Saturday, February 24, 2018

Learning from Fiction Characters

The thought of how creating characters changed me didn’t occur to me for a long time. 

While writing I don't think about characters coming from my mind.  And as a writer, I have not consciously developed them from people I know. I thought it would be too embarrassing for me to have someone recognize themselves as one of my characters. Yet my characters have subtly changed me, something that went unnoticed.

Obviously in writing fiction an author has to use characters to carry the story, so an author has to develop those characters in a believable manner. When I began writing I used books that broke down different human personality profiles and the characteristics of those personalities. I still often go back to using those templates. That said, while writing I still had to be my characters and determine how they would act in any particular situation. I also knew this would not necessarily be how I’d behave in that situation, so I had to think from the view of my character’s personality or imagine myself as him or her.

I’ve always been a people watcher, but after several novels, I, oddly, began to understand how those people were behaving, and also began to be more accepting of people and their behaviors and reactions. Of course, some people are so misaligned I would never make them a friend—but perhaps a villainous character. This awareness that also made me more wary than I used to be. 

I didn’t think a lot about this until I was asked to teach a college interpersonal communications class. While developing my class I was reading the textbook and came across a section on the difference between empathy and sympathy. We all show sympathy, or concern and compassion, for another person’s situation based on our own experience,  understanding, and viewpoint. Empathy differs. Empathy allows someone to put themselves in another person’s situation, literally to experience that person's viewpoint. Empathy includes understanding how they might think or feel. In other words, empathy allows someone to briefly become another person, to put themselves in the other person's shoes, providing understanding of that person's dilemma or problem, or to feel their regret, grief, or other emotion. This expands the ability to communication in a meaningful way with that person. Empathy allows a person to be less egocentric and increases their understanding of another person and to perhaps communicate with each person in a more caring manner.

All along my fiction writing has been developing my empathy through my characters, and I didn’t notice it. Did this all happen from writing? I doubt it, but it certainly magnified the ability. I think reading introduces empathy, too. That is a huge effect for characters to instill on anyone.

Please visit these authors and read their views on this subject:
Connie Vines
Skye Taylor 
A.J. Maguire
Marci Baun
Marie Laval
Judith Copek
Dr. Bob Rich
Rachael Kosinski

Fiona McGier 
Beverley Bateman