Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Tuesday's Inspiration ala Helen Van Slyke
Looking over the book of old essays be writers and came across this. I'm not sure I ever read any of Helen Van Slyke's stories but what she said made sense to me. "My 'success' as a contemporary novelist lies in two overworked words : identity and empathy." This triggered off some thoughts about writing.
To me identity is knowing my characters and understand what makes them what they are and how they became. Doesn't matter if they're the good guys or the bad guys if I can't find some point to identify with them they'll remain as cardboard characters. Do you feel the same and come to identify with all your characters? I'm not really talking about all the characters in the stories I tell. Some are there just to make an appearance. The ones I must identify with are those who play a large role in the story even if they're minor characters.
Now for empathy. Empathy is deeper than sympathy. What it means is walking in a character's shoes and essentially becoming them for a time while they reveal themselves on paper. Identifying and feeling empathy for the heros and heroines is much easier than for the villains. This can be done and must be done. Sometimes this is easy and at other times empathizing with someone who is truly evil can be hard but it must be done. Part of this is giving them some trait that gives them a reason for their behavior that resonates with you. One of my villains has a great love for his mother. Now, this is a twisted love but this trait allowed me to empathize with him.
How about you? Do you identify with your characters and go beyond that to empathize with them? Sometimes easy, sometimes hard but reaching that point can bring the reader to the same feelings even for the bad guys.