It's not enough to write a great story, with great settings and plot lines and character arcs. You could get all of these right and still come away with a whole bunch of lifeless words on paper if your readers are unable to connect with your characters.
Characters are how we--as readers--experience stories, and without that critical element no book, no matter how technically flawless it might be, will fizzle quickly to flatline status.
Emotions are what bring characters to life, and they are also what connect us to a story. This isn't just writing dogma; its a neurological fact. There are multiple research studies--like this one, which looks at the brain's reaction to the stimulation of fiction, and this one, which looks at how the brain digests stories--that delve into the parts of the brain activated by good storytelling. These, of course, include language processing areas like Broca's and Wenicke's, but also other parts of the brain that a reader (or listener) uses to experience a story. It's not a stretch to say that stories light up the brain, both in the figurative and the literal sense. This means that a well-told story bring the reader's experiences and emotions into play, which helps them feel more engaged, more empathetic, and more relatable--critical ingredients in building trust between an author and a reader. (Consequently, emotion leads to memorability, which leads to retention...and, somewhere along the way, has an impact on why readers become loyal to certain authors.)
Stories also have a link to oxytocin, that neat little pleasure chemical in our brains. Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont College knows a lot about how stories generate oxytocin. In his book The Moral Molecule: How Trust Works he writes:
And if oxytocin is released then it is more likely that people will trust the situation and the storyteller and more likely that they will take whatever action the storyteller asks them to take.
The science, I know, is some heady stuff, but of paramount importance to understand, even if it's just the basics. Knowing how stories--and emotion--influence the brain doesn't just shape novels, but everything you write - stories, blogs, heck, even marketing content.
Stay tuned for more blogs on a more pragmatic approach to crafting character emotion.