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Sunday

Evoking Empathy

Something I've really been working on in my writing lately is creating more empathetic characters. My agent recently gave me a piece of advice that really resonated with me: readers want to imagine themselves as your heroine.

Of course they do! Seems like common sense, right? So why do I look for this characteristic as a reader but not necessarily as a writer? As a novelist, I get so concerned with voice and plot-oriented planning that sometimes I totally loose track of the real heartbeat behind a book: the characters.

If you don't believe your characters, your readers won't either.

I'd be willing to bet many of you are writers today because of fictional characters who impacted your life in a non-fiction way. I know I am! For me, I'd always loved reading, but my first experience with a character who really resonated with me was Robin Jones Gunn's Christy Miller series. I can remember waking up early some days (a big feat for me!) because I was so excited to read these book. I can remember sitting in my bedroom for four hours at a time, devouring the romance between Todd and Christy and wishing for my own Todd to come along. Many of you probably had the same experience with Todd and Christy. And then years later, when the Katie Weldon series came out, I literally sat in that same bedroom with tears streaming down my face as I "caught up" with these old friends who meant so much to me.

That is the kind of character writing we should strive for as writers. So as you're working on your writing projects this week, remember that characters who impact (and sell well, for that matter) are characters who we care about. So what if something terrible happens to them if we don't like the characters? If characters are well-sketched, something as simple as a difficult phone call can be more impacting than something tragic loss in the family.

Make us feel their pain and their joy, their struggles and their triumphs. We want to rejoice when they succeed and cry when they fail. Think about The Help and how this story accomplishes these things so successfully.

Now that is the mark of a really good story.

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