Humanity. It is the center of our stories. Even if all the characters from your countless tales are aliens of the species <<inset name of shit you made up here>> or talking dogs, they are filled with humanity. Otherwise, good luck with relating to your audience.
And when you think about it, in a way, that’s all this is really about, right? Relating to your audience. On a basic level, it’s why we don’t write books in gibberish or in secret codes that only we have the key to. Through the intricate development of our brains (and a little bit of similar schooling), we are able to use combinations of symbols (you know them as words) to impregnate the minds of others with thoughts and images. It’s kind of like transportation…kind of.
But what am I jabbering about? Last week, during my writing group, someone commented that they related to a small part of my narrative because it made them realize something about themselves. In reality, it was a small part–maybe a paragraph at most–but it was one of the most important compliments I’ve ever received. My main character was browsing for books in the bookstore and I described how he loved to read and often found himself perusing the shelves more often than he should because of how even unread books lose their novelty after a few days. It is something I have surely experienced and I took that knowledge and pushed it in to my character. The person in my writing group said she is the same way with new books but never really noticed/identified it until now. Do you think this particular reader will be that much more invested in the main character now that that connection has been made? I think so. Well, at least, I hope so.
How many times has a character been so finely crafted that their actions and motivations resonate deeply with your own? If you only read fantastic books, then probably fairly often. I’ve read somewhere that the thing that separates genre fiction from literary fiction is ‘the human condition.’ I don’t fully agree with that (and for lack of want for an argument on the particular subject, I’m not saying I fully disagree either). To me, the human condition doesn’t just have to be major themes or deep intricacies. Sometimes they can be simple desires, nuances, or patterns of speech. Anything that tears down the wall that separates writer from reader and says ‘I know you, even if I’ve never met you. Because you are human, I know a part of you.’ Even the cheesiest vampire story can hold genuine lessons about ourselves and the people around us.
You’ve heard it before, but I’ll tell you anyway: write from experience. By exploring the characteristics of yourself and others you know best and integrating them in to your writing, you are more likely to hit a chord with someone out there who, at some level, has the same characteristic, or thinks out problems the same way, or has the same fear. To learn something about yourself when reading a book is one of the greatest feelings you can have when dealing with literature.
It’s only surpassed by the satisfaction in creating it.