Creating Empathy for your Character

Posted on

I’m starting to plot a new novel and have been thinking a lot about how to present my heroine, who is tough and battle-hardened. When you have a character like that, I think you need to go the extra mile to make sure your reader empathizes with her in some way. Otherwise you run the risk of the reader finding the character unlikable.

So what are some ways of creating an empathetic character? Michael Hague outlines a few suggestions in his DVD “The Hero’s 2 Journeys”:

  • Make the Reader Feel Sympathy for Her

Perhaps something horrible happened to her in her past, or she’s a victim of some form of prejudice.

  • Put her in Jeopardy

Whether it’s physical or otherwise. (Maybe she’s in danger of losing her child to her abusive ex-husband).

  • Make her Likable

We automatically empathize with characters we like.

  • Make her Funny

When we find someone funny we automatically like them and want them to succeed.

  • Make her Powerful

We are all drawn to powerful people. We want to follow them. Create a powerful character and your reader will read on.

I recently read Red-Headed Stepchild, an urban fantasy by Jaye Wells. Even though the heroine begins the story by killing her friend, we feel empathy for her because of where’s she’s coming from. She’s been ordered by her grandmother (who raised her) to kill her friend because he is supposedly a traitor to the vampire clan. Her whole life she’s sought (and failed to receive) her grandmother’s approval. We can understand how her inner child would do anything to win her grandmother’s love, even kill a traitorous friend.


15 thoughts on “Creating Empathy for your Character

    Ciara Knight said:
    February 16, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Some great points. Thanks, Rosalie.

    Katalina Leon said:
    February 16, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Great post Rosalie, have fun with the new novel. Enjoy!
    XXOO Kat

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 16, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Thanks Kat. Starting a novel is always fun and scary at the same time!

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    February 16, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I swear, you offer free writing classes! Great stuff, Rosalie. Good luck with your new book.

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 16, 2011 at 10:37 am

      Thanks Julia! I’m very excited…and nervous…very nervous. 🙂

    Rachel Firasek said:
    February 16, 2011 at 10:27 am

    Great post as usual. I’m in the same place you are. Working on my characters and I’m glad you reminded me of this! THanks!!!

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 16, 2011 at 10:38 am

      You’re welcome Rachel, and good luck.

    Rebecca Ryals Russell said:
    February 16, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Awesome post. I’ll be planting these suggestions beside my computer while writing.

    Roni Lynne said:
    February 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm


    I’ve never heard of Michael Hague or his DVD. Is it part of a series?? How did you find it? I’m always looking for ways to strengthen my craft. And I agree with the other’s comments—your blog always offers such great tips and reminders! That’s why I always make a point of checking it out.

    Best of luck with plotting the new novel!


      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 16, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Roni, I heard someone mention on a blog and found it on Amazon. I’m always searching for new learning tools! 🙂

    G W Pickle said:
    February 16, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I feel that you need toknow your main character almost as well as you know yourself. I use a GURPS RPG character generation sheet to create my heroes & heroines. If I’m working on multiple stories these sheets really help keep my characters straight.
    Here is an excerpt from the fist part of my first novel “SENTI.” I think it is a good example of what you’re talking about.

    Chapter One
    “I sit without talking. Her image waits for me to speak. Tears burn my eyes as they mist over. I wipe them away with my uniform sleeve. My throat constricts, forming a lump that makes speech impossible. I stare at what she once was, young and beautiful, remembering how she died, how much I loved Emma, and how I killed her. My heart aches, wishing she was more than a holographic image. I feel a dull, empty pain begin to gnaw at my soul. Slowly reaching out with a trembling hand, I hit the end button. The receptionist’s image instantly replaces Emma’s. She informs me that the director wishes to speak with me. Standing to leave, I tell the receptionist, “Maybe next time. I’m running late.” This is just what I don’t need. Some shrink wasting my time with a bunch of hogwash about repressed feelings and other garbage.
    Opening the door, I find Mrs. French, a stout, semi-attractive, older black lady, is standing there, effectively cutting off my only escape route.
    “Major Waco,” she says, and then her voice lowers slightly. “Jack, I’ve been increasingly concerned about you. I would like to help you deal with some of the pain you’ve been carrying alone for so long.”

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      February 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      That’s great! You’re so right. It’s imperative to know your characters. I try to spend a fair amount of time just thinking about my characters before I start writing. Those times that I haven’t my writing has suffered for it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s