There are some stories where a reader can "feel" the emotional pulse of a character beating as if it's his or her own heartbeat.
That's how I felt reading Carmela A. Martino's first novel, Rosa, Sola, which was recently published by Candlewick Press.
It's hard not to fall in love with Rosa, a 10 year old girl whose longing for a baby brother stems partly from her own loneliness and partly from her desire to fit in with her friends who come from larger families.
But larger isn't necessarily better as Rosa begins to understand in this understated novel when her prayers go awry and her mother's unexpected pregnancy takes a turn for the worse.
Each step of the way-- from Rosa's first longing for a baby brother to her ultimate acceptance of her fate as an only child--Martino shares Rosa's feelings with the reader in masterful strokes.
From the start, Martino makes Rosa's desire palpable by sharing her feelings as Rosa plays with her best friend's baby brother:
"Rosa reached her right hand up from under the baby and touched her pinkie to his palm. He wrapped his hand around her finger, as he had done to AnnaMaria. A warm, tingly feeling spread through Rosa's whole body.
"She pressed her face against his. His cheek felt softer than the angora scarf Ma had knitted her for Christmas. 'Oh, Antonio,' Rosa whispered. 'I wish you were my brother.'"
From that moment Martino leads the reader on a journey into a trusting 10 year old girl's heart as she discovers the pain of having to deal with unanswered prayers and misplaced hopes. In scene after scene, Martino lets us feel Rosa's pulse.
Here, for instance, Rosa shares the news about her Ma's pregnancy with her friends, hoping finally to gain acceptance as one of the gang:
"The sound of loud honking suddenly drowned out their voices. Rosa looked up to see a group of geese flying in a large V across the sky.
"Bridget tugged on Rosa's shirtsleeve. 'Never mind the geese. Are you going to have to share your room with the baby?'
"Rosa turned back to the girls gathered around her and smiled, happy to finally be part of the flock."
Such an apt image...linking Rosa's longing to be part of her classmates' circle with the flock of geese... and turning it into a metaphor for her own deep yearning.
Later in the story, after Rosa loses what she's hoped for most, Martino pulls the reader into the deepest recesses of Rosa's heart in a revealing scene at the end of Chapter 10 as Rosa goes outside to retrieve her doll from the discarded bassinet that her father has thrown into the garbage:
"She looked back down at the bassinet. In the gathering dusk, the hood cast a shadow over the basket, making it look like a deep hole. Staring into the darkness felt like peering into a cave. A black, empty cave. Suddenly, Rosa felt as empty as the bassinet. She closed her eyes, but the memory of holding AnnaMaria's baby brother filled her mind. She saw again Antonio's owl eyes and bald head. And again Rosa wondered what her own brother had looked like. She opened her eyes and clutched Lamby tight, but the empty feeling wouldn't go away.
"Back inside, Papa lay snoring on the living-room sofa, the wine half gone from the bottle. Rosa wondered if Papa felt the empty cave, too. "
Ah... another remarkable image, not only pulling us into Rosa's own heartbreak... but linking her in her despair to Papa in his ... with the vision of the bassinet as a dark cave.
Again and again, Martino pulls the reader deeper into Rosa's world, and we feel her pulse grow stronger and stronger on each page.
Have you ever felt the emotional pulse of a character before?
Who was the character?
And how did the author bring that character to life?
The next time you read a story, think about the emotional pulse of the character... and ask yourself what he or she is feeling at each moment of the story.
And as you revise your own stories, ask yourself the same question: what is my character feeling in this scene? And in this one?