Ok, so, there are some books that have emotional situations in them, and my brain understands that the things happening are emotional, that the character is feeling things, that it would be horrible to ever be in that situation for real… yet, for some reason, I just don’t really feel emotional.
But then there are other books that I just feel in my gut, my chest, my whole body. I myself get tense and on-edge and upset and teary. I actually feel what the characters are feeling right along with them.
So that got me to thinking, why? Why is that some books do that to me while others don’t? Let’s discuss!
Obviously the actual situations in the book are a factor in how emotional a book will make us. If a book is all rainbows and unicorns, then you’re not going to end up crying or feeling tense because there’s nothing to cry or feel tense about.
However, for me personally, simply having an emotional situation in a book doesn’t guarantee I’ll feel emotional, it only means there’s potential for emotion. For example, when a character in a book dies, it’s usually not the actual death I’m sad about. As much as we all like to joke, I know that fictional characters are just that: fictional. They’re not people I actually know or who are my friends or who anyone in real life is actually going to miss in the way a real person would be missed. One of my absolute top favorite characters is dead, but it didn’t bring a single tear to my eye when it happened. However, I’ve shed tears over characters who didn’t even make any of my favorites lists simply because I felt what the other still-living characters were feeling about the death. That is the reason character deaths (and other emotional things, but I was using death as the example) affect me. And that brings me to the next possibility…
I think the way a book is written has a major impact on how emotional it makes me. Somehow, some writers are just better able to make me feel through the characters, to put me in their heads—even the ones who aren’t POV characters—and really hit me with all the feels. Whereas other writers make me feel more like I’m just watching the characters from the outside rather than living through them. That’s why a character death in one might might make me cry while a death in another book might not make me feel a thing.
I have no idea how authors actually do this though. That’s what has me so perplexed. It has nothing to do with POV since I’ve read 3rd person books that made me emotional and 1st person books that made me feel distanced. And as I just said, good authors will make me just as emotional about characters whose heads I’m not even in. It’s like there’s some sort of X factor at work.
Another possibility could be that we feel emotion more when it’s a situation we’re familiar with ourselves. At least, I’m pretty sure I do, and, from what I’ve seen in others’ reviews, I’m pretty sure other people do too. It makes sense. If we’ve been through something ourselves, we know exactly how it feels. We don’t have to try and form a new understanding, we simply have to call up a memory, one that comes complete with all the emotions and thoughts and effects and nuances.
Maybe how much we relate to the characters has an effect too. If we see ourselves in a character and find them relatable, it’s probably easier to put ourselves in their shoes and then feel what they’re feeling, even if it’s something we haven’t felt personally.
I suppose our mood at the time of reading could be a factor too. If we’re already in a somber mood, emotional books might hit us harder. If we’re stressed and distracted, we not be able to sink into the emotions of a book very well. Etc., etc.
I feel like the writing itself is the only thing that truly explains how two different books can both have the same situation but one doesn’t make us feel while the other does, and that’s something that still baffles me because how? I’ve read some books in which I’m really not sure what the authors could’ve done differently, but for some reason I just didn’t feel very much while reading. But I guess that’s what makes some authors really stand out; they just have that magical writing touch. And I’m sure the other things do factor in sometimes too. But it’s still always kind of strange—and disappointing—when a book that I logically know is emotional doesn’t actually make me feel that way.