Monday, 22 November 2010

Creating Identification

A student read out the start of his novel in class a couple of weeks ago. It featured a policeman dealing with his first experience of a riot and was well written. It went down a storm. But what struck me was how cleverly he'd engaged the readers right from the start by having the policeman try out what had worked in training. In the training session the pretend rioters had run away. But in the real situation the rioters stood their ground and attacked back. They didn't react as they were supposed to do, and the policeman was overwhelmed by feelings of panic.

Now, most of us don't have direct experience of riots. It's interesting, but we're at one step removed from it. But I think everybody has had the experience of being shown how X is supposed to work, then having a go ourselves and discovering it's one thing when the instructor does it, quite another when we do it.

So, although the exact situation was different, we'd all been through the same general emotions. We could identify with the character, and wanted him to succeed - as we ourselves had wanted succeed when we were in the equivalent situation. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the riot, we were rooting for the character and his very human emotions, which were so like ours.

Put your characters in situations where they experience emotions we can identify with, and we'll engage with them.

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