Gen Con Panel Notes: Eliciting Emotional Responses

I’m at Gen Con this weekend, talking writing and playing games. Every time I go to a con, I take notes at panels, and then often don’t look at them again. This year I’m sharing.

Eliciting Emotional Responses

Greg Wilson, John Helfers (m), Chuck Wendig, Elizabeth Bear, Aaron Rosenberg

Having the readers connect w characters on an emotional level. How do you craft a character, plot, or book that will resonate with readers?

Eb – get the reader to connect with the character (sympathize with)
Doesn’t believe in audience insertion characters
How :
Give the character something they want very much, something they love very much. Or make them incredibly interesting.

GW – create the character that the reader is in real life. Wesley in sttng. But it didn’t work bc ppl didn’t want to identify with him, they wanted to be Picard, Riker, worf…
Don’t make a character that is the reader. Make a character the reader can understand and get to know, even if they don’t agree with or like them

Ar – making their emotional responses reasonable. Unless you’re going for the opposite.
Ned stark in GoT – most sensible people wouldn’t throw everything away for honor, but it caused an emotional response in readers
Cw – everyone gets what he’s doing, we’ve all put ourselves on the line for something. The chestnut write what you know. You’ve experienced awesome stuff and terrible things. Some writers are afraid to mine that. You have to look to your own life for emotional moments.
The struggle in SF is ppl make the quest the thing you care about – but that’s not what ppl care about. They care about the hero’s problem with his mother and him trying to impress the princess.
JH – collection of WWII novellas. Protag betrayed other pows because it’s dishonorable to try to escape. His wife has become a prostitute to support herself – you can’t eat honor. The different emotional response of the two of them.

JH – audience insertion character. Twilight. So blank you can put yourself in there. Is it an effective use or a cheat? She did it successfully.
AR – it’s an exception. Unfortunately it spawned others trying to do it and not succeeding. Considers it a chest.
EB – it’s a focus on a different thing. One of the best characters recently is Katniss. Twilight seems like Bella is more of a scaffold or placeholder. Katniss is extremely well developed, prickly and difficult. She’s not a typical protag, not easy to like.
Both can appeal to readers for different reasons.
Harry potter is not particularly strongly characterized. Like twilight it’s a world people want to go live in.
AR – in HP the world is amazing. Twilight is less about the world than the specific vampire characters. Bella is a blank slate for the vampires to react to and act upon. Harry is an active character.
EB – the most interesting character is the one who runs toward gunfire.

GW – in HP you have an ensemble cast. Gives people a way to approach from different angles.
AR – it’s hard to craft a character you’ll…a cast gives you a broader range of emotional responses.

CW – one way to see it in action is sit at the rpg table. You’re creating characters and motivations.

JH – group dynamic – examples of minor characters in your books? Does reader attachment influence how you see them?
EB – I don’t have the bad boy gene. Han Solo is chewbacca’s sidekick. I sometime write complete jerks and get fan mail who say x is so sexy.
AR – does lots of tie in writing so characters aren’t his. In back of head has possibility for pirates of Caribbean. First movie is good. Second one has character who should be in supporting role as focal point. But it doesn’t work. In first movie we id more with the lovers. Sparrow is secondary. When you make him central the emotional responses are muddled and we can’t connect who him.
EB – so don’t make a movie where darth vadar is the central character?
AR – sometimes characters pop up who are entertaining … Love to hate
CW – the audience doesn’t know what they want. We’re there to hurt the audience. The characters are the proxy by which we torment the audience.

GW – In twelfth night you have ensemble quest. Main character could be almost any of them. The jester is always wiser but if they’re at the center of the tale they’re not the outsider
When sparrow is at center who’s his foil? It overwhelms what the audience is looking for.
Sometimes if a character pops up that people want more of, making them the center makes them lose what makes them interesting in the first palace.

Ar – emotional responses don’t work well when dealing with 24 syndrome. Jack Bauer should be dead. Nonstop emotional responses become ineffective. You need highs and lows so reader can catch their breath.
CW – in music terms, you’re looking for multiple instruments.
GW – it’s dynamics. changing the energy you feel.
The only exception is movie crank where guy has to keep his heart rate high.
Ar – but there are still ups and downs. Where adrenaline drops and poison starts to take effect


Recut trailer of Monty Python and holy grail – makes it into a serious movie. Contrast between ridiculous encounter and how serious they take it.

Depressing endings and having readers still come back – have a ray of hope
People feel better after seeing King Lear – they saw the mistakes, his common humanity. They hold their own family closer.
CW – likes complicated victories where some is won, some lost
EB – that’s more realistic.

Emotionally withdrawn characters?
JH – wrote one unintentionally. Very reserved. A diametrically opposed person started talking to her and connected with her on her level.
EB – in Worldwired every character begins in post traumatic distress, numb. It was hard and don’t recommend it. Handled it by giving people goals and dealing with the emotional disconnection part of the conflict.
The depression itself becomes an adversary. Dealing with Spock – put him in situations where emotional response is part of the struggle.
They can also serve as a foible for other characters. Can become an obstacle for the other characters.
It comes down to finding ways to insert conflict.
Watson – Holmes would be hard to pull off as a narrator.
GW – Susan Calvin is less human feeling than the robots she’s talking about. (I, robot) movie changed that, badly.
The Magicians – character is emotionally withdrawn. Because that’swhat teens Grossman knew were like.

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