As mentioned in last month's blog post, I participated in a Zoom videoconference by reading a personal essay on racism in which I incorporated a tragic vignette about a long-deceased ancestor. In this post, I'm sharing my unexpected emotional reaction at the conclusion of that reading, which I believe demonstrates the importance of strong character development in writing fiction.
The discovery of a bounty notice posted by my White third great-grandfather (confirmed by DNA) advertising a cash reward for the capture of my Mulatto third great-grandmother and her husband (not genetically related to me) was simultaneously shocking and intriguing. Eager to learn more, I explored the discovery from the perspective of an objective investigator hunting for data. I wanted to know what life must have been like back then for this couple. What were their circumstances at the time they fled?
Although the presentation of my discovery was rather matter-of-fact, the vignette elicited gasps from the audience. It wasn't until the subsequent question-and-answer session that I was forced to confront the intimate connection I'd unwittingly made with my "character."
The first question asked of me was, "What would you say to your great-grandmother if she were alive today?" Suddenly, I was struck with the reality that this woman was my flesh and blood. I'd engaged in a fact-finding search about the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, but I'd also traveled back into her soul as if I'd run off with her. Contemplating an answer to that initial question, I was overcome with emotion and unable to speak.
Strong character development establishes an emotional bond with the reader that elicits a range of feelings, including empathy. I want to inspire my readers to journey into the heads and hearts of my fictional characters where they can linger and develop a connection as profound as that which I experienced. If I can make my readers gasp, then I'll know I've done a decent job!