Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"E" Is For Empathy

My undergraduate coursework focused extensively on six facets of understanding.  As a history teacher, I went to great lengths to ensure one was incorporated into every lesson: empathy.

Achieving this goal is no easy task.  Topics like segregation, the Holocaust, and civil liberties require diligent planning and preparation.  If students walk away understanding these events, the teacher has done a satisfactory job.  If students leave empathising with those affected, the teacher has executed an exceptional lesson.

Empathy plays a vital role in my approach to writing young adult fiction.  In his article titled The Value of Young Adult Literature, Michael Cart states the following:

Another value of young adult literature is its capacity for fostering understanding, empathy, and compassion by offering vividly realized portraits of the lives – exterior and interior – of individuals who are [unlike the] reader. In this way young adult literature invites its readership to embrace the humanity it shares with those who – if not for the encounter in reading – might forever remain strangers or – worse — irredeemably “other.”

To me, empathy is an essential characteristic of good writing.  It is not enough to provide an engaging story with teachable moments; the writer's role is deeper.  Readers must feel the protagonist's experiences.  They must be provided with the means to tap into his brain - to share his soul and see the world through his eyes.  If a reader completes a novel empathising with a character, the writer has created an exceptional story.

Is empathy an essential characteristic of good writing?  Does it play a role in your current project(s)?


  1. Empathy played a really big role in my E post. I enjoyed your post and yes one must certainly emphasize with characters when writing...or on the dark side create characters devoid of empathy.

  2. Paul, I'm so grateful for this challenge and having the chance to meet other writers such as yourself. Your post is spot-on. You hit the nail on the head. I'm looking forward to getting to know your writing made a follower out of me.

  3. Hey Paul,
    Excellent post. Empathy is certainly a key part of a good story.


  4. Absolutely. If a writer doesn't empathize with his/her characters, how would a reader be able to???

  5. very nice and crucial part of any story.
    "E" is the Word...
    A to Z Blog Challenge Participant
    Jeremy [iZombie]

  6. Empathy... hmmm... I think of it as that "make them cry" factor. I remember when my first grade teacher read Charlotte's Web to our class. Half the class was in tears. That mean teacher, making little kids cry.

  7. Empathy is absolutely necessary if we are writing character driven stories... We need to feel what the characters feel to put the emotion out on paper...

    Following you from A-Z challenge..

  8. Hey Paul, nice to meet you through the A-Z challenge :) strong post! Thank you!

  9. Yes! I emphatically say empathy is extremely essential! Like the new look of you blog:)

  10. These are the books I love to read, Paul. Those which you can "feel the protagonist's experience."

    Of course, it's incredibly challenging to write that way effectively, but I strive for it every time I sit at my desk.

    Perfect post. The best part about this challenge you're doing is I get the chance to savour your wisdom every day ;)

  11. I empathize brother, I empathize!! No, seriously, great post! And you're a teacher! That makes you a Rock Star in my book! The two most underpaid professions, teaching and writing. I empathize!!!

  12. I couldn't agree with you more. As a graduate student in history, I hope to inspire my future students to empathize with the past, but also with the world around them. I think it's an important goal to have.

  13. Absolutely. Empathy is crucial for it allows your audience to connect with your character, in a positive, meaningful way. Nicely written post!

  14. Yes, it's not just getting to know a character, but it's when you actually become that character and see through his/her eyes that makes it great!

    Duncan In Kuantan


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