Stories are about people, except in the case of, say, Thomas the Tank Engine or a Ninja Turtle. In fact they are people too – just thinly disguised. They are characters and we care for them and are pulling for them just as we would if the writer had made them human.
The writer made us care. How does the writer make us care that a small engine can achieve his ambitions? It’s not sleight of hand or a trick they teach you in writer school. It’s that the writer himself or herself cares.
When you write a story it is important that you care about the people, the characters in it. It doesn’t matter if they are just like you, or from ancient history or from a future planet that ate the sun.
They are your people. Your mind gave birth to them. You are their parent and you care for them almost as you care for your physical children.
Yes, you write your characters into dire situations, something you’d never do to your kids. Yes, you write about them grieving and suffering. You have them make serious mistakes, become the victim of evils.
But you are watching over them, giving them moments of happiness and glimpses of redemption. They have ups as well as downs. They grow and they learn.
You have created them with care and you are feeling for them every moment of their life on the page.
I wrote a story recently about a mother whose own behaviour caused her to miss the wedding of her only daughter. I wept for her. I felt her pain as her daughter drove away.
And when I stopped sniffing and sniveling and threw the Kleenex away I re-wrote the scene. I wanted to be sure the reader felt the empathy I felt for this difficult, prejudiced woman.
Anyone can feel empathy for a kind, nice person. It takes a writer to make a reader feel empathy for a tank engine, an alien with three eyes or a woman who puts her own rigid beliefs before her daughter’s happiness.