Relate or Empathize

It is critical that my readers relate to my protagonists, or if not, that they empathize with them.  In my detective novels — the Random Sample Trilogy — I intentionally created characters with experiences that are common to many Americans.  Rhett Sanders is divorced, unfortunately like half of the people living in the U.S.  He is helping to raise a daughter, he has found his work a little too routine and at times uninteresting.  He’s not a professional crime fighter.  He’s hopefully like many of my readers in at least some ways.  Toni Darnell is also divorced, and is a business owner who works hard to keep in shape.  Like many American women her age, she’s had to prove, not only to her own family, that she’s as smart and as proficient as a man.  And Chris Beck is a man who feels compelled to demonstrate his manly qualities, though inside he has a soft heart.   In those detective novels, I remind readers that these people, although deeply involved in perilous investigations of evil doers, are human, that they aren’t perfect, that they have normal fears or neuroses, and that they engage in everyday activities like cooking, going out to a bar, shopping, etc.

I think it is more difficult to relate to characters in my Lakota Dreams, a story that takes place in the 1870’s.  So in this novel, I try to force readers to empathize with the lead characters by sharing their thoughts when good things happen to them, or when they are faced with tragedy.   If readers don’t share common experiences with characters who lived without electricity, rode horses, slept on the ground, etc., then hopefully they share common emotions.

I think the success of a novel, or any endeavor, relies on the degree with which there is empathy and/or relatability.   And for perhaps an unusual segue, I apply this principle with the decreasing popularity of professional sports in America.  While I still watch a lot of sports on television, my interest is not as passionate as it once was, and I blame it on my inabiity to relate with or empathize with the athletes.  I just can’t relate to a 300 pound person, or one that is over seven feet tall, and face it, the majority of players are from a different ethnic culture.   While I  can still admire the physical prowess these athletes demonstrate, the connection is not there.  And when the salaries of these people are publicized, not only can I not relate, I also have a hard time empathizing with them. 

So I continue to write, focusing on the importance of developing characters with whom readers can empathize and relate, and spend less time watching professsional sports, believing that twenty years from now interest in professional sports in America will have vanished completely.

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One Response to “Relate or Empathize”

  1. James Madget Says:

    I feel very fortunate to have read all four of your novels. Each has brought enjoyment and knowledge. I was fascinated by the detail in Lakota Dreams and the ease in gettting to know the charactors. I liked the fact the charactors were normal human beings with their feelings, capabilites,and insecurities all intact. I am quite tired of superheros and scientific abnormalities who have super human ablities. The charactors in your books are people I would like, they are real, believable, and genuine. I feel like this creates a more authentic story. Too me many novels have formula charactors that are predictable and robotic. This takes away from the rich fabric of the story. I hope you achieve success in this endeavor and continue to “tell a good story”. Thanks for the entertainment.

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