Your protagonist, let’s call her Janet, steps into a cave. The cave is dark and damp, and she carefully steps across the slick surfaces. If she slips, she could fall into an endless cavern. Finally she reaches her destination, picks up the treasure she came for, and examines it closely. It is a remarkable sword, sharp even after centuries of lying dormant in a cave, unblemished. It pulses with magic.
Shrugging, Jane turns and leaves the cave…
Sounds kinda boring, huh? Just another quest to get a sword from a cave. A very, very standard fantasy trope that I’ve used myself. And by itself…who cares? Who cares about Jane, or why she’s in the cave picking up the sword?
That whole micro story is missing one very important element, that I think can make the difference between a best seller, and ‘just another book.’
Specifically, Jane’s emotions. She’s entering a dark and damp cave, how does she feel about that? Is she anxious? Afraid of the dark? Afraid of bats? Does she get a foreboding feeling from the cave? Or is she confident in what she is doing and where she is going?
How does she feel when she picks up the sword? Excited? Scared? Curious?
As she turns to leave, is she relieved to be getting out of there?
We can’t inhabit the character if we don’t know how he or she feels.
And thinking back to it, this is what made Jay Kristoff’s Lotus War Trilogy so incredible. Why my vision was blurred by tears when reading the final chapters in a public coffee shop. I cared about the characters, about Yukiko, because I knew how she felt about what was going on around her. I knew how she felt about the Arashitora (gryphon :D ) called Buruu. And how she felt when she lost those she loved most.
…and I think I’ve fallen short of this in the first Sword of Dragons book. Not entirely, but enough that at least one reader has commented on it. I do believe that Burning Skies has improved vastly on this, but I think there’s still room for improvement. I guess only time will tell, when the reader reviews start pouring in :)
I also know that I’ve made significant strides with this in The Orc War Campaigns. Emotion has played a very pivotal role in the characters from page one. I don’t just describe what they do, but you know why they do it, and how they feel about what’s going on in their world.
So, my advice to all of my fellow writers today: make sure you’re giving time to your character’s emotions. But find a balance. Don’t inundate your reader in it, but give enough that they become emotionally invested in your characters. Make us care about them. Make us love them :)
Thanks for reading!