Friday, October 26, 2007

Emotional contact points

I recently came across this video of opera singer Paul Potts on a friend's blog, and while I very rarely spend time on YouTube, I've watched this a number of times since then. There's something about it that really hits me, and I think it's the same thing that makes me connect with a book on a deeper level. First, the execution is brilliant. Seriously, I could listen to that voice all day. And while I'm sure most people in that audience were not opera fans, they were unable to stay in their seats when he sang. Whatever their surface preferences, Potts managed to resonate on a level all of us share. Secondly, the story of who he is--a mobile phone salesman who grew up with a lot of bullies and has always struggled for self-confidence--made his victory all the sweeter. It's the underdog element, it's the getting-down-to-the-wire-before-all-is-lost element; in short, it's the things that make a reader unable to shut a book. I want to write things with humor and entertainment value, but at the same time, I want some point of the book to make that point of contact with my reader. I want to say, we're different people, we live totally different lives, and yet--we tap in to a deep, common well. I want to leave something for a reader to carry around and think about. To feel. I'm not entirely sure how to do this, but I think it does need to have a little humor mixed in for balance, and I think it's got to test the character more than they think they can be tested, and I think it's got to be both universal and specific.

Here are a few books that hit me this way:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
, when he walks into the forest in chapter 34.

A Little Princess
, on that extremely cold night in the attic, just before Sara was discovered by the next-door neighbor.

, when Catherine runs through the parking lot with Jason, as well as all the fishtank moments with David.

The House of the Scorpion
in the many moments where the MC struggles with having human feelings, yet believing he isn't a "real" person.

A Wrinkle in Time
, when Meg goes back to get Charles Wallace.

Obviously, most of these points are climactic moments. What makes these climaxes special is that I feel just how much the characters stand to lose if things don't work out.

What about you? What books do you carry around with you and don't want to let go? And what makes an emotional contact point for you?