PDA

View Full Version : Empathic character


Rhubix
02-28-2011, 01:18 AM
As stated in the title, my MC is empathic.
I've been looking for innovative ways to approach writing without saying felt-felt-felt.
I did find This thread (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=95597&highlight=Empathy). from '08. With lots of great ideas. But, maybe there have been innovations in empathic technology over the past thee years? :tongue
Does anyone have any good book recommendations? Or any thoughts on the subject in general? :idea:

Liosse de Velishaf
02-28-2011, 02:24 AM
Well, it depends on how you want to describe it.

Do you want to describe it as emotional resonance in the empath, or would you prefer to talk about it as the other character's emotional state?

Do you want to detail how these external emotions are affecting your character, or what they learn from feeling them?

It also depends on how strong the emotional resonance is. Does the character get actual symptoms from these emotions, or are they just aware of them on an abstract level? "Oh, that girl is happy!"


Are you writing in first or third person?



Well, the main thing, is whether you want in-between words. It's just like the other five sense: 1. "Michela/I watched the agonized knight as he writhed through one muscle-tearing contortion after another." or 2. "The knight writhed through one muscle-tearing contortion after another."

It's the same in first or third, how many layers of perspective do you want to strain this emotion through? If you use both the MC and the text as filters, you're going to have to do a lot of literary acrobatics to avoid "felt" constructions, but if you use the second method, you shouldn't have an issue. "Michela felt the anger roar through the man's veins, tearing away at any sense of understanding or compassion." or "The anger roared through the man's veins, tearing away at ans sense of understanding or compassion."

If you want to have her experience strong resonance, you just replace "the man's" with "her".

Rhubix
02-28-2011, 03:26 AM
Thanks, this post is exactly what I needed. I was a bit overwhelmed where to begin an this has given me some great starting off points.
I'm using first person, and I'm leaning towards her reactions to their emotions.

There are a lot of secrets surrounding the character and she's always trying to pry into the world around her. At the same time, empathy is a crime so her biggest challenge is the balance of prying without giving herself away.

DMPitchford
02-28-2011, 03:38 AM
Is the empath limited to emotional empathy?
I would think you might sense or experience much of what another senses or experiences.
Just out of curiosity, what is the vehicle of empathy? Chemical (pheremones)? Intellect? Intuition? How does it affect her? Just emotional impression? Sensory? Visual? Psychic? Auditory? Synthestesia? How does she experience it? Visually? Viscerally? Auditorilly?

Mr Flibble
02-28-2011, 03:58 AM
I did find This thread (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=95597&highlight=Empathy). from '08. With lots of great ideas.

If it helps, the book I was talking about is in my sig (Ilfayne's Bane) and I went with many of the suggestions from that thread. If you want examples, PM me and I'll send you some. ETA If I can remember where in the book they are! lol.

Rhubix
02-28-2011, 05:30 AM
Is the empath limited to emotional empathy?
I would think you might sense or experience much of what another senses or experiences.
Just out of curiosity, what is the vehicle of empathy? Chemical (pheremones)? Intellect? Intuition? How does it affect her? Just emotional impression? Sensory? Visual? Psychic? Auditory? Synthestesia? How does she experience it? Visually? Viscerally? Auditorilly?

More great questions.
It effects her physically on a regular basis, goose bumps/ warm-fuzzies. Emotions tend to 'bleed' into her before she gets a handle on things, so she's a moody kid.
If she grabs the person and locks eyes she can pry into audio-visuals, but she couldn't do it undetected and they are dream-like. The general populace call them dream-stealers because it's invasive, even traumatic. Hense the hatred.
It is limited to emotions unless she's invading.

I hadn't thought about it's method of transportation... I was going with magic. ;)
Synthestesia - this is an interesting suggestion, I will investigate it further. :e2poke:

IdiotsRUs (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=19462): thanks for the book suggestion :tongue. I may have to take you up on that.

Reziac
02-28-2011, 06:13 AM
I have a character who is a strong telepath. It's somewhat the same problem -- how to show this without a lot of "he saw in her head" crap. What I wound up doing is kinda like a one-sided conversation, where he answers something the other person is thinking (we don't hear that part) but hasn't said yet.

(Often to their annoyance. One griped back to him, "What's in your own head must be pretty damned boring!")

Rhubix
02-28-2011, 07:36 AM
I'm enjoying the struggle it forces on the character- when someone is all happy faced, but inside they're full of anger or fear. She has to walk around smiling too.

To be honest, I think my whole set up and plot is out of my league- but it's definitely forcing me to work hard. I figure worst case scenario, I learn something.

DMPitchford
02-28-2011, 07:57 AM
I think that's a great way to go about it. How do you know your own limits until you've outreached them? Building skill means stretching yourself and taking chances.

JRVogt
02-28-2011, 09:39 AM
A book I read recently had a character sensitive to magic. He'd receive these vibes through various senses, such as hearing sudden applause, a dog barking in anger, or a woman weeping. Maybe the temperature would drop, an invisible hand would grab him, or another big emotional/sensory event would register on his "magic radar." That sort of thing might apply well to emotional readings as well, a way to translate the emotion into a more visceral exchange that both the character and reader could relate to quickly.

Rhubix
03-01-2011, 06:26 AM
DMPitchford (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=48302) - I sure hope so! :D

JRVogt (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=21460) - I quite like the ideas of temperatures and have been playing with that. I hadn't thought of auditory responses before this thread, it's certainly an interesting approach.
The 'magic radar' gave me a few scene ideas. I need to find a way to introduce her to another character, and her picking up his unique persona in a crowd could be a really fun scene to explore.


I'm glad I made this thread- you folk sure are giving my brain a work out :D

Heidicvlach
03-06-2011, 06:19 AM
"The anger roared through the man's veins, tearing away at ans sense of understanding or compassion."

If you want to have her experience strong resonance, you just replace "the man's" with "her".

I vote for this method. It'd be a POV error on a non-empathic character, but because the reader knows that the MC can sense emotions, it'd make sense for the narrative to just slip in some feelings from other people.

I've also found synesthesia useful in conveying emotions. An illogical comparison (like a sweet-smelling emotion or a sour visual image) can help convey the way emotions and sensations don't always make clear sense. Especially if the MC herself isn't sure what she's sensing.

Rachel Udin
03-06-2011, 08:57 PM
I was about to say maybe the empath sees the emotions like a cloud and then gets caught into it as they get closer. Use other sensory input to communicate the emotion. For instance, anger could be "tense" so muscles might stiffen in her neck, etc. She could taste emotion too. People talk about that as well. Such as things tasting "Bitter." You could make that literal.

DMPitchford
03-08-2011, 08:47 AM
I have a sorceress who was using a wand that reveals truth (or lack thereof). She told her mentor that she 'could see the lie of it like smoke on your breath'. She also heals people by 'painting' their souls. This required somewhat a standard of what colors/tones/etc. symbolized which emotions.
In the same trilogy, certain magics come with a scent of magnolia, and such.
I think maybe my first concern would be to have the empath relate or identify all the input via her own experience. That could make it quite interesting. Also, an empath, it seems to me, would have a richer than normal pool of experience because she could more richly experience life vicariously through others - given the fact that she has chosen to, or been unable not to, remain open to such 'vibes' from other people. Was this intrinsic to her? Born in? Or did she somehow acquire the talent; that will make a difference.

Rhubix
03-09-2011, 06:06 AM
Thanks for the replies! I'm definitely trying to incorporate all 5 senses as best I can. So far fear seems to be a heavy part of her life, and paranoia. "a sweet-smelling emotion" - this made me realize I'm not paying as much attention to the happier emotions. /facepalm. I'm going to have to embellish those more.


DMPitchford (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=48302): She was born with it, as was a percentage of the population. She is not unique. As she gets older she learns ways of deflecting or dampening some emotions though is never able to block them completely. I thought it would be harder on her that way, and I am a mean author.
She also heals people by 'painting' their souls.
I love this idea, it's beautiful. My MC can see the souls of magi as images in her mind, though cannot manipulate them.
see the lie of it like smoke on your breath
I quite like this as well.

Heidicvlach
03-13-2011, 11:31 AM
So far fear seems to be a heavy part of her life, and paranoia. "a sweet-smelling emotion" - this made me realize I'm not paying as much attention to the happier emotions. /facepalm. I'm going to have to embellish those more.

It's easy to forget stuff like that when a WIP is full of plot and danger! I know I tend to write the tense/sad/angsty story elements first, then add happier moments to balance them out. The longer I work on a story, the better I grasp the characters, so I figure out what their happy memories and favourite things are.

Hey, speaking of happy memories ... If emotions "bleed" into your MC, is she able to wash them out of her own head afterward? Does she even want to get rid of the positive feelings? Keeping other people's happy thoughts and emotions could be an interesting way of dealing with her stress. Maybe she could escape into someone else's memories of a happy family/peaceful home/cuddly puppy/delicious meat pie even if she hasn't personally experienced those things.

Rhubix
04-01-2011, 12:54 PM
let me grab the old defibrillator and revitalize this thread.


Hey, speaking of happy memories ... If emotions "bleed" into your MC, is she able to wash them out of her own head afterward? Does she even want to get rid of the positive feelings? Keeping other people's happy thoughts and emotions could be an interesting way of dealing with her stress. Maybe she could escape into someone else's memories of a happy family/peaceful home/cuddly puppy/delicious meat pie even if she hasn't personally experienced those things.
Q1: Yes she can wash them out of herself. She's learned she can cry on behalf of people to help wash out their grief as well. She doesn't yet know that her frequent nightmares are related to her gifts also. I'm not sure if she will by the end of the book.
Q2 I never thought about. I know she would need to wash out the bad. So far I've had her hesitant to search the good. The empaths are called "Dream thieves" and she struggles moraly with searching through people's love and happy places.
Her only encounter with dark emotions on a significant level so far are when she sees her friend is poisoning himself with his dark emotions and she leaches them out to help him.
She is getting pretty desperate for some optimism at this point in the draft, stealing happiness could be a very interesting thing to explore.
I'm uncovering a major morality theme within the story. Is she willing to become what people fear she is to get the job done?
If she does steal the good, will they find ways out like the bad do? hmmm.

I've just started reading the Dresden series by Jim Butcher. (almost through book 3) Mr.Dresden's soul gazes are similar to what I was envisioning her's to be like, though her visions are more like dreams.
I'm finding them really inspirational, I really like his emotional descriptions throughout all the crazy antics.

Heidicvlach
04-03-2011, 09:22 AM
I like the sound of your scenario, Rhubix. It makes dreams and emotions seem like a tangible resource to be moved around. Like objects that have no monetary value, but immeasurable sentimental value. Best of luck with your MC and her story!