Someone asked me the other day what one trait I felt authors needed, above all others. Of course, a number of words came to mind: perseverance, creativity, curiosity, and so on. But the one word that, to me seems to rise above the pack is… empathy.
Empathy can serve a writer in so many ways. First, it’s necessary in order to truly get inside the head of your characters: how they’d feel at any given moment; how they’d react; what they might be worried about; what they feel they might be lacking in life; what they’d stand to gain or lose by one action or another.
Second, it can help a writer get inside the head of potential readers. It can help you get a sense of what would make the reader want to keep reading; what would grab their attention and keep it; what their fears might be about what’s going to happen to the protagonist; what would delight and surprise them, and so on.
I think to help with this, from the second perspective, it’s good to take a step away from your story–maybe for a few weeks or even a month. Then you can read it fresh, removed enough from the details to get the true experience of reading the book for the first time (or as least as close you can get to it, having written the book). This is something Ed and I both found very helpful, and it nearly always leads to changes.
What are your thoughts? What traits do you think are important for writers? What ways do you think a writer can improve their ability to empathize with their characters or their readers? We’d love to hear from you (Click the little cloud in the upper right of this post to comment).