1. It doesn't matter how dramatic your events are, if they don't carry emotional weight, they quickly become two-dimensional words on a page. Otherwise known as "Meh."
2. If the character's actions aren't consistent with the information the author provides, their intentions and motivations appear flimsy. As I reader I no longer trust the protagonist.
3. It doesn't matter how tight and smooth your prose is, if your character looks dim-witted or gullible, I won't care about what happens to him / her.
Now, I can assure you, the very talented writer whose manuscript I read never intended for their protagonist to appear implausible, gullible or inconsistent. But that's our eternal problem, isn't it? Communicating what's in our heads to what's on the page.
So here's a few tips from my experience. Please feel free to share any you've read or discovered in the comments:
1. Never, ever, explain. If you're getting critique notes that indicate readers find the character, motivation, or plot implausible, resist the urge to explain in the narration. If they aren't convinced by the picture, they won't be convinced by your reasoning. Take the time and energy to more fully develop your protagonist, your villiains, your world building... whatever it takes to show the reader why the things that are happening are totally belieavable.
2. Don't develop character traits in narration (at least, not primarily). Let your characters meet situations which allow them to demonstrate how they think through their actions and reactions. If your character is short tempered, don't have another character say "Gee whiz, I sure don't wanna talk to George. He gets mad so easy!" Instead let George snap at students in his classroom, or make cutting comments to his wife. Little things that can be woven into the rest of the plot as it's progressing.
3. Trust your readers to understand. Most readers have been reading a long time. Consciously or not, they understand the rules. When stunningly handsome man walks into the room, you don't have to say "He was STUNNING" to get the message across. Describe him (creatively, if you can) and let us gauge his hubba-hubba-factor by the heroine's reaction to him. Then, when Stunningly Handsome Hero throws a dismissive remark over his shoulder at the Heroine, don't explain to the reader how that felt. Just show her reaction. We get it. Really.
4. "Emotion" is more important than "Explosion". Seriously. It doesn't matter what the emotion is - it could be fear, tension, revulsion just as easily as the wistful ache of unrequited love. What is important is that the emotional journey is accessible. It's something the reader can relate to. Because then you can take that character anywhere, to face anything, and the reader will go with you eagerly. But if you depend on nuclear devastation, or bloody murder to carry a book, the reader will quickly tire. They're reading to live the danger / tension / fear / love vicariously. But they have to care first. (If you aren't sure about this one, consider the difference between your reaction to hearing a murder story on the news compared to hearing your best friend's spouse was killed. When you care, you're invested. Deeply. Not just for a few minutes of tragic empathy).
If you take the time to develop your writing to create these effects via the story (rather than just telling the reader how to think and feel), your story will love you for it. And so will your readers.
Your Turn: Any questions? Or do you have other tips to offer to help other writers make their stories more authentic / emotional?