History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

13 July 2011

How Much Do You Empathize With Your Characters?

This will have to be a short post as I am scrambling to finish the first draft of the second novel in the Marie Antoinette trilogy; and I have promised myself that I would write the last word today. To have my characters experience the events of Bastille Day tomorrow, on the 222nd anniversary of, well, Bastille Day, would be too painful for me and it's not a career milestone I'd like to remember.

The events of the second book, DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW span the years 1774 - 1789, from the ascenion to the throne of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the fall of the Bastille.

On Sunday I wrote the death of the dauphin (while in Marie Antoinette's head) and found myself sobbing hysterically at one point, as though someone close to me had passed away.

Does that ever happen to you as you work?

I also find my stomach knotting at tense moments for the characters, or getting headaches when they might have one, for example. And yet for me this is nothing new. Many years ago, when held a survival job slaving away at a personal injury law firm, I seemed to develop the plaintiffs' symptoms when I incorporated the information from their medical reports into their legal briefs. A good friend of mine who was also an actress with a similar day job had the same "syndrome." And she worked for medical malpractice attorneys!

But I've discovered that empathizing with accident victims on a psychological-physiological level seems to translate to fictional characters as well.

What about you? Do you laugh with your characters? Cry with them? Feel their pain? For readers -- can you tell whether or not an author seems to personally relate to her/his characters? Does it matter?


Blogger Isobel Carr said...

When I write, I’m too involved in the craft aspect of the activity to be emotionally caught up. I know when something feels right or wrong, but I’ve never once cried or laughed while writing.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Oh I cry with my characters. For Bond of Blood, I created one secondary hero just to kill him off. I cried when I wrote the scene - and every single damn time I edited it. Even when I edited it for the mass-market rerelease. I still tear up at the thought of him. Oh well.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post, Juliet! I don't always get caught up in my characters' emotions, but I got quite depressed/upset writing the Waterloo scenes in Imperial Scandal. Not so much on the first draft, when I was focused on logistics, but in subsequent drafts when I was more focused on emotions. Some of the hardest scenes I've ever written. And last night, working on my new book, I found a lot of my anxiety/sadness/guilt over my missing cat informed my hero's feelings about his lost sister and her child.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I get involved for sure. I quite teared up once, over a very minor character's life tragedy.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Juliet Grey said...

I think in many ways there's a "write what you know" element that creeps in. (wow ... that was weird; just after I typed "creeps in," the weatherman on NBC said the same words; does that ever happen to you?) Anyway, thnking about the scene with the death of the dauphin, for instance, even though I've never been a mother, I've certainly lost people who were very close to me and I know what grief is. Then you layer in grieving in character because of course not everyone grieves the same way (anger vs. depression, for instance).

4:25 AM  

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