Monday, January 30, 2017

Empathy

Well, it's been a wild and crazy week in more ways than one. Aside from things going on in the world (which I'm sure I don't need to tell you about), I've been hard at work writing. I finished a round of edits, which means it's time to...edit a different book. Just keep remembering, you asked for this, Allison. You wanted this job.

I did. I do. I enjoy it. But it means I'm spending hours at the computer, getting a headache and wondering how on earth I can be so hungry when I haven't done anything all day.

Seriously, how does writing for hours make me so ravenous? I'm sitting in a chair and occasionally dancing when I write something well. I'm not dancing that wildly. It's just like this:


Anyway, I do like writing. I love the feeling of discovering a whodunnit plot, and learning more about a character so I can understand why he or she is acting a certain way. I love the research about weird science or criminal activity. Speaking of which, I may have to have a post about the science of sleep, because I have found out some bonkers things about sleep and dreams!

But my favorite thing may be the writerly empathy.

Writers need empathy to write; if we couldn't develop it in some way, all our characters would look just like us, think like us, act like us. In order to write a variety of characters, writers need to slip into the shoes of someone else and figure out what it's like to be that person. What's it like to be a 12-year-old retrieval specialist? A detective? A scientist? A stay at home mother? A stay at home father? An Irish immigrant in the early 1900s? A space alien discovering humans for the first time?

I'm not any of these things. If I want to write about them, I need to think and feel as they do, if only in part. That takes research, and it takes empathy.

The nice thing is that humans are all pretty much the same wherever you go. Customs change, traditions differ, and languages are diverse, but humans as a whole feel joy, sadness, anger, all the Pixar emotions:






And you can pretty much count on a human from any place to act like a human from any other place when faced with trauma (which is pretty much all stories are): some flee, some fight, some harden, some turn into a puddle, and some become wiser. This makes empathy easier for writers.

Knowing the individual works well for me, also, in developing empathy. For example, when I wrote Jeremy's character, I didn't think first of what an average 12-year-old boy would do in his circumstances. Some boys might never dream of stealing things (or retrieving them, depending on who you ask), but Jeremy does. He's unique, and while understanding the human preteen was helpful, it was thinking about Jeremy as an individual and learning about him, even loving the character, that helped me find his voice. Now, I can slip into Jeremy's mind easily because he seems real to me.

I hope that means he'll seem real to readers, too. That way they can empathize with him, since it's not just writers who need to empathize. Readers do, too. How else can they connect with and root for a character? If we didn't empathize with Harry Potter, why would we care about how the Dursleys treated him? Why would we want him to win against Voldemort?

Yes, empathy is a good thing. It's the key to mindreading, in my opinion, since it opens the door to the emotions and thoughts of another person, and after experiencing that, how can any of us go back to the way we were before? It's like magic, so yes, I think it's one of my favorite parts of writing. I enjoy feeling magical.

Speaking of magic, I've been thinking about fairies lately. Not the sweet, musical Victorian kind - the violent old-school kind. A story may grow out of it; I don't know. But you might be able to look forward to a blog post about it.


Here are this week's debuts:

Young Adult:
Stephanie Garber - Caraval (1/31)
Laurie Devore - How to Break a Boy (1/31)
Caroline Leech - Wait For Me (1/31)
Rebecca Denton - This Beats Perfect (2/2)

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