Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I am Spider-Man (at least for a little while)


If you've ever cried or felt your heart pound while reading a book or watching a movie, then you've experienced what I call "reality blocking"--the process of becoming so engrossed in a story that you ignore your own feelings and adopt those of a fictional character. In the real world, nothing has happened, but your brain processes the information you see or read as if it were real, which, in turn, causes your body to react as if it were true. You "become" the character and see the world through his or her eyes.

Good writing focuses on shared emotions. Regardless of whether you write fiction or nonfiction, tapping into the emotions that make us human can improve your writing. Readers will root for the boy to get the girl of his dreams because we have all loved someone, and readers will empathize with the athlete who loses the race because we have all worked hard for something important, and suffered defeat. We feel the character's pain or joy.

So when I follow a fictional mother down a long, dark hallway toward her children's bedroom because she heard an unearthly noise, my fear increases with every step. She begins to sweat, and I begin to sweat. I relate because I worry that something bad might happen to someone I love. Because I care, I want to know what happens, and will continue to turn pages or sit through a movie that scares me. 

This also explains why I care about alien invasion, Spidey Senses, or a wizard who casts away evil. None of these things will ever affect me (probably), so why am I not content to sit at home and pet my cat and work on a craft project? Instead, I willingly spend my time and money sitting in a dark theater, or curled up in a comfortable arm chair to experience a world that looks nothing like mine. 

Through empathy, I can put myself in Spider-Man's shoes (does he wear shoes?) and think about what I would do in his situation. Would I feel guilty for Uncle Ben's death? Probably. I can relate to that emotion because I have experienced my own guilt and sorrow. 

Audiences will care when they know why the main character cares. If there is no emotion behind the action, then we are just watching a guy in a spider suit. Although I will never spin a web from my wrist, I connect to his emotions and put myself in the center of the action, which makes me believe that I am Spider-Man (at least for a little while). 

Here's a link for more information: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-psychology-fiction/201208/entering-anothers-experience


Mary Horner is a freelance writer, editor, and author of "Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing." She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.

2 comments:

  1. Mary--No, I don't think Spider Man wears shoes. I think it's all tights--just one big outfit made out of tights material. (However, I know nothing about superheroes.)

    I like the term "reality blocking." What book has recently gotten you that engrossed?

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  2. Hi Sioux, I just reposted this from an earlier Muffin post, trying to get some traffic here again, keeping up with social media and all that! I don't think there was one particular book, but I do lose myself in books quite often. Thanks for your comment!

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