I have been wanting to write about this for quite some time. Today seems like the day.
It has come to my attention that there are two kinds of readers when it comes to reading about emotions. (There may be more, but I’ve only discovered two of them.)
The first one, I shall call the Spock Reader. The second I shall call the Elf Reader.
Spock Readers distain shows of emotion. Many men fall into this category, but I know some women who say the same thing. To them, emotion is barbaric, and calmness is a sign of advancement. Characters who show emotion are immediately dismissed as either feminine or weak. Cool-headed, collected characters are to be admired.
The characters admired by the Spock Reader embody the best of humanity—mankind’s ability to rise above the primitive and resist the animal passions, the triumph of the intellect.
Elf Readers are the opposite. They live in a world where only the most highly-discerning are swept away by strong emotions, while the masses are callous and unfeeling—incapable of appreciating what is truly there. The Elf Reader, to quote my dad’s favorite line from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita: "burns with the bliss and suffers the sorrow of every creature”. Characters who show deep emotional reactions reach them. Cool, emotionless characters seem stiff and lacking.
The characters admired by the Elf Reader embody the best of humanity—mankind’s ability to emphasize with others, our love of art, of beauty, of music, of the things that touch the soul.
To the Spock Reader, an ideal character to read about might be a soldier who never loses his cool even in the heat of battle. Detective books and thrillers often have such characters. Spock himself is such a character.
To the Elf Reader, an ideal character might be a lonely young girl, perhaps with a cruel stepmother, who suffers because of her intelligence and compassion allow her to experience so much more than the uncaring people around her. Books for teens and romances often have such characters.
Which brings us to the author’s dilemma: which character do we put in our books?
Because, folks, we can’t do both at once, make our characters both cold as ice and hot as flame.
Or can we?
There are characters who appeal to both groups. Spock himself is a good example. The Spock Readers love his logic. The Elf Readers love his ears…er…I mean, his struggle with his human side, the emotions he attempts to control. In this one character, both readerships can find something to relate to. (I would say empathies with, but that’s Elf Reader talk right there.)
But then some viewers found Spock cold and preferred Bones, with his warmth and compassion, or Kirk, with his ability to make us feel that he really saw and appreciated what was best in human beings.
And yet, not every story can carry both kinds of characters. Books that cater to one of these readerships run the risk of losing all their readers if they try to cater too much to the other readership at the same time. Readers who love James Bond are often not the same ones who love Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The audience of the Bourne Identity are often not the ones found waiting at the bookstore at midnight with their roses and ballgowns for the next Twilight novel.
So…how does an author decide how far to go? How much should our elf burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrow of all mankind? How icy should our Vulcan be? If we go to a farther extreme, will we gain more loyalty out of our desired readership? Or just lose the middle ground reader who now finds our characters too emo or too cold.
What is your preferred reading style? Where do you like authors to draw the line?