How to Effectively Convey Pathos
Have you ever started to read a book, only to find out in Chapter One that the male lead has three months to live? Did it make you feel like a jilted lover? That’s because the Author did jilt you and failed to effectively convey pathos. “Pathos represents an appeal to the emotions of the audience, and elicits feelings that already reside in them.” (Thank you, Google.)
Much like blossoming love, a story needs to court the reader. As the Author, it is your duty to woo them; reel the reader in and allow them to grow in love with your characters just as one grows in love with a would-be, real-life spouse.
To effectively do this, you have to start with the basics. What does your male lead look like? Describe him in a way that makes the reader want to know more. Don’t think too hard about this, just describe your ideal partner and chances are that someone out there, will agree with you. (What’s not to love about a tall, dark, handsome man with a body that looks like it was cut from marble?) Then you can move on to his redeeming qualities. For example: his uncanny ability to make others feel like King of the World, or his devotion to helping sick kids. Giving him a good heart will seal the deal for your readers.
Next, you need to give him qualities that appeal to the average person. He is not untouchable. He is not Superman, he is, in fact, Clark Kent. He is a man who seeks the same thing the reader does: love. He is vulnerable. He is able to be hurt. He’s looking for his Lois Lane.
Enter a beautiful, self-less heroine who he just must have. Make him love her deeply. Make the conversations between them real. Do not write the following:
“Can you pass the salt?”
“Yes, here it is,” he says, as he caresses the salt shaker with two fingers, “it reminds me of you, you know.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Remember our time at the beach? It’s like sand.”
No. STOP. No one in real life talks like that. Your characters should converse just as you do with your own life-partner. Give the reader something they can relate to and then…BOOM, they are mesmerized, hypnotized – if you will – by your words. They have entered YOUR world and they CARE about the characters they’ve grown to love… and just as they can’t wait to turn the next page, tragedy strikes. Your handsome male lead has just discovered a rare, inoperable brain tumor. You’ve just effectively conveyed pathos.
Now the reader (who is also your audience), is emotionally invested in your story – and your characters – and it’s up to you to take the reader on a ride they will never forget. Does handsome leading man die? Is he miraculously saved? Whichever route you take, your reader will be interested in what happens next because just like how they would feel about a real, flesh and blood person, they’ve grown to love your leading man. They won’t care (or even read on), if you spill the beans about his life ending in Chapter One. As sad as his diagnosis is, if you reveal it too soon, the reader won’t care enough to feel anything and your number one job is to make the reader FEEL. Tease them, make them wonder, make them hungry for more.
As the Author, you are the entertainer. You were born to entertain. Think of your book as a movie on paper, and ask yourself: “Do I want to win an Oscar? Or a Razzie?” What do you want?
Personally, I say, “Hello, Oscar… where have you been all of my life?”