Thursday, June 23, 2011

Care-acter Is Key


Let’s revisit the challenge of hooking your reader in the heart and expand upon it – to hooking your reader beyond fiction into memoir, dramatic nonfiction and almost any kind of writing you might choose to do.

The term “hook” can be elusive so let’s find another, more viscerally recognizable. We’ll call it connection. The reader is caught by a connection – specifically, a connection of the human sort. Touch the reader in a human way, and that reader is yours.

In fiction, the nature of human connection is evident. Create a character with whom the reader can identify. Do that by creating a character with whom the readers wants to identify – a character that reminds the reader of herself on her better days.

This character is no paragon – neither mastermind nor flawless epitome of anything other than one thing. That one thing is decency. The character with whom most readers comfortably identify is decent, decent, decent. In the thick of it, he manages to do the decent thing.

This principle holds true almost intact for memoir. The writer tells the story of a character named “I”, not a perfect being by any means but a human among humans doing the best she can. She fails on occasion, but tries nonetheless. The trying is key to the decency. Doing one’s best is, after all, the best one can do.

Dramatic nonfiction employs the elements of fiction writing. Chief among those elements is creation of the character at the center of the piece. The difference between this creation and a fictional one is that this character once lived, breathed and walked the earth in human form.

Which doesn’t mean, by the way, that we will want to read about him, however celebrated he may have been. Portray the decency amidst his humanity, and the connection is made with the reader and with yourself as writer in the bargain, because you’ll be hooked by him as well.

That brings us to the most crucial connection of all, the connection the reader makes with you as the voice telling the story or inhabiting the memories or revealing the subject. Yours must be a voice the reader wants to spend all those pages or pixels with as a close and trusted companion. Find your own authentic place of decency, your own noble attempt to do right by your writing, and you will make the deepest reader connection of all.

This is the connection – from author voice to reader consciousness – that transcends one particular work and reaches beyond it to your next and your next after that. Make that connection straight and true and you might just make your career a great success by becoming the voice the reader longs to experience again and again.

Connecting at author voice level applies to anything you might write, even the most practical service nonfiction. Tell that tale in a voice the reader trusts, and the hook is planted all the way to “The End” because you have made the reader CARE – about your character, your life, your object of attention and about you the author – the most essential care-acter of all.

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