Over the years, I’ve run across more than a few contradictory comments by readers, where one reader finds a particular “fault” and another reader says that what the first reader said wasn’t true at all. My “favorite” set of such conflicting statements deal with the reader’s emotional attachment. I’ve written a number of books where one reader says he or she can’t get emotionally involved, and another reader finds the same book emotionally strong, even riveting.
And they’re both right.
That’s because empathy or emotional attachment comes from a reader being able to identify with the character and/or the situation in which the character is immersed. If a reader can identify with both the character and the situation, then the reader’s emotional attachment is likely to be stronger, and if the reader can identify with neither… there won’t be much, if any, emotional attachment.
I’ve had male readers write and tell me that they just can’t identify with female characters, any female characters by any author. I’ll take their word on that, although I do wonder somewhat about their personal life…but that’s their affair, not mine.
Some readers can identify with a wide range of characters, and some with not so wide a range.
Then, there’s always the question of how well an author presents a character. Some authors, and Hemingway is an example, offer little in the way of direct emotional portraits of a character and even keep the language so spare that actions are about the only revealing feature. Other authors, more in the romance field, I suspect, practically offer emotional blueprints of their characters. From what I’ve read, most authors fall somewhere in between.
I had one reader say that a particular character was unfeeling, especially when he lost a lover in a military action. The character never said much. He just took out a throwing knife and kept throwing it at a target until his hands were bloody and the target was reduced to splinters. Readers reacted in different ways to that scene.
I’ve also had readers complain that there wasn’t much emotional characterization when the characters never directly said how they felt, even though their acts and speech patterns and delivery revealed a great deal. But if a reader doesn’t pick that up, then he or she is likely to have less emotional involvement.
Personally, I don’t believe there’s any good way to get emotional involvement from all readers, because, if an author uses every possible way of appealing, that’s likely to result in an excessive emotional overflow… not to mention the possibility of excess wordage.
In the end, what I do is to show the emotional acts, cues, and words that fit the character in a way that fits into the flow of the story and leave it to the reader… and, frankly, accept the fact that nothing I write will appeal to everyone.