Are Writers more Empathetic than others?
The term ‘writer’ encompasses a wide variety of people from young to old, from East to West, from English to Chinese to Arabic. Writers exist everywhere and, no matter where they are, they must learn to select, combine, and orient words in a manner that relates to the people around them (unless they write strictly for themselves 🙂 ).
This ability to make themselves understood by the reader includes not just making the sentences and thoughts legible and coherent, but making them emotional. Writers need to express feelings to readers without any tone of voice or inflection. They must do it simply through diction. So, I wonder…
Do writers possess more empathy than non-writers? Is this ability to understand another’s emotions what makes them capable of expressing emotions in their work?
**For the sake of argument (and because of my personal writing background), I’m going to stick to writers of fiction, particularly authors. Though, all forms of writing must be able to connect with a reader, whether it’s fiction or non.**
Fiction writers are not only responsible for sharing a story with a reader, but also for creating a realistic character for the reader to care about. To do this, the writer must build an emotional attachment between the character and the reader. The only way for a writer to create this emotional attachment is to understand emotions themselves. They must give the character realistic emotions, motivations, passions, and fears so that the character feels real- becomes real -for the reader.
And that’s just one character.
Stories do not exist with one character alone in their world. They see and interact with other characters who each have their own personalities, their own emotions and motivations. Thus, the writer must understand not just a handful of emotions, but a wide variety.
And not just one type of pain or happiness, but a number of slight alterations of pain and happiness because one person’s happiness is not the same as another’s. One person’s pain may drive them to be sad, while another’s pain may drive them to be angry. Writers must be capable of understanding and implementing each of these different variations so that each character is unique.
Through creating these unique personalities, characters are able to interact in a variety of different ways: affection, adoration, fear, hate, disdain, repulse, etc, etc. These meshing or clashing of personalities is what allows character interaction. It creates understanding or conflict based on how they react to their environment and other characters.
If writers didn’t possess an understanding of empathy, all characters would be the same. Sure, writers could paint them different colors, give them different ethnicities, have them practice different religions, but if writers don’t actually understand those ethnicities, religions, cultures, people, or how and why they do things, how are writers to accurately depict them, to make them real?
This may be the reason why many authors don’t write characters from varying cultures: they have not yet experienced said cultures. They don’t understand what role emotions play in a culture other than their own, but they can observe and they can learn to understand even without it being their own culture. Let me share a few examples of how empathy works for writers:
With a high level of empathy…
Writers are able to create a damaged, tortured character whose past is filled with turmoil even though they’re past was quite pleasant.
Writers are able to write a character who loves to swim even when they fear water.
Writers are able to write a character who gets excited about winning a basketball game, even though they’ve never played a sport.
Writers are able to write a character who has overcome adversity, who’s outgoing, and who stands up for what they believe in, even if they are wallflowers.
A writer’s empathy also allows characters to grow and develop. They’re able to understand where a character begins and where the character will end because they understand what effect certain scenarios have on a character’s emotional state and how it changes them.
But maybe I’m biased. I am a writer, and I’ve been lucky enough to interact with a variety of different people, to live in their countries, and experience their cultures. Or maybe certain people just have a naturally higher level of empathy whether they are writers or not.
What do you think?
Leave your thoughts in the comments!
And check out my discussion from last week:
“Reading Multiple Books“