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  • Writer's pictureAyyappan Ramachandran

Using empathy to craft original stories

How to avoid making your stories appear generic and cliched...

A story full of vanilla characters, and killing them

Irrespective of the number of characters you have planned for your story, with different characteristics, different background and different motive, the creator of them all is one - you.

Therefore it is easy to smear each of them with a shade of yourself and arrive at similar sounding and similar behaving characters.

A successful recipe for poor storytelling.

Before you start crafting your story, the basic requirement you should have for yourself is to create characters who are individual and deep.

Not to throw words around, by individual I mean designing characteristics that are strongly rooted in the background you have imagined for that character.

A corporate leader who has inherited his father's business empire should be different compared to a corporate leader who has had to fight a world of odds to rise to that position.

And by deep I refer to storytelling that explores the above individuality of each character and fleshes out genuine description and dialogue that reflects that individuality.

How to achieve this? Write inside out.

Have some empathy

In order to create deep and individual characters, it is not only sufficient to imagine different backgrounds and motives, but the storyteller must personally and creatively attach themselves to each character.

Personal attachment comes from taking genuine interest in the character to think and speak and act like that character. This demands great practice and the hard task of losing control of yourself, your behaviour and interests first.

Beyond meditating how your character would react in a situation that is true to his or her nature, it is also beneficial to wildly imagine what your character can do that would still be relevant and add creative value to the scene.

Only if the character is fleshed out truly this way, the audience will be fully able to empathise and connect with the character.

(Audience need not have sympathy for your characters, but they must empathise with your character.)

The legendary writer Anton Chekhov shared his six principles of writing. The last in the list, and the most important of them all personally to me, is Compassion.

How can you have compassion for all your characters, positive and negative? You can ask.

What Chekhov asks of writers is to empathise with each of their characters; that is, think from their perspective, understand their individual situation, and give a non-judgmental account of their actions.

As you practice this craft, as you delve deeper into each of your characters and appreciate and expose their individuality, you will succeed in creating memorable, original stories.

Let us know what challenges you face and how you deal with them to create memorable characters.


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