Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Empathy

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The dictionary says empathy is "ability to identify with a person or an object". I say it's being able to put yourself in "one's shoes" and as a writer I find this an essential skill. Even as a reader, it's this suspension of disbelief to be able to understand and relate to the characters that I'm reading about. I love being all teary eyed or fearful about a character, because that means I care.

This, I feel, is the hardest part of writing and I commend anyone that can get me to really feel for a character. I write a lot of fantasy and horror, but that doesn't mean I don't have to get the emotions right. It actually means that I've got to get the reader to believe the character's emotions and attitude even more because the situation is totally made up.

In my current WIP, I have a character that dreams about death. She is the modern version of Cassandra (from the Greek legends who saw the fall of Troy) and I can tell you that I know squat about what it feels like to be burdened with those sorts of visions, but even worse that no one believes her.

So, how do you become accustomed with empathy?
  1. Watch as many movies as possible which has that sort of situation/emotion
  2. Go and sit in the park and watch people, making notes if needed, to see how people act (hey, this was what I was told about creating believable emotions in acting)
  3. Start an emotion diary and write down the different emotions you feel, what brings them on and how you act
  4. Listen to music and think about how each makes you feel. Perhaps create a playlist for the story/scene you're writing.
What do you do to create believable emotions for your characters? Do you continue reading if you can't relate to the character or their emotions?


Eliza said...

Empathy is a difficult one. I need to have for my job, but there are some people I really struggle to have any empathy for, then I feel bad.

Stina said...

Wow, I've never thought of this before. I just do it. Hopefully I'm doing it well so people can feel my characters' emotions. I love books in which the author does it well. When my heart clinches in response to the character's pain, I know it's an awesome book. :)

JE said...

Hey, that idea about watching people at the park works! I've done it myself!

For me, I try to put myself in the characters shoes to create believable emotions. And I've noticied that a lot of my characters have my personality quirks, so finding their emotions isn't that hard. LoL.

And I always try to finish reading a book I've started no matter how I feel, but sometimes I just can't!


Matthew MacNish said...

Hi Cheree. I saw your comment on Elana's blog, so I decided to come follow yours.

Nice to meet ya!

Kerri Cuev said...

#4 for sure! Nice job with the letter E!

Baiba said...

yeah...Empathy is something...special. not everyone has it. and those who has it not always knows how to use it right...

for me...I have it. and I like it. but if I can't relate to the character or their emotions, I can't read it...I just have to stop, cause I know it's not for me.

Christina Lee said...

This is AWESOME! I am a former social worker/tharapist so I think it comes naturally for me. But geez, thanks for making me think about it!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Oh, good one! This is a fantastic post, Cheree. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, well my day job requires a lot of putting myself in other peoples' shoes, so I guess it comes naturally to me now.

Alleged Author said...

Great ideas on gaining empathy for a character! I often feel to much empathy for my characters. Too often they won't let me kill them--even in a horror ms. :P

Dawn Embers said...

Great topic for today. I'm not sure if I do anything in particular with my own characters. I just try to write the ones I get and hope others like them. Seems to work because people like my characters in most blogfests.

As for reading, it depends. It's unusual for me to not read the whole book but it has happened before. There has to be more problems with the book than just the character but if the main character isn't developed or likeable there tend to be other problems too though I'm not sure why. I did finish one I didn't have much empathy for the MC a little bit ago but mostly I kept reading because it was for a book club.

ali cross said...

Sadly, if the emotions are flat, I probably won't read it. It's SO important. Great post!

Kate Larkindale said...

Some people are hard to feel any empathy for, but often they are the ones who make the best characters. So you kind of have to find an angle, a way to get into their heads and feel what they feel.

Sometimes that stuff makes me want to shower.

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