One Writer’s Journey

April 15, 2015

Empathy: One of the Best Ways to Hook Your Reader

Don’t you hate it when you pick up a book and just can’t get into it?  The main character is whiney.  Her problem is trivial.  You simply can’t wait to get back to cleaning the house.

When that happens, the author has failed to generate reader empathy.  Empathy is one of the best ways to hook a reader and keep him turning the pages.

Rachel Hartman uses empathy when she gives us Seraphina, a character who has to hide the fact that she is half dragon for fear that those around her will hate her.  Chances are that you and I have very little experience hiding our dragon ancestry but most of us have something that we don’t want other people to find out.  Some of us even have to hide something, like our sexuality, that we can do nothing to change. This creates empathy with a character who has a similar problem.

Playing with Fire by Bruce Hale opens with Max standing in the yard of his burning foster home.  When, in spite of his innocense, he is accused of starting the fire, readers empathize.  Perhaps they’ve never been foster children or never been accused of starting a fire, but everyone has been frustrated when accused of something they didn’t do and would never do.

Readers empathize because they recognize the emotion. Situations and emotions can both be used to create empathy.  This empathy hooks the reader and keeps them reading until the end. To read about how to hook your nonfiction read, check out my post today at the Muffin.




  1. You know, I thought giving Claire a limp from having polio when she was a child would help with Glencara’s Bane. i still don’t like her character. Think I should have her be one legged? (Just kidding…I think! :D)

    Comment by calensariel — April 15, 2015 @ 3:31 am | Reply

    • It is really difficult when you don’t like the character yourself. Why don’t you like her? How could you change this?

      Comment by SueBE — April 16, 2015 @ 2:43 am | Reply

      • I don’t like her because she’s very flat. One dimensional. And somewhat insipid. All the other characters are pretty interesting, but I just can’t get there with her. Darned if I can figure out why.

        Comment by calensariel — April 16, 2015 @ 4:02 am

  2. Try rewriting a chapter or two from the POV of one of the characters you do like. Maybe someone else should be the main character.

    Comment by SueBE — April 16, 2015 @ 4:26 pm | Reply

    • Hm… That would mean inventing a new character because she is the US for the first two chapters and then in Ireland after that. But I’ll give it some thought. Even experimentally it might be worth see what someone close to her thinks of her. Thanks for the idea, Sue. I appreciate your help.

      Comment by calensariel — April 16, 2015 @ 4:29 pm | Reply

  3. Makes me think of Mark Twain’s books. I love Huckleberry Finn, but can’t understand Tom Sawyer one bit. It’s like a language barrier entirely, that Tom story.

    Comment by in567 — July 26, 2015 @ 10:15 am | Reply

    • It is exactly like a language barrier! The other night, I tried reading a novel that I was asked to review. I honestly couldn’t get past page 4. It was so overwritten and I just couldn’t buy into what this four or five year old character was supposedly thinking. The next novel I picked up, clicked immediately. Even more curious when it is two books by the same author.

      Comment by suebe — July 26, 2015 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

      • In regards to overwritten, I think of Stephen King. Back when I used to check out reading even horror novels (no thank you, now), I would get so turned off by his over-descriptions of the scenes. Especially how he’d write about the weather and the colors of the leaves. Sheesh. It was like pages just on what the scene looked like, where he wants the reader to picture themselves to be. I just skimmed through those pages to figure out who the characters were gonna be in the stories. That’s where John Grisham did way better at writing. Can’t believe he had passed away, when he did. Boy, he really wrote a lotta books back then. Today, I just love to be able to pick up used Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. I was thrilled to find out that my best friend’s kids love to read ’em too, so I gave to them my collection. Yeee! A fellow book lover (of similar readin’ material )is really sumthin’, no?

        Comment by in567 — July 29, 2015 @ 2:25 am

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