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  • brent

Instant Empathy

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

I'm a big fan of lists. Quick-hit summaries that I can refer to when seeking to spark my imagination, add variety or mix things up, or escape a writing rut.

A healthy list groups topics by high concept, then offers ideas across the spectrum of each category.

One of the best lists comes from "Writing for Emotional Impact" by Karl Iglesias (Wingspan Press). Karl provides nifty tactics to get readers on a character's side.

Jam-packed with insights for screenwriters, these techniques are just as relevant to novelists because they're all about character.

Karl sets out three broad categories for how character actions can develop their audience appeal: sympathy, virtue, and admiration.


  • Mistreatment, injustice, contempt

  • Misfortune, bad luck

  • Handicaps - physical, mental, health, financial

  • Haunted by the past, wounded, repressed pain

  • Weakness, vulnerability

  • Betrayed, deceived

  • Not believed when telling the truth

  • Abandoned

  • Excluded, rejected

  • Lonely, neglected

  • Regrets mistakes they've made

  • Jeopardy - emotional, physical, social


Humanistic Virtues

  • Helps the less fortunate

  • Relates to children, children liking them

  • Likes animals, animals liking them (i.e. "patting the dog")

  • Change of heart, forgiving

  • Risks life and limb to save others

  • Fights for a just cause

  • Loves others, being important to others

  • Shows humanity in private moments

  • Nurtures others


Admirable Qualities

  • Power, charisma, leadership

  • Glamorous profession

  • Courage

  • Passion

  • Skills, expertise

  • Attractiveness

  • Wisdom, wit, cleverness

  • Sense of humour, playfulness

  • Childlike innocence, enthusiasm

  • Athleticism

  • Persistence

  • Misfit, rebel, eccentric

The beautiful thing about lists is that they can be honed or expanded as our writing skills grow.

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