On October 6, 2021 I wrote a blog post entitled Connections. Toward the end of the article I talked about a character, Mary, who was in a heated argument with her boyfriend as they were walking along. They had come to an area or clearing where the sunset could be seen much better in all of its glory. The boyfriend didn’t notice it. He could’ve cared less, but Mary noticed it and enjoyed it so much that for a moment she forgot about the argument. In this post I said that the sunset itself had nothing to do with the issue at hand, which was the argument. It was a random occurrence. But it had everything to do with creating empathy for the character of Mary. Add to this the dialogue between the two. Maybe Mary’s boyfriend said something nasty to her. The reader will be affected by these words to in that they will feel for her/have empathy for her. Mary may not be hurt by his words, but the reader will feel for her anyway. Well, most readers anyway.
Creating empathy for your characters is what draws your readers further into your story. Feelings, as we all know, have a strong connection to empathy. The two go hand in hand. As a side note, not everyone feels empathy, so don’t worry if your characters don’t connect with some readers. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Empathy, or even lack thereof, also gives incite into your character’s personality. In the above scenario we come to understand that Mary loves the beauty of sunsets even in the face of angst. It also hints towards her sensitivity. In addition, deep down she doesn’t let something like an argument with her boyfriend get to her. This indicates strength to get through it and not dwell on it. It could also indicate she feels as though the situation between her and her boyfriend will get resolved. The point being, in the ugly face of an argument, she saw beauty.
What drives the feelings within your characters? The situations they are thrust up against. Let’s say we have a character named Jack. He’s 31 years old, a successful corporate lawyer, and married with one child. He finds out his wife is cheating on him. Over the eight years they’ve been married, he has given his wife everything. He supports her in all that she enjoys doing. There isn’t anything that indicated to him that she had been unfaithful. Until he walks in on his wife and her lover when he comes home to surprise her (I know. This is a typical scenario, but it works for the point I’m trying to make). Already the reader feels empathy for him, and we haven’t gotten to how he is feeling yet. Although, his feelings will be interspersed throughout the scenario anyway.
Everything, the feelings and situations, even the words characters say to one another can create empathy within your readers. They will be pulled into your story. You want this. Of course, there are other ways besides creating empathy that can pull a reader in as well. Here again, that’s another blog post.