Writing Empathetically vs. Sympathetically and Sentimentally
Several weeks ago, I read a story that had a passage like this: "My parents never really cared about me," Allie said. "All my life they saw me as a disappointment, a waste of space. I was always the butt of their jokes. And no one really noticed. I was always last place, as far as they were concerned. And it went on like this for about a paragraph or two. I could see that the writer wanted to foster sympathy for the character, wanted to explain how the character felt about her upbringing. But ultimately, it made her sound whiny--and I could tell that wasn't what the author intended. At first I was a little sympathetic to the character. . .then after several sentences, the writing just felt sentimental to me, meaning, I felt like the writer was trying to coax me to feel a certain way, like I was being controlled, rather than letting me feel for the situation myself. Instead, when you want to impact the reader, strive to create empathy. Here are two examples to illustrate empathetic writing.
• Truth, Literature, and Learning