I always feel that a book or movie has achieved something great when I have an emotional reaction to it. For a very brief moment, the protagonist's pain, drive, happiness, or shock becomes my own. For a brief moment, I enter the world of the story. And in that brief moment, I become heavily invested in the tale before me. If the protagonist loses, I lose with him. If he triumphs, I do as well.
If I can elicit this kind of reaction in my readers as well, I consider it a great accomplishment. Additionally though, it gets them invested in the story. They really care about the outcome. And getting the reader to care is what it's all about.
Question: That's all well and good. The problem is that the response - that sudden surge of emotion mixed with understanding - is generally brief. It's powerful, but it doesn't last. The reader may remain invested, but the emotion, the link between reader and hero, is gone.
How can I keep that emotional connection alive and healthy? Is there a way?
Example: Spoilers to the Scorch Trails (movie) below:
I generally considered the sequel to the Maze Runner, the Scorch Trials, to be a mediocre movie (I have not read the books). It was all right, but it lacked depth. At the very end, however, the main character states that he will go back to what they just escaped, and he states his reason why. While he was speaking, I felt a brief connection. I understood, and my investment with him grew (which was fortunate, since the rest of the movie didn't do much in that department).
Though the third movie is not out yet, I know that if it somehow maintained the feeling I had at the end of the second movie, I would like it. I would be invested in the hero's mission all the way through, no matter what happened. That's my question. How would such a feat be achieved?