Most times, we hear things like this: “Being a writer means being creative.” “Being observant.” “Being thoughtful.” “Hardworking.” “Inspired.” “Imaginative.”
All of that is true, but I want to mention something that, at least to me, it feels like people don’t talk about quite as often.
Being a writer means being empathetic.
Emergency definition of Empathy (n): The ability to understand and share the emotions of others.
In order for characters to be believable, they need to have real conflicts, emotions, reactions and descriptions. And writers must access those emotions. That is precisely the definition of empathy.
Writers invent characters, strife, hope, love and hate, joy and grief, and the struggles of people we imagine. A writer’s job is to create a character, create a world, and give readers a reason to inhabit both. That means readers must find your character sympathetic in some way. Readers must want to get to know your character. And they must be invested what your character is doing.
Chances are, you write for more than one reason. You love reading, you love telling stories, you love observing the world around you, and you love getting inside someone else’s head. In part, being a writer is tied to observation (and research).
Writers can explain why killers can pull the trigger: what it feels like to have your hand shake, the bead of sweat itching on your brow, the tremble in your voice, the confusion and anger and desperation.
Writers explain why the mother finally tells her child the truth: the swelling tension in the air, the clenching fists, the tapping of a worn heel on the aluminum floors, the absolute fear of rejection from the one person you’ve striven your whole life to raise.
Writers are, at their hearts, empathetic. We seek to understand, explain, and feel.