I love reading a good story, but each 'good' story reaches me on a different level. Sometimes it's because I immediately identify with a character or the character's untenable situation. Sometimes it's because the storyline makes me think, or whet's my curiosity, or because the story takes me somewhere in time or space I've never been. The major link tying these together is the emotional one, which often involves bonding with a character. With the characters who catch my mind, I laugh, cry, feel their pain, their doubts, their regrets, and breath with deep satisfaction at their triumphs. These are the stories I remember best because of that emotional identification.
I don't mean to imply that I want only what would be classified as a morally impeccable character. The main characters I like can begin as troubled or injured people, but their road to redemption must be lined with believable problems and setbacks. There are a few situations where I have trouble suspending my disbelief to get into the story.
I'm reading a book right now where the hero leaves me ambivalent. Yes, there is a reason for his immoral behavior: survival in the mean streets of one of America's cities. And yes, he grew up with a horribly abusive parent. He has finally caused the death of someone whom he considered a friend and thinks his own death is near until the unobtainable woman he loves arrives.
Sorry, I'm having a real hard time bonding with this character or the heroine who will forgive him anything. While I know he is going to try and redeem himself for this woman, I don't buy it. Not yet, at least. Maybe the author will surprise me.
Stories about guys or gals in tough times can be very emotional; however, I also believe continual criminal or cruel behavior changes the tenor of a mind making it impossible to change without colossal cost of some kind. Nor can I identify with a character who is just too good to be true; I don't believe them. I guess what I'm saying is the more human the character in respects to how I view people, the more real they feel, the more emotionally involved I become in their story. Without that, for me, there is no reason to read.
So I know the bounds of my emotional relationship with characters, and while I can make that tie and enjoy it, it does have its limits.
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Dr. Bob Rich