Being a Better Writer: Empathy for Your Characters

Greetings from Alaska, readers! Yes, that’s right, I’m home visiting my parents for a few days. And old friends. It’s fantastic. I flew in Sunday morning, after a nice long layover in Seattle which was most of my Saturday. As usual, the trip to my hometown was roughly a full day’s journey. That was okay, however, as I’d brought my WiiU with me.

Yes, I own a WiiU. I also own The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. So when I had my fifteen hour layover, well … I had plenty to keep me occupied. No spoilers, but man is that game fun. Complete, go anywhere freedom.

Again, no spoilers, so I won’t say much about my journey thus far. But it has been an excellent one. You ever played Fallout? Well, imagine that kind of freedom and setting applied to the land of Hyrule and Zelda series, and that’s Breath of the Wild. The scale is titanic, the world ambitious beyond almost anything I’ve ever played, and the tools and toys you can play with offer a kind of freedom few games can match.

Of course, we’re here to talk about books, not games, so maybe I should change my topic. Bring things back to the site’s primary focus. Being a Better Writer, right?

So, what is the topic of choice today? Well, if you’ll check the topic bar for the day, it’s actually having Empathy for your characters. This topic is one that actually hadn’t made it to my list, if only because it came in via message from one of the readers here (So … Hello Feather Note, this is your ship coming in), and as I was traveling, I figured “Well, why not? That’s a good topic worth discussing, and I can pull it off from a borrowed Chromebook.”

So, empathy for your characters. There are a couple of angles I can come at this with, so I’m going to talk about the most obvious one first, or the one that, I think, most readers will jump to first: getting the reader to have empathy for your characters.

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Being a Better Writer: Connecting With Characters

I went out with my buddies to see a movie late last night.

I won’t tell you the title, as it isn’t important for our purposes right now, but I will tell you that it wasn’t that fantastic a film. It was … I suppose “adequate” is the best word I could use to describe it. But nothing more. The film wasn’t exactly grand. It was simply … a film. A sequence of events, with some action, some attempt at drama, etc.

So, of course, me being me, I immediately started asking myself why I felt that way as I watched the movie. And there were a lot of obvious answers. There were clear pacing problems, plot problems, character development issues … I mean, this wasn’t a gold star flick.

But the one issue that stood out to me more than any other was that I simply didn’t connect with any of the characters. None of them appealed to me strongly or even at all (and the one that could have come closest ended up being sidelined incredibly effectively, so that put that character out of the running).

Had there been that connection, I think the movie would have been a lot more tolerable. But without it, the movie was just  … there. I could nod as the special effects danced across the screen, or chuckle at the odd line of dialogue here. But without any connection to the characters, everything else was, by comparison, hollow. Had I been watching the movie on Netflix, I doubt I would have lasted long. At the very least I would have started doing something else at the same time, since the movie wasn’t enough to hold my full interest that often.

Right, so enough about the movie. What I wanted to talk about was that problem that I found with it, where I didn’t connect with the characters. Because this isn’t a possible problem that is limited to movies. Not at all. It’s something that can plague writing as well.

So let’s talk about it.

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Being a Better Writer: Character Relations

With a title like that, I’m sure some of you thought that this was going to be about relationships. Maybe even romance, or even something steamier.

Yeah, no. Sorry. And for that last one, don’t get your hopes up. That’s not what I write (and yet people keep requesting it …).

Which probably leaves a number of you wondering if maybe what I’m going to be talking about today is character interactions. And, sorry to say, like the rest of the theories, I’m going to have to nix this one as well.

No, today’s topic is something that was kicked off in my head by an interview I read over the weekend and the ensuing reddit commentary. A film producer (or maybe writer/director, to be honest I’m not sure and I don’t feel like looking it back up) was talking about why they didn’t like the current success of superhero films, and arguing that no one really liked them because the characters weren’t anything that anyone could relate to.

Now, I don’t agree with his assessment, but it got me thinking about characters that we write and create, and what our audience is going to relate to, and I realized it might make a good topic for a Being a Better Writer post. After all, if people want characters that they can relate to … well, it’s important that we understand both what they mean by that and how we can deliver it.

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Being a Better Writer: Author Morals and Character Morals

Welcome back, everyone! I’m sure many of you wondered where I was yesterday, since BaBW is primarily a Monday -specific post. Rest assured, all is well. I just had a shift at my other job yesterday that was all day. Didn’t seem worth posting once more that I wasn’t going to be able to post due to that since I’d already given enough warning that such was going to happen, so I figured most would be okay enough if I left things for today.

Right, that said, what are we talking about today? Well, today’s topic is one that once more comes from fan feedback and questions submitted to me by young writers, and one that fortunately I’ve heard discussed by other authors at length, as well as something I had to consider for myself. It’s a topic that will come up with any new writer who is really thinking about what they write and what they’re putting out there.

It’s the question of character morals and beliefs as they relate to the author’s.

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Being a Better Writer: Likable Unlikable Characters

Welcome back to another Being a Better Writer post! I’ve got a lot to do today (tax season) so I’m diving right into this one as quickly as possible. Today’s topic comes from the request post I made several months ago (which I’ve been slowly digging through ever since), but it’s a topic that I’ve heard brought up before in writing panels as well as in other places. And it’s a good question, one every author will either probably consider or run afoul of in the course of their writing career. The question is: how do I write an unlikable character that the reader likes?

Now, some of you might snicker a little bit at that, but it’s a legitimate question. And, to be clear, we’re not talking about a villain here. We’re talking about a protagonist (or similar character). A protagonist who, for one reason or another, isn’t really the sort of individual we’d like to know or meet. And yet, for some reason, we’re still following the story. How do we craft a character like that? And, on that note, why would we?

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