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Creative Writing: Crafting Characters With Emotional Appeal in Mind

When you read the greatest fiction works ever, have you ever asked what was so compelling about them that you not only kept reading it, but you ended up reading all other major works of the writer? It may well be because the writer touched your emotional quotient quite a bit.

Every reader has a unique taste. Some like to read suspense thrillers, some tender love stories, and some others dark horror and bloodshed stories. That’s why there are all sorts of genres out there. When a writer gives you what exactly you want, you will keep reading. Here we come to the emotional appeal.

Character Imperfection

Perfect characters may not always be the upshot of a writer’s deliberation. It may well be due to ignorance. Usually the upcoming writers take it for granted that if they create perfect characters, they will be able to garner a bigger audience. It is not true. You have to ask yourself what a character would do in a particular situation. Perfect characters—perfect gunmen, perfect detectives, perfect villains, etc.,––are not part of the society. Don’t we say every man has effeminate characteristics?

So, make your characters imperfect. This can be done in a subtler way with your major characters. The examples of greatest characters with imperfection include Sherlock Holmes. He is a great crime buster, and is perfect that way. But for a normal human, his knowledge is so limited—almost nothing outside the business of crime busting. Also, he is a regular user of cocaine, a bad habit. So, there is a subtle feeling that though he is a perfect detective, he is still a normal human being with some bad habits and lack of knowledge.

How does emotional appeal comes from character imperfection? The mere fact that an imperfect character is more a real life character makes the emotional appeal stronger. Human beings feel the strongest attachment to human emotions and traits. So, an otherworldly perfect character cannot inspire such sense of intimacy on us.

Pathetic Conditions of Characters

Yesterday I happened to watch the film Carrie, based on Stephen King’s first novel. That film is a masterpiece of horror and pathos. It’s not the horror that affects us greatly, but the horrible condition of Carrie and her mother, the terrible turn of events in the film that makes her kill her friends and even her mother. All these factors can evoke deeply disturbing feelings in your mind that can last days. This is the success of this story. Carrie is there in everyone: an ignorant, defenseless (well, emotionally, not physically), frightened girl, who was made to believe that she was needed right before being mocked her in front of all.

Sidney Sheldon marks this kind of pathos explicitly in his work, Are You Afraid of the Dark? There is an African-American model (the fictional version of Naomi Campbell), who trips on the ramp. Sheldon explains that when she tripped, the world thought that she was also a normal human being, though she portrayed a supermodel—perceived as a perfect human being (!?).

Whichever Genre It Is

As I always said, you can’t have every single human being in the world to read your work. If you write perfect horror, horror enthusiasts would read it and no humor enthusiast. If you write humor, humor enthusiasts would purchase it. So, the trick is to concentrate the best on what you write the best, and not on everything.

The said emotional appeal is universal. It is there in comic fiction as it is in horror fiction as it is in love stories. Every human being has every feeling—love, happiness, anger, fear, hope. When they read a particular work, one of these feelings is in its height, and that makes the story read. If you write a comic novel and right in the middle of it, you turn things upside down by making it horrific, do you think the reader will stay?

This is a mistake of young writers. What they should do is concentrate on what they are doing. Let your honest human emotions develop the story.


This quite a bit tells you how your characters should be for a great fiction work. Characters are the backbone of any story and should be crafted with absolute care. Build your character from those around you; build your situations from those which you experienced. An experienced writer only can make the story believable without going autobiographical. Young writers should concentrate on situations and characters they have experienced to be successful.

Related Entries:

Building Great Characters
Creative Writing Style Guidelines
Some More of the Creative Writing Thoughts

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


  1. I love to entrance readers with creative usage of metaphor, afterall our mind understands best through emotion and implied meaning.

    Great post, thanks!


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