Empathy and fiction: what’s the connection? Empathy is an important thing: when you lack it completely, you’re a psychopath, and no one wants that, except perhaps if you happen to be a character in a thriller.
One of my friends who studies psychology posted this on Facebook a while back: it’s an article about why men should read fiction and claims that reading fiction teaches men to empathize with others.
(Men tend to prefer nonfiction to fiction, according to this article, though of course that will vary from person to person).
Well, now that the intro’s out of the way: today I’m continuing my series of posts examining what I consider to be the greatest benefits of writing fiction. These are ways that writing, personally, has shaped me. They’re the big payoffs that come from finishing that novel.
Today, I’m considering how writing, the same as reading, is a wonderful way to develop empathy. For sure, if reading develops empathy by allowing us to see how a character, another person, is just as human as we are, writing does the same thing.
- If nothing else, writing requires the ability to empathize. And reading is one way to develop that skill. One more reason writers should be readers.
- Writing requires a deep level of empathy, and if you don’t have it, penning fiction forces you to acquire it. When you write, you have to know who your characters are, in and out. You have to consider their lives and their choices from their perspective. That’s empathy.
- Writing requires such a deep level of empathy, in fact, that sometimes writers hesitate to let negative things beset their characters. They care so much, empathize so much, that they don’t want their characters to get hurt. The thought of them hurting is as painful as the thought of the author, herself, hurting.
I’ve written in the past about why sheltering your characters too much is never a good idea, no matter how tempting the thought may be. That’s how power a writer’s empathy can be.
Not real people?
Sure, characters aren’t real people. We all know that. Still, a successful author considers her characters as such; that’s the only way to write successfully and allow the characters to take control, make their own decisions, and dictate their own path. A writer has to empathize with her characters as if they were real people facing real challenges.
That kind of empathy can translate to our interactions with real people, to reaching out in service and in prayer to other. Empathy teaches us that we as individuals are not alone on the planet, and that other people are struggling with the same pains we are as well as worse afflictions.
There’s a level of empathy you have to reach when you write than goes beyond, I think, the empathy that reading requires. This empathy can make us less self-centered and more giving.
It can make just a tad more likely to consider how the choice we make will affect someone else.
What’s not to love about that? Writing can do some amazing things for all of us, for sure!