Creativity · Personal · Writing

Empathy

Of all the skills a good writer needs in order to write well, I think one of the most important is empathy. It doesn’t matter if you have excellent grammar, seamless plotting, or snappy dialogue. If you don’t have empathy for your characters, both the heroes and villains, then the story is going to show it. Characters are going to feel two-dimensional, like cardboard cutouts.

You, their creator, have to get inside their heads, understand their motivation, their backgrounds, their reasons for being. If you can’t understand them, even sympathize with them, the characters are doing to appear flat on the page. Plus, the reader will pick up on that because they won’t be able to empathize with the characters.

Unfortunately, empathy is one of those traits that you either have or don’t have, and additionally, there are degrees of empathy. What I mean is that we can feel bad for someone having a rough time. Let’s say someone lost their pet. Some people will feel bad for them, others will be reduced to tears, while a few simply won’t care.

Can empathy be learned or acquired? Good question, and honestly, I have no idea. I’m one of those who tend to be overly sensitive to other’s pain and misfortune. I wasn’t necessarily raised that way. I mean, some of my relations are sensitive like I am, while others are indifferent. That makes me think it’s not genetic, but something we might learn when we’re young, like being kind or helping the less fortunate.

I’ve had empathy on my mind lately, hence this blog post. It’s also the topic of my next podcast episode. I think I’m struggling to understand why people aren’t more sympathetic. Or why more people aren’t more sympathetic.

Personally, I think that empathy and creativity go hand in hand. In order to write compelling characters, we have to feel their pain and joy. It’s as simple as that. And I think it applies to being a good person, as well. In order to be a good person, regardless of your faith, beliefs, or lack thereof, we have to be able to feel and understand the emotions of others.

I know, this post is all over the place. I’m struggling to understand and writing about things helps me to sort it out in my head.

Anyway, if you have a comment or opinion on empathy, feel free to leave it below, or contact me on social media.

RB

 

2 thoughts on “Empathy

  1. Feeling for our characters is important for developing them. If not, they’re little more than tools; like you said, two-dimensional and lacking.
    There may be studies about empathy’s connection with creativity. In my experience, emotions guide both.
    People without empathy for others rarely have any for themselves. They’re often hollow shells, a tabula rasa fixed by some terrible mold. They feel as much love for others as themselves; as much sadness, as much longing, as much of anything.
    Much of art evokes emotions by indirectly expressing emotion. Subtleties, that our socially-hardwired minds sense & translate subconsciously. When those details are missing, we can’t always tell what’s wrong – only that there’s no ‘spirit’.

    What are your thoughts?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Lila.

      I agree with you…art is about evoking an emotional response. It doesn’t matter if it’s the written word, paint on a canvas, or music spinning on a turntable, the end result is hopefully an emotional connection between the art and the audience. But in my experience, people who lack empathy have a difficult time appreciating art. They ‘don’t get it’ and usually are dismissive. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there’s a way to fix that, to enable people to be more in tune with nature, the environment, their fellow humans. Would they be willing to try and change, or would it simply make them dig in their heels and refuse to budge?
      RB

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