A Writers’ Empathy

by mylongdalliance

In the past few weeks I have found myself pondering the deep meaning of empathy.  The ability to relate to another person through their feelings.  I have always felt that I had a strong sense of empathy, however, now that I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into my characters, the challenge to empathise with some of them has become very exciting.

To be a good writer, one must develop the ability to empathise with not only their heroes, but their villains as well.  Vladimir Nabokov perfected this in his incredibly raw novel, Lolita.  I am in awe of the way he was able to draw the reader in so much that you at times feel sorry for the monster narrating the story.

I have consciously started to focus primarily on character developments with empathy being my priority.  In order to challenge myself, I am choosing characters that are very foreign to me.  In my last post “The Last Dance”, I chose to tell a story from the perspective of an elderly woman.  I am 36, so I had to find a way to relate to somebody 50 years my senior.  In order to do this, I thought back to times when I too felt neglected and dismissed.  Periods in my life when I felt I was not in control of anything anymore.  Times where I experienced loss.

There is no doubt that without empathy for each and every one of the characters that are introduced into the story, it will lack depth and the fullness required to envelop the reader.  To be empathetic is to also be sensitive, and writing requires the most acute sensitivity, letting not a single thing pass you by.  Like the lemon hue surrounding a blazing orange sun.  Or the impossible pitch of a child as she squeals down a slippery slide.

I do believe writers are unique like this, and you can usually tell when you meet one.  They will be looking at the scuffs on the side of your shoes and the way that your hair falls on your peach cheek as you speak to them in words, bouncing off your tongue like a trampoline.  They will catch your words too, take them home and try to swallow them whole so that they too can understand how you felt.

Writers truly are a glorious thing.