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Getting Inside Yourself by Constance Gillam


I sent out a project to an editor and received a reject.  I love the story and think it’s one of the best of all the stories I’ve written, so I wanted to take a good look at her reason (s) for rejecting it. She said she couldn’t empathize with the character and the character lacked emotional depth.

Now that statement struck a cord with me. I know bringing emotion to the page is hard for me, but I’m determined to conquer that writing flaw because this story deserves to be told and felt.

Carol Burnside’s blog from a few days ago raised an interesting point: the writer has to feel the emotion before the reader can.

Robert McKee, the author of Story says, “The only reliable source of emotional truth is yourself. If you stay outside your characters, you inevitably write emotional clichés. To create revealing human reactions, you must not only get inside your character, but get inside yourself.”

How do you get inside yourself? You can portray how you would react in that crisis, but is it how your protagonist would act?

Now this isn’t meant to be a blog on self-analysis. But I’m interested in how you get your reader to empathize with your character? How do you make sure they have emotional depth and that emotion is true?


Connie Gillam is the author of The 5th Realm, a paranormal Young Adult novel:

Coming in March 2014: Lakota Dreaming.

Find the author at:















Carol Burnside - March 10, 2014 - 5:03 am

I always ask myself how I would feel in the same situation that the POV character is in. What physical cues would there be? Would I try to hide it from the person I’m speaking to, and if so how would that manifest itself inside me and outwardly. Then I modify that slightly, given the character’s personality and backstory. IMO, to increase impact, emotions must be layered much the same as plot, using as many of the senses as possible.

Marilyn Baron - March 10, 2014 - 6:25 am

I agree with Carol’s comment. I also wonder if one person can’t empathize with the character, whether another can with the same character, or if it’s universal. If you feel a connection to the character others will.

Kate Hill - March 10, 2014 - 8:54 am

That’s what I was thinking as well, Marilyn. One person might feel no connection to a character and someone else might. As a reader how many times have you not enjoyed a particular character or story, but others have or vice versa.

To the original question, though, about how you get inside yourself, for me it’s more about forgetting myself and becoming that character. How do they feel, talk, think and act? It’s like while I’m writing them I have to almost become them for the moment because most of the time the characters will act in a way I wouldn’t.

Susan Carlisle - March 10, 2014 - 9:01 am

I try to become the character. In order to do that I much like them and like what is happening in the story. Identify in some way. It usually takes until the middle of the book to do that so I have to go back and add emotion in late.

Pam Asberry - March 10, 2014 - 9:09 am

I’m working on the same thing in my own writing, Connie. So I’m going to be very interested in seeing what everyone else has to say about this!

Tamara LeBlanc - March 10, 2014 - 10:09 am

Hmmm, that’s a great question Connie. Something I’ll have to think about when it comes to my own writing. I’m not sure how I come up with it…I wonder now if I’ve got enough emotional empathy in my stories. Will have to work hard on that.
By the way, I LOVE all of your stories!!!!!!!!

Connie Gillam - March 10, 2014 - 10:53 am

Last night after I wrote and posted this blog, I started editing the manuscript in question.

I was more in tune with the feelings and actions of the characters. It was as though, opening up in the blog about my difficulties with emotions released something in me and all my senses were wide open. I could see more, feel more, taste more. Weird.

Connie Gillam - March 10, 2014 - 3:35 pm


Great advice. I never thought about layering emotions and using all of the senses. Very interesting.

Connie Gillam - March 10, 2014 - 3:39 pm


Maybe what appeals to one will or will not appeal to another. So true. My book club just discussed a book. One of the members loved the book, loved the characters. The rest of us are scratching our heads, wondering if we read the same book.

Connie Gillam - March 10, 2014 - 3:43 pm


Great advice. Hopefully, we write characters that are not an extension of ourselves. To portray a character that’s completely alien, and do it well, would take someone who knows their craft well.

Connie Gillam - March 10, 2014 - 3:48 pm


Do you think you’ll ever write a character you don’t like? A couple of years ago, I read a book whose main character was an assassin. Now, he was an assassin with principles, but a killer just the same. By the end of the book, the author had me rooting for that character.

Connie Gillam - March 10, 2014 - 3:56 pm

Good luck, Pam.

Connie Gillam - March 10, 2014 - 4:44 pm

Thank you, Tamara!

Sandra Elzie - March 10, 2014 - 7:07 pm

Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine myself in the person’s shoes…then concentrate on what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling.

Mary Marvella Barfield - March 10, 2014 - 11:04 pm

I think there must be a point of reference readers and characters share sometimes, but some things should grab most readers and squeeze their hearts. If I feel angry when my characters do, that’s good. If my characters are sad, I’d better feel a tear coming or that tightness in my throat that comes before tears.
When characters have had difficult pasts, that should come through at times. I don’t need to have been in the same situation, but I need to feel as though I have. If you have been writing a scene with anger and/or violence, you might feel anger at Jim and not know why. It can spill over.

MJ Flournoy - March 10, 2014 - 11:32 pm

I often cry with my characters. When I feel their angst, it is easier to put the words on the page and bring the emotion to the reader. If I’m not feeling it, I can’t write it. It just doesn’t flow.

Maxine - March 11, 2014 - 9:11 am

Connie, Great question and great comments. I really try to be that character while I’m typing, but I do like these answers. And, it’s true, another person may see exactly what you intend. Best of luck.

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