Thursday, October 15, 2009

Empathy - Donna Alward

I was talking to my sister recently about Empathy. My sister is a romance reader and of course sister to an author so it meant we really approached the subject from similar points. We were talking about being able to feel what others feel, and feel it deeply. It's a good trait, being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes, to offer a level of understanding. It's also, at times, very, very painful.
I don't think I could do this job without empathy, and I think most writers of romance possess it deep down inside. How else could we see a lady in a shop, or a man on the street, or a child on the playground and have some sense of what they are feeling? Of translating that feeling into a story point? Should we feel guilty for using those things as inspiration? My sister finished telling me something and she said, "You can use that in a book." (Can you tell we even think alike?) Even if my characters were not in the exact same situation, there is a universality to emotions, don't you think?

That tuned in sense of empathy is what allows me to dig deeply with my characters. Let's face it, the emotional journey is the roller coaster ride I'm taking the reader on and needing to feel what they are feeling is key for me to get that across. That's why I don't think writers are crazy who say that their characters are real people. They need to be, if only in your mind, so that you can create fleshed out, 3D, sympathetic heroes and heroines.

But bleeding on the page is hard. Because I do feel what they are feeling and it hurts. Not only does it hurt emotionally and mentally but also physically. I have physical reactions as I am writing an intensely emotional scene. That is where those beats come from. It's like I'm there in that situation, and somehow I'm feeling the cold in the room or the perceived distance between characters. I'm right there in that moment. And maybe I haven't experienced what my characters have experienced, but I still somehow manage to be there and feel what they must be feeling. Anything less and I've shortchanged my reader.

In my new release, my heroine Kelley has a traumatic past, and it takes a lot for her to trust Mack with it. When she finally does...well let me tell you, it was a difficult scene to write. Reliving it was bad enough. But needing to make someone understand - in this case the man she'd fallen in love with - made it even harder.

The one thing that makes it all worth while for me though is the hope and happiness at the end. I'm not sure I could put myself - or my characters - through it if I didn't know it would all work out in the end. It's knowing that love will overcome that makes all the suffering worth it.

And if a reader has to blink a little more now and then and has a little sniff, then I've done my job.

Kelley's story is in A Bride For Rocking H Ranch, a novella in Montana, Mistletoe, Marriage. It'll hit shelves in November and is up for presale at eharlequin and Mills and Boon (as Mistletoe &Marriage). You can read an excerpt up on my website.


Emmanuelle said...

A friend of mine once told me a nice definition of Empathy. He said "empathy is YOUR pain in MY heart". I thaught it was a beautiful definition ;-)
Congratulations on your new release. I'll have to check that one out !

Donna Alward said...

oh Emmanuelle! That's lovely. Do you mind if I write it down? That is it exactly.

Thanks for popping by.

Michelle Styles said...

It is a fantastic definition Emmanuelle.

And I would say you need empathy with a character more than sympathy.
And I know it is necessary to bleed. It does not mean I enjoy it...

penney said...

I can't wait to read this one, I do love the Christmas ones.

Emmanuelle said...

Glad you liked it !! ;-)

Caroline Storer said...

Hi Donna. Great blog. I agree wholeheartedly - as a reader we like to emphathise with our heroine more than we want to sympathise with her. Well that's me anyway.

BTW - I'm enjoying your book immensely. Thanks very much. Take care. Caroline x

Donna Alward said...

Penney - me too. I have a wish list for my holiday books!

Caroline - do e-mail and let me know what you think!

*waves at Michelle*

Mary said...

Emmanuelle, I love that definition. That is truly a great way of thinking about it.

Novels that make me think and really move me are the ons that always stick with me.

Linda Henderson said...

I want a book to have a happy ending but I really enjoy a book that wrings all the emotions out of me while reading it, laughter, joy, sadness, anger, love and everything in between. I will look forward to reading your next book.

Pat Cochran said...

Another blog site asked about books
that make you cry. I had to admit that I've never cried when reading, maybe been sad or introspective,
but no tears. Movies, that's an entirely different story!

Pat Cochran