“I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude - and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.”

Writing Empathetically vs. Sympathetically and Sentimentally

Several weeks ago, I read a story that had a passage like this:

"My parents never really cared about me," Allie said. "All my life they saw me as a disappointment, a waste of space. I was always the butt of their jokes. And no one really noticed. I was always last place, as far as they were concerned. I had a really difficult childhood…"

And it went on like this for about a paragraph or two.

I could see that the writer wanted to foster sympathy for the character, wanted to explain how the character felt about her upbringing.

But ultimately, it made her sound whiny—and I could tell that wasn’t what the author intended.

At first I was a little sympathetic to the character…then after several sentences, the writing just felt sentimental to me, meaning, I felt like the writer was trying to coax me to feel a certain way, like I was being controlled, rather than letting me feel for the situation myself. 

It’s a good idea to want your readers to connect with your characters’ hardships, but it can backfire if it’s too sentimental or sometimes even when it’s sympathetic.

Instead, when you want to impact the reader, strive to create empathy.

Usually when I hear empathy, I think of someone who is in pain, going through a lot of difficulty, but really, it’s a level of deep understanding—whether that’s an understanding of fear, bravery, or obsession.

Here are two examples to illustrate empathetic writing.

In The Maze Runner, I got to a scene where James Dashner wanted to show that his main character, Thomas, was a hero with a good heart—but I could only tell because I’m not just a reader, I’m also a writer. He didn’t write about it sympathetically or sentimentally, he created empathy simply by putting us in Thomas’s head and showing us what he did in a given situation.


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I was contacted by one of my followers who has a friend named Summer Grace who is an aspiring folk/indie/pop singer and songwriter. She’s working on producing her first EP, “A Long Time Coming”, she has everything she needs …except the right amount of funding for studio time and album distribution. 

As a musician, i know how hard the music industry is. It’s no longer about talent. Sadly, Its all about who you know and how much money you have…  But she has promised that anyone who donates will receive a free digital download of her EP when finished! So go check her out! She’s actually pretty good and it’s not even the kind of music i like. If nothing else, please reblog this and help spread the word to make her dream possible, thanks!

Click here to listen to some of her music or to donate! ~aquacarl

People are always going to try to project their limitations on to you to justify their circumstances. Instead of looking for others to accept you, start by accepting yourself. You will never meet someone’s standards, cause the ones that set them don’t match it themselves. And the ones that can, don’t care about anyone’s standard. That’s the attitude you need to get at.

Creating Characters, What You Really Need


I’ve read dozens of articles and books on characterization, all written by well-meaning people, and personally I found them befuddling. While each had a few good ideas on how to generate characters, most of the authorities found themselves trying to give so much detail about what makes a round character that the writer eventually got stuck down in the weeds, creating detail that could never be used.

That’s a waste of your time and your mental energy.

There are some things that you really do need to know, and the first one is “What is your protagonist’s character arc?”

You see, stories are about character advancement, about the opportunities that come with risk, about growth and learning, and a whole bunch more. One easy way to begin plotting a story is to look at your character and ask, “What is the opening state of my protagonist?” and “How does he change through the course of the story?”

One piece of popular writing software for writing adventure fiction suggests that your protagonist will move through four phases during the archetypal hero journey. These phases are 1) Orphan, 2) Wanderer, 3) Warrior, and 4) Martyr.

That’s helpful, but not extremely helpful. You see, even this software gets it wrong. It’s true that your character might move through those phases, but before one can be an orphan, one usually has a family, right? So perhaps we should add “Child” before the orphan phase. Luke Skywalker started out with an Uncle Owen and an Aunt Beru, right? Dorothy had a mom and dad before the tornado sucked her up and carried her to Oz. So this means that as a writer, if you were writing a hero journey cycle, you might want to start your protagonist as a child, perhaps with a loving family, perhaps with something less.

And what’s with this “wanderer” phase? The purpose of that phase is to have your character gathering allies—usually unknowingly, and usually at least three allies of very specific types, while the recognition of a growing threat mounts. It’s true that a wanderer is often rather aimless, and your protagonist in a hero journey normally doesn’t have the right aims. So I might suggest that the “wandering” phase has more parts—“establishing current goals vs. gaining new direction,” “gathering a guide,” “gathering a sidekick,” “attracting the one true love.” Most of those steps occur in adventure stories. My point here is, the advice is good, but it’s a bit too vague to be helpful.

Yet if you look at a tale as being about a character moving from one phase of life to another, you can immediately begin to see some of the conflicts you might want to establish, and you’ll get ideas for what needs to happen.

Take the movie Gladiator. In it, our protagonist moves from being “Most trusted general and family man,” to “accused traitor,” “to widower/bereft of family” to “slave” to “gladiator” to “arena champion” to “avenger” to “gaining heavenly reward.” That’s a great character arc.

The fun thing is, you can do this so easily. Your character may start out at the top of the world: “prince.” But his father is murdered by his counselors, and so he becomes an “orphan.” He flees the country in secret as a “refugee.” He is wounded by an assassin and becomes an “amputee.” While being nursed back to health, he falls in love with a young woman and becomes a “love-smitten doofus.” He realizes that he could live in a tiny village and be happy, so he decides to become a “peasant immigrant.” But one night, just before his wedding, he is discovered by his father’s true councelor, a man who barely escaped with his life, a guide character who urges him to re-take the throne. Our protagonist refuses the call, but hears news that his own people are being oppressed, and finds himself among the expatriates where he is befriended by a “rabble rouser” swordsman who seems to recognize him, and he is accused of being one of them. He begins to learn what is really going on, when his new wife is attacked, and he realizes that he only has one choice: he can either be a “victim,” or he can go re-take his throne. Now he becomes a “soldier,” and in his attempt to re-take the throne he may risk everything, becoming a “martyr” for his people, only to be saved in the last instant by his guide character, who gives his own life in effort reestablish a just kingdom. Thus he winds up a “king.”

Do you see how it works? Just about any noun that defines a state will do. How about “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”? Or “Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief?” Using this method, you can literally suggest an entire plot for a novel or series of novels in a few words. Here is one that I’m working on: Jester, Outlaw, Defender, Wizard.

So choose a character that interests you. Are you writing a romance? Maybe you might start by defining your character as a “dweeb.” But where does she go from there? I’ll let you play with the answers.

Have fun with it!

November, Nation Novel Writing Month, is coming up fast. Every year I do a Writing Mastery Camp—a week-long workshop that let’s you get away from interruptions and (most) responsibilities so you can focus on just writing. This is my most intensive workshop, and I only allow 12 participants in. You can learn more or sign up here.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT makes a person strive to be better. It makes them perfect their craft. Acknowledgment is what gives them the assurance that they are actually doing something. That they have a purpose. And once you are in the game, you cant lose. Its a hustlers mentality that awakens inside of you. So when people tell you to just start and you will figure it out on the way, they are right. There is magic in action. 

Watch on dramasplayhouse.tumblr.com

One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. F1 N/A 800hp V10 into a Renault Espace driven by Alain Prost. The interior is amazing too.

Fast-forward to 1:30 if you want to go straight to the action.