I just finished reading a really well-written book, LOST CREED, by Alex Kava, an award-winning and best-selling author. The subject was gritty–using kids for human trafficking. The female protagonist was an FBI profiler. The male protagonist was a K-9 handler. Many of the characters in the story were in law enforcement. They were professionals who’d trained themselves not to react on the job, to stay detached, in control. It rang true. But for some reason, it blunted the emotional impact of many of the scenes for me.
A boy they rescued had been sexually abused and had blocked many of his memories. I couldn’t imagine what he’d been through, but thankfully, while the detective questioned him, my emotions felt distant, detached, because neither the boy nor the detective showed too many feelings. And that made me remember.
Somewhere in my writing journey, I realized that pivotal scenes in my mysteries didn’t have the emotional impact I wanted them to. The situations certainly called for high emotions. I’d set them up to deliver, but they didn’t. And I wasn’t sure why not. So I studied some authors who twisted my feelings willy nilly when I read them. And then I studied a few experts on the subject. And I realized that I feel what the characters feel. When they’re afraid, I’m afraid. When they’re devastated, so am I, because when I read, I relate to the protagonist. I learn what he learns and feel what he feels. Not because the author TELLS me he’s sad and broken or cheerful and upbeat, because he SHOWS me he is.
In LOST CREED, I mostly saw the characters in their professional roles. Since they didn’t break down or cry or punch something in anger, I could hold my emotions at bay, too. The young girl locked in the dark basement as punishment was the only character I could really relate to, because I felt her fear, her helplessness, and I knew she wouldn’t give up, that she’d try to escape again.
LOST CREED was a great read, but I missed the joys and frustrations of stories where I feel like I’m walking in the protagonist’s shoes. Many times, I felt like an observer gathering clues, just like the cops and Creed were doing. Realistic, yes. And maybe it made the topic easier to deal with, but the next time I read another Louis Kincaid, I’m going to pay attention to why he tugs at me more, why I feel like I know him so much better. And I’m pretty sure, it’s because I feel what he’s feeling.