I saw this pic on Twitter, shared by @TheUnNovelist.
This could be the best part about writing – you get to walk around in someone else’s skin for a while (and I don’t mean that in a creepy Silence of the Lambs kind of way). Want to see life through the eyes of a child? Or a refugee? Or a World War 2 soldier?
How about someone who makes you uncomfortable?
By writing about others, we get to transcend our own thoughts, our own worlds, our own lives, and experience another’s. This is how we connect with the rest of humanity, through story.
Writers, then, are the great connectors. We enable our readers and ourselves to experience the rest of humanity, to feel a part of the whole. That’s a pretty amazing mandate.
It is an amazing mandate, but there is a great benefit to the writer in creating these characters, perhaps even greater than that for the reader. Writing something unfamiliar takes research, and in the case of creating characters, that means talking to others who “fit” with the character – others who are different genders, races, orientations, or have experienced mental or physical ailments, for example. I’ve “accidentally” learned more about people different from me through writing than I have doing anything else.
The challenge for me is writing those “uncomfortable” characters – my mind immediately goes to a certain bloviating politician who shan’t be named here. It would be a struggle for me to understand him as a person, why he does the things he does and says the things he says. To be honest, I balk at the idea. Maybe that means it’s worth exploring. Antagonists are protagonists in their own stories, and if we want to write them in a believable and maybe even relatable way, we have to strive to understand them, even if we don’t agree with them.
What do you think? Would you say writing and/or reading has made you more empathetic? Do you enjoy writing a variety of characters?