depends. For one thing, you better be showing those emotions, not telling them. But you know that. :PUmm. It depends on the reader's individual taste and how it's done by the writer. I personally don't like weepy characters. Hell, I don't like gloomy characters. (I was even annoyed with Harry in book 5.)But. If I have connected with the character at some point (that better be in the beginning or I won't read on), I would read on and sympathize. Truth is, I myself am not very strong, but that's why I read books. Because I want to read about people who are stronger than I am.Everyone likes different kinds of people and the same goes for books. So I bet someone will like your approach and someone will hate it. Again, what makes or breaks a character is how you do it. If they just weep, and do nothing to get out of the situation, then they're no heroes. If they sulk and yet do something about it, that's fine. 🙂
Ha! I was annoyed with Harry in bok 5, too :). I think different audiences tolerate (and appreciate) different levels of angst/emotions. Twilight has a ton of angst (as my dh says) but lots of readers love it (including me). I think the trick is to find a balance. Thanks for a great post!
Looking through the lens of emotions is a very real approach to a story. As humans we look through emotions constantly and at times need to see our emotions "validated." If we see a person racked with depression and get past it to achieve greatness, perhaps that will help those that feel the same qualities in themselves move past the darkness to experience some joy. All emotions are real and worth exploring and should be celebrated. No, not all books should contain a deep emotional hero/heroine, but I think that some should. Like Lyn posted above, everyone likes different kinds of books that have different approaches to the characters within them. As an author, you know why the emotions are important for the character to traverse, let them happen and celebrate with the character as they triumph over the pain.Lori Dilworth
Great comments, everyone!Agreed- sometimes a weepy, gloomy, brooding character can just get stale. I end up thinking, "Oh, come on already! Get over it!" (Yeah, Edward Cullen was too much for me by the time I had read through the Twilight series 5 or 6 times). 🙂 But if the emotions are organic and necessary, then I'll hang in there to find out if the happy ending is possible. Hoping my readers do the same!
One of my biggest pet peeves is a heroine who cries too much. When I was judging the Genesis contest, almost every entry had weepy heroines. Drove me bonkers.I think, as writers, there are ways to dive into the depth of emotion that comes with tragedy or whatever is happening without resorting to tears. Tears is the easy way. As far as hard stuff….tragic stuff in our novels – my debut novel centers around a very big tragedy. I hope readers will stick with it! Another key is to find ways to intersperse upbeat moments, despite the hardship.