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A Drop of Empathy

I read a thought-provoking meme yesterday about alcohol. About how it ruins lives when used in excess and to numb the pain. It was very cleverly-worded, and I wish I could remember what it said verbatim, but that was the gist.

In my book Circus in a Shot Glass (out on submission), the main character is an alcoholic. I’m not one to give things away, but drinking is a way of coping for her. I do not drink, so how to write about a character that does? Two things…

RESEARCH. Not of the imbibing variety, but I did some talking with a psychiatrist, who straightened me out on a few points. There was also a friend who kindly looked at it and pointed out some inaccuracies, which I then fixed.

But the biggest part of getting the character right for me was TAPPING INTO MY OWN PAIN AND USING EMPATHY. While writing CIASG, I became the character. I had to get my mind in a certain place by calling up dark moments, less-than-lucid moments, confusion, fuzziness, pain.

Being a writer can be very similar to being an actor. You research the role and, for a while, you become whoever you’re portraying. For example: in my high school production of The Miracle Worker, I portrayed Annie Sullivan. During one rehearsal, I lost myself in the role and wept real tears. Annie was talking about how Helen is not her child, denying that she loves the girl, fearing to love another soul again, because love hurts. She’d lost her brother at a young age, after promising that she’d take care of him. She promised to take care of Helen. Was history about to repeat itself? Was Helen going to be lost to the darkness of her own little world forever? All of these emotions overpowered me and I had trouble finishing the scene.

But I’ve never lost a brother or anyone I said I’d take care of. But I’ve known loss, even if it was on a lesser scale or in a different way. By taking your own experiences and magnifying them, you can understand anyone to a degree. And you can understand the characters you’re writing.

If you’re not a writer, you use this intuition when you talk and listen to someone who’s grieving or sick. You can use it when reading (which makes the story all the more enjoyable, in my own humble opinion.)

That’s all for now.

Keep your nose in a book and your pen on the page,
Beth

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