Be on everybody’s side

Writers try hard to evoke sympathy for their protagonist(s) from readers, but it’s not easy to make them feel that way for their antagonist as well. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

Empathy definitely helps writers and editors, allowing us to understand not only the hopes and dreams of a character, but their deepest fears and motivations. What are their values and beliefs? Why do they make the life choices they do? Having them act ‘out of character’ or without clear, understandable motivation, is a surefire way to drop a reader out of your story, sometimes permanently.

The ability to walk a mile in the shoes of our characters, even physically act out scenes and speak the dialogue definitely helps to get these right. See also


Truth in lies (1)

Skilful story artists, whether novelist, lyricist, poet or screenwriter, create a deeper, more profound truth using ‘the lie’.

Where does that ‘lie’ come from? In my experience, it percolates in the heart and soul. They take an idea which impacts me deeply, then bubble and boil away until a character, a situation, or a plot emerges, combining to symbolise the heart of a story. My current work in progress centres around the issue of domestic violence.

Using a succession of ‘what if’ questions, using all the empathy and imagination I can muster, I come up with the bare bones of a number of storylines and plots.

From there I research and brainstorm the subject, fleshing it out using a combination empathy, imagination and personal experience, stories I’ve read, heard, seen played out in the lives of others: friends, family or reports in the media, movies, songs until a series of scenes and scenarios emerge.

Distilled over a (usually long) period of time, what I’m aiming for is a blueprint I can use to tell the story of my main characters using their goals, motivations and conflict to concentrate the emotions involved. They struggle, in my current story, against domestic violence, while others see it from all sides.

My aim? Creating empathy in the reader, telling a cracking story which helps them think about and understand the issues and see how people deal with them. The ‘lie’ which, I hope, reveals the truth.


Words are a lens

Perspective is everything. What you see and how you feel depends on your point of view. The same events written from different points of view will necessarily be coloured by a person’s focus.

The choice of point of view character is vital in storytelling. The reader experiences the story through the eyes, experiences, beliefs and attitudes of the character. This, for me, is one of the most interesting aspects of reading a great story written by a good writer.

Experiencing a story through the mind of a well-developed character, learning how they think and feel, understanding their point of view, can be a great learning curve. The resulting empathy broadens one’s mind, can make one a better person.