Your story begins, then, with somebody who has a problem he must struggle to resolve or who wants something he must struggle to get. The somebody (character) and the struggle (plot) are inseperable. Many of the most interesting story problems occur entirely on an inner, psychological level. But the key is, whatever the problem, it must be important to your main character. In other words, your main character must have strong feelings about the conflict he is involved in.
And in order to have strong feelings (and therefore to elicit strong feelings in the reader), your main character must *be* somebody. To elicit empathy, your character must give the illusion of being like us... complex, even contradictary, someone with preferences and predjudicies, hopes and fears, someone with a history upon which the story is based upon.
Your self-knowledge will be your primary source, for every character, particularly every central, perceiving character you create. If you are going to write a story from the perspective of a murderer, you must look into yourself and find that place where you, too, given the right personal history or circumstance, could be capable of murder. To write about greed or fear, passion or loss, you must first touch those qualities in yourself.
I decide which story I am going to write, which character I am going to explore, far more on the basis of what I "feel" when I'm sifting through story ideas than on what I "understand" about my reasons for responding to one idea over another.
The most important question I find I musat answer is not, who do a I care? Rather it is, do I care passionately enough to continue exploring this character and her problem for the months or even years it will take me to complete the novel: My story feelings will not only hold me thoughtout the story, but they will, ultimately give me an opportunity to draw an emotional response from the reader.
However, while your own feelings are the richest resource you have for creating good fiction, your feelings along will not be enough to guarantee a reader's response. In fact, the strenght of you own emotion, if you are too close to it as you write, can keep you from knowing whether you are too close to it as you write, can keep you from knowing whether you are touching the reader or not. ***Good fiction fiction capable of drawing response from the reader, is neither a therapeutic exercise for the writer nor a vehicle for emotional flashing. And it is the hard lessons of craft that cankeep it from being either.***
The cor of you character's struggle will come out of the mysterious jumble of your own psyche, that place where you youself may still be struggling in you own life. But you will need to assemble the flesh and bones from the most accessible regions of you imagination.
First, begin every conciously, to distance you main characters from yourself. Preserve the core of feeling related to your central story problem, but give your character a history, or pieces of history, different from you own. Change the gender of create life circustances for you character that seperate her from you.
How much distance you will need will depend upon many factors, one of which is how vulnerable you feel to the story issue you have taken on, how much distance you have already established within yourself. I have found that the more crucial the issues are to me, the more distance I need, and some distancing mechanisms give me more freedon and perspective that others. Sometime I can give myself the most freedom of all by making my perceiving character male (snce I am female).
A remembered incident can begin to work on you as a story for reasons you won't fully understand.***Make the event that happened to different from you own life history. And in order to do that, reach deeply into that place in yourself where your own unexplained survivor guilt resides, and use it to bring to life a character create from your imagination.
If the action of you story is imposed on flat figures, you willhave melodrama. If it rises out of grounded, believable, complex characters, character whom you bothfeel and stand apart from, you will have drama. You will have a story that lives, that produces the purging of pity and fear.
If you want your readers to feel - and if you wan them to feel -- start with what you yourself feel most strongly. But dont end there. Shape and control and distance your feeling through craft.