Risks of subject: Empathy and misery in character development

9 02 2010

I have been researching child soldiers in the Congo for a piece I’m working on and I can’t stop weeping. When I have an idea that comes alive for me I tend to get very emotionally invested. It’s an aspect of my personality, I’m a moody writer and I tend to be hyper empathetic with characters. The writing mood is on me heavy right now and I don’t know if my choice of subject was… well, easy. My character comes from a picture I ran across. Something about how the child is looking at the camera. The innocence has been extinguished from his eyes and in its place there is only grim resignation. It took a second for this to dawn on me. At first glance I thought it was the mock machismo that I see on so many of the faces of wanna-be toughs in the city, but that is not what this is. This is the face of the dead. There will be no redemption and no salvation, without at least a chance at living innocent, the heart dies and leaves in place a ruined human scar. I know that some of these victims will survive, be saved, flourish- it’s certainly happened before, but most will not and what remains of their lives will be spent as wrecked revenants living out an endless cycle of warfare.

What am I trying to tell you here? We can write in a vacuum, but there is a world of experience bursting with potential energy. Even second hand experience has power. It behooves you to increase the “write what you know” side of your personal formula by reading (yes, reading again) and researching experience outside of your most physical immediacy. Some people say that’s impossible. Alan Dershowitz  said in his book Supreme Injustice, the popularity of science fiction shows that people are all ‘escapists.’ Obviously Mr. Dershowitz has never read 1984. Think of it in terms of A Midsummer Nights Dream. There is nothing ‘experiential’ there, but there is a great deal

"You sci-fi people are real nerds! Anyone seen my inhaler?"

that is human. Broaden your sense of human experience and you can write anywhere and at anytime.

So more origins coming up next. That is the Science of Fiction. You know the drill.

Andrew C. Porter




One response

9 02 2010
Risks of subject: Empathy and misery in character development … | Empath Intelligence Blog

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