Empathy Suzanne W. Vincent
It is the one concept that any great writer understands intimately. Grammar, syntax, style, plot, all crucial, but empathy trumps them all.
Writers can’t fake it. It’s something developed over time, with experience. Not writing experience. Life experience.
In the writing world, we often hear the phrase, ‘write what you know.’ The broadest sense of that phrase would nullify fiction. No fictionalist writes only about things of which they have personal knowledge. If they did, the result wouldn’t be fiction. If they did, there would be no such thing as science fiction or fantasy, no historical fiction, no murder mysteries, no Westerns, no fairy tales.
It’s probably true that the first stories were non-fiction–tales of the hunt, or of battle with enemy tribes. But we know early man had spiritual thoughts, ideas of things beyond their world. Myth would soon have followed reality, fiction would soon have followed myth.
Fiction, then, is nearly as old as human language, and fiction has endured because of empathy.
We often confuse empathy with sympathy. They are not the same thing. Sympathy is a feeling of sorrow or pity for the misfortunes of others. Empathy, though, is the ability to understand the feelings of others. Sympathy is impossible without empathy. It is not a writer’s job to make the reader sympathize. Instead, his responsibility is to create empathy. Done well, that empathy will create feelings of sympathy in the mind and heart of the reader, creating a human connection between a real reader and a fictional character.
That seems strange on the surface. But those connections we make with fictional characters when we read help us to make better, stronger connections with the real people around us. When we nurture empathy, we become more empathetic–and by extension, more sympathetic–toward all people, which makes for a better world.
This month’s stories lean toward the surreal and speculative, but each is a masterful portrait of the writerly ability to create empathy.
Become a Patron! Check our our NEW Patron rewards!
Support Flash Fiction Online
Flash Fiction Online is a free online magazine that pays professional rates. So how do we make that happen? It’s due to the generosity of readers like you.
Here are some ways you can help:
Sign up to become a monthly donor and gain access to exclusive Patron rewards like manuscript critiques, insider submission statistics, the Editors’ Wishlist, free downloads of our current issue, and Ask Me Anything chats with the FFO staff. Read more…
Subscribe to FFO.
Never miss an issue! E-reader formats delivered to your inbox. Available from WeightlessBooks.com
Buy our issues & anthologies.
Consider a one-time gift that fits your budget.
Advertise with us.
Have a product, service, or website our readers might enjoy? Ad space available on the website and in our e-reader issues. Sponsored posts opportunities are also available. Learn more…
Spread the word.
Love one of our stories or articles? Share it with a friend!