Empathetic characters keep audiences invested. But how can you manufacture empathy?
You might not always look like the characters on the screen or be able to picture yourself in the title role. So, why are you able to connect with stories that feel so far off from your own?
The answer to that question is this: empathetic characters.
But what makes a character empathetic? And how can you manufacture empathy for characters you've already written?
Today I want to go over a few screenwriting strategies to help you make people care about your characters. Let's dig in.
How to Write an Empathetic Character
The most important thing about telling a story is making the audience care. The best way to do that is to give them characters they can care about. This all seems simple, but we often see movies and TV shows fail because you cannot get invested in the characters.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.
When you share with the characters, you feel a connection that keeps you tuning into new episodes and buying tickets to the theater.
Let's take a look at a few examples to show how these characters are created.
Empathetic Character Examples
Up first, I wanted to look at a villain. Let's talk about Killmonger from Black Panther. We should probably hate him. He wants to take over Wakanda and attack communities all over the globe with futuristic weapons.
But he kind of has a point?
See, Killmonger represents oppression and oppressive history.
A history that was stolen and swindled away.
While we may not agree with Killmonger's message, we understand and empathize with his plight.
Our empathy gives us a deeper resonation of the movie's theme as well.
Another character I think is fun to empathize with is Maria in The Sound of Music.
I think her character has one of the funniest introductions. The way they get us to root for her is to show us who's rooting against her?
Maria is shown to be a handful, someone who can't be constricted by the confines of a nunnery and who drives everyone around her a little crazy. We immediately kind of identify with her and we also want what's best for her.
Lastly, it might be cliche but let's chat about Walt from Breaking Bad. During the pilot episode, he's the perfect balance of empathy and sympathy. We really feel bad for him. His cancer is scary and puts his entire family in a hard situation he cannot control.
He has to wash cars after teaching to make ends meet.
But we also understand and empathize with his dream to have been someone bigger. Someone respected.
This compelling pilot then thrusts us then into a reverse character arc where we watch all those feelings torn away from him. He becomes a monster, but one we are attached to because of the brilliance of Season One.
What's next? Find your character archetype!
Character archetypes are the start point for creating the people we love, hate, learn from, and never forget in television and movies.