The Empathy Required of a Writer
For those of you who know me, I’m a pretty normal guy. I do normal guy things; regular job, go to church, have a family, kids, a dog. We had a rabbit until my dog ate it, but now I’m venturing back into the “not-so-no
My dog is a shih tzu by the way.
(It’s a long story)
But despite my every-day joe appearance and personality, I write stories that typically fall into the category of DARK fiction. Horror, Suspense, Psychological Thrillers — the kinds of stories that make you maybe question reality (or at least make you grateful for the reality you’re a part of).
As a kid I was always drawn to the mysterious and unexplainable. While friends checked out books about Babe Ruth or Cowboys and Indians, my backpack was filled with stories about the Lochness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Bermuda Triangle. In Junior High and High School I discovered the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz and other horror and fantasy writers and creators of worlds and questions and most often, very few answers.
As a child I was also fortunate to grow up in the entertainment industry, though my parents thankfully raised me to believe this was just another normal part of life. I never felt I was anything more than anyone else and so avoided the tragedy that befalls so many working child actors who get sucked into that vacuum. (I’m sure the foundation of my faith and religion also played a major role in keeping me sane – or at least as sane as I am).
The world of acting is akin to entering a house of mirrors where each reflection represents only a part of the truth, a fraction of who you are. But the great actors out there are able to not only become someone else, but bring that spark, that vulnerability, that ounce of truth to the character that makes them FEEL real. They’re not playing someone else but allowing that someone to play through their lives. They can feel, think, and act as that character would because, in some twisted and magnificent array of cosmic deception, for those brief moments they ARE those characters.
This is only achieved through the gift of Empathy.
Being able to see things from someone else’s point of view. To know their pain. To understand their weaknesses. Their strengths. Their motivations. However wrong they may seem. At least to our “normal” selves.
Such too is the gift of a writer. We are able to enter the minds of people so foreign to ourselves and then watch what they do when they’re put in a situation. I can’t count the number of times I planned on a story going somewhere and then watched as that character spun it in a completely different direction. And to be a writer, you can’t be afraid of the truth, however painful and surprising it might be.
I usually know a story is good when it’s getting uncomfortable to write, when I’m questioning what others might think of me if I put my name to it. As writers – and actors – we flay ourselves open on a stage, revealing our innards to our audiences every time we perform.
Yeah, it’s going to get messy. And a little dark.
I’ve always believed there is truth in horror and that you can only appreciate the light after walking through the darkness. I can live my normal life, completely fulfilled by it, but in those moments where I’m becoming someone else, entering that portal, I choose to move out of the way. I’ll carry just enough of myself through to help me climb back out but I would no sooner force my beliefs on a character in my story than I would a random stranger I meet on the street.
Besides, it’s fun to see what some of these people will do.
I won’t apologize for my writing and I certainly don’t believe it’s for everyone. But for those of you who like glimpsing things behind the curtain, who aren’t afraid to know what goes bump in the night, I invite you to come along for the ride. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll learn something about ourselves along the way.