Sunday, November 15, 2009

Character Empathy

I have a friend who is going through a very tough time right now. Every aspect of his life is problematic: career, family, and personal health. I've been kind of down the past few days because of this (and getting a cavity filled that made my face hurt as if it had been beaten by the fury of a thousand fists).

Sarcastically Delicious (aka boyfriend) noted I was a bit melancholy. He knows about close friend going through difficult time and asked me, "But, why are you down?"

"Because close friend is hurting," I said. "It makes me sad when's he's sad. It's like when you have a family member that's sad or hurting. It makes me you hurt too."

Of course, our conversation made me think about writing (what can't be related to writing if you're a write-a-holic like us). The books that I enjoy are often the ones where I have empathy for the characters.  It's when we as readers identify or understand another person's feelings or motives are we truly engrossed in that piece of work (yes, that definition was straight from

Recently, I had the honor of being a beta reader for Bane of Anubis. By the end of The Lost Children Chronicles, I was empathizing for Kevin, Prince, and Natalie (Jenson not so much- he's just a smeghead). I'm also listening to City of Glass in the car and wow do those drives go by fast. Cassandra Clare makes you empathize for all her characters, even the bad ones. I'll have to do a gossip time about it when I'm done.

So then I began to wonder if I empathize with my own characters. And I think I do on some levels, and then not so much on others. I definitely have some work to do in the empathy department. How about you guys? Do you find yourself empathizing with fictional characters, whether they be your own creation or belonging to others?

Also don't forget about the add on story. Dorian is apparently walking down a desert road to find the woman carrying his child.


  1. Hey, Anita, sorry to hear about your tough week (and the threat of potential cavities is enough to scare me away from a dentist's office)

    Empathizing w/ characters is critical for me in books/movies/etc. (why I have hard times w/ certain critically acclaimed movies like The Wrestler).

    As far as our own writing, sometimes it's hard for me to know how much sympathy a character of mine might generate; I know the backstory in my head, so frequently I've got more for them than might otherwise be apparent. In TLCC, I was a bit more cognizant of trying to create sympathetic characters, though it was definitely easier given the nature of the plot.

    And if you can make your villains empathetic, it means you've got well-rounded/realistic characters going on, methinks, though those Voldemort types can be pretty fun, too.

    Unfortunately, I never got much into CC's writing. I listened to the first one (City of Bones?) on tape about a year ago; I found the pacing good and plot interesting, but stylistically, I had some issues (which, perhaps, could have been exacerbated by the reader, though I'm not sure). But, yeah, it's great to have a BOT like that accompanying you on the drives -- makes the traffic a whole lot more enjoyable.

    PS - thanks again for reading. It was my honor to have such willing readers and I greatly appreciated your feedback and enthusiastic response (and, yeah, Jenson is a smeghead :).

  2. Bane,
    City of Ashes and City of Glass is way better than the first, City of Bones. But, perhaps I also like CCs writing because I'm a girl.

    Thanks for dropping by. Peace. =)

  3. Sorry about your week. Wow the add in story is getting exciting. I like that beetles carapice. Thanks for stopping by my blog and offering to give me info about the zone diet. I appreciate the offer, but I find that anytime I try to focus too much on a diet I freak out and gain weight. This time I'm trying my own plan. I'm working on meeting one goal at a time. Thanks again.

  4. I can't read a book if I can't get behind at least one of the main characters, so I think about my own all the time, and how a reader might react to them. But it's not easy to get into the head of a twelve-year-old when you're in your mid thirties:/

  5. I hope you friend's situation improves soon.

    I'm with Thomas - I can't finish a book if I don't empathize with the characters. The characters are the reason I read - and write.

    I hope readers will empathize with my characters as much as I do :)

  6. Hi Anita, I wish your friend the best. Sometimes you have to weather the storm to get the rainbow. The sun will come out soon.

    Creating empathetic characters is also a struggle for me. However, I learned a lot about the process at the James River Writer’s Conference in Richmond, VA. The experts recommend that writer's insert personal experiences into their characters.

    I took this advice and used it in my book. The main character thinks she's fat, her family gives her a hard time and she drinks too much. I struggle with my weight, my mom drank too much and my family gives me a hard time:)

    For what it is worth, friends who have read my manuscript since the conference, have commented that the mixture of vices and virtues make my heroine more likeable and believable. In stark contrast, my villain initially comes off as a nice guy, he's a preacher, a philanthropist and a politician. Similar to a particular person I dislike, who drew me in and fooled me, I am trying to get the reader to like my villain first, before lowering the boom and showing his evil side.

    Since my characters are truly a combination of people I know, I think they are more believable and perhaps the reader will be able to relate to them more. At least that’s what I’m hoping for:) Until your next post, happy writing.

  7. Hope life improves for your friend and you feel better.

    Yes, I need to empathize with characters. Not all of them, though. There are the ones you love to hate. They have their own special charm.