Kat: Make Them Care

While working over my ACT III this week, trying to find a slam-bang finish, I went back through my old McD notes and reviewed a few of the major writing concepts we learned. Conflict, character arc, story structure, beginnings and endings, most of these concepts have been discussed at length here at Eight Ladies, but there’s one that resonates with me more than the others as I look for my ending.

As writers, we are in the business of making the audience care.  Whether consciously or not, it’s what we’re all striving to do as we write our stories. We want to grab our audience from the very first page and hook them into the story. The best way, maybe the only way to do this is to make them care about our characters and their stories.

Andrew Stanton talks about the idea in detail in his nineteen minute TED talk: “The Clues to a Great Story”.  For those of you who enjoy watching a good storyteller, I highly recommend you spend twenty minutes on it. If nothing else, the sexy Scottish accent he uses in his opening bit makes it time well spent. For those of you writing your own story, however, it’s a vital primer on developing a good story that shouldn’t be missed.

Andrew Stanton: The Clues to a Great Story

13 thoughts on “Kat: Make Them Care

  1. So true, Kat! I heard an editor speak at an RWA conference once, and someone from the audience asked her what genre of manuscript she was looking for. And she said she didn’t care about genre, but she cared about emotions. She wanted to laugh or cry or get mad or scared or have some other big emotion when she read it. When we’re busy worrying about arcs and acts and beats, it’s easy to forget that the whole point is to engage readers. All the structural elements in the world are just in service to make readers care.

    That Andrew Stanton talk is fab, btw!

    • I forgot how good it actually was until I looked at it again over the weekend. There are so many great things in it, that I don’t think I can grasp them in one sitting. I found a lot of stuff I didn’t catch the first time around. It’s definitely worth a second (or third) look.

  2. This, to me, is the hardest part of writing. How do good writers make us CARE so much? What is their secret? It’s just words…we all use them, but damn, some people use them better than others. Way better.

    • I’ve been reviewing a few of my favorite books and characters to see if I can figure out the moment I began to really care about them and what it was that did it. So far, it’s always something different, some intangible thing that makes me care.

      In Lord of Scoundrels I think I cared about Dain the moment his head went into the loo (think that was in the prologue). In other cases, it’s not something I can clearly point to and say, right there, that’s when. Mostly it’s a gradual process that I don’t even notice.

      Hey, if it was easy, everyone would do it, right?

      • I love that his shoulders were already too wide for the bullies to dunk him properly. Such a great trailer for the dark, brooding hero he grows up to be.

      • I just reread “Devil’s Cub” by Georgette Heyer…by the end, when Mary is off the coach and at the inn where the innkeeper won’t let her stay, and about to be kicked out onto the street, my heart was bleeding for her. Then to have the duke be so kind (although she didn’t know who he was)…I was near in tears as she recounted her story to the duke. *sigh* I cared for Mary from the beginning, but I didn’t care much for Vidal until Mary shot him, because it was then that he changed.

        • I think this is an important point — you only really need ONE character that the reader cares about, at least at first. That character may be able to carry the scenes until people start caring about the deeper aspects of the other characters . . . . YMMV.

  3. Spot on, Kat, I think this is absolutely the not-so-secret sauce. Being transported, experiencing big emotions is the great joy of reading, or art, or sport.

    I think it starts by having the characters care, and putting them through the wringer. As Justine says, it’s so damn hard though. I keep going back to finished scenes and knowing there’s still not enough at stake – emotionally I have to go bigger, push harder. Argh.

    • Yes, but you recognize that, Jilly, and sometimes that’s the toughest part. Our stories are our babies and we tend to gloss over their flaws. That you can see what needs to be done–heck that’s huge.

      • I agree with Kat. Knowing that you have to add more juice is 3/4ths of the battle IMHO. Once identified, that’s where I run into the problem of saying the same thing the same way (I have a lot of “shocked expressions” in my book right now). First, it’s telling, not showing, but beyond that, I am just not that creative…yet.

        • Oh I don’t agree, Justine. I think you’re very creative, it’s just that some of these concepts take time to learn and implement. Plus, like you, I’ve got a ton of “placeholding” (shocked expressions) in my first draft that will be expanded upon as I revise.

          Check out Kay’s post today (POV). Awesome explanation (and examples) on how to get to a deep (close) POV.

  4. This is so true, but it scares the beejeebers out of me because sometimes the things I care about are not what everyone else cares about. Is the general audience even going to get it? I can’t even face thinking about that — I just have to write what I care about, and hope that I have a niche audience out there somewhere . . . . It’s too scary to think that something I care so much about will be a homeless story, wandering around without a reader . . . .

    Another problem is, do I have all that I care about on the page? Or do I still have half of it stuck in my head?

    Another problem, of course, is that I hate being tricked into caring. Does the kid’s dog die on the screen? If it’s well done, of course I care. If it’s just a trick to make me care, I still cry, but I am very resentful toward the writer. Those caring bits have to be integral parts of the story and plot — they have to make the story/plot move, and if you took them out, your story has to fall apart, I think.

    Or maybe not. I’ll have to think about it.

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