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Writer’s Craft #56 – Fiction Hones Social Skills

January 30, 2012
Lynda Williams

Lynda Williams, Author of Okal Rel Saga

Your host, Lynda Williams, is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT. For a list of Okal Rel titles see: Lynda Williams on Amazon.com.


It hasn’t happened to me for nearly a year, so I was as thrilled as a kid on a first date when I was ambushed by not one, but two whole scenes this weekend. The key ingredient of a scene, for me, is discovering at least two characters with a conflict that I can get inside, on both sides of the equation, and argue as if each point of view were my own. I think this ability accounts for my characters feeling like real people.

A colleague of mine at SFU, Chris Groeneboer, pointed out a Scientific American article about fiction called “In the Minds of Others”. The research suggests that fiction readers are better able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes: a talent that is handy for pysching out the competition and succeeding in team work as well as showing compassion.

What do you think? Are fiction authors experts at channeling “the other”?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. JohnP permalink
    January 30, 2012 6:38 am

    To my thinking, that innate ability should also presuppose an elevated ability to empthaise with others. As a group, I have not observed that trait to any greater degree in writers than others.

    On reflection, I might accept that authors are more ready to see traits in people similar to those they have already implanted in characters they have created.

    Hmm

  2. January 30, 2012 9:47 am

    If readers are better at social simulation, it is as likely to be an effect (people interested in such things read) as a cause.

    • Lynda Williams permalink
      January 30, 2012 3:09 pm

      That’s always possible. It is addressed in the Scientific American article, if anyone wants to delve.

  3. January 30, 2012 12:24 pm

    Linda, this is a great thought provoking post, thank you for publishing.
    I’m not sure I agree with it, however; I think the only thing fiction readers have over the non reading masses is a bigger imagination to draw from in applying motives to other’s behavior.

    Do you know really nails empathy? Business managers. I work for a large corporation, with our sales VPs and Directors. If you were to sit in on a contentious conversation you would be amazed at the number of ‘I see your point’ and ‘I understand’s that you hear. These people are pros, and I am nowhere near their ability :-)

    Fiction makes you think, and thinking expands your deck of cards to choose from. But you can also get that from life experiences, work, being a parent, etc. Interesting thought…

  4. January 30, 2012 3:07 pm

    Interesting observation re: writers, John. I think the article speaks only to the enhanced POV swap abilities of readers. Maybe writers are too egotistic to use their powers for good. :-)

    Kariannt’s comment on business managers points out the common misconception that empathy necessarily equates to mushy behavior. All it really means is the ability to “feel with” someone else – understand their POV. One might do that to gain an advantage rather than sympathize.

    • JohnP permalink
      January 30, 2012 7:57 pm

      I agree with the observation about good managers, the operative word being “good”. Currently struggling with a manager who has approximately the managing ability of a moldy turnip but who compensates with jargon and threats.

      What do you think of the supposition that perhaps people read fiction that already reflects their own personalities and therefore the empathic ability might be recognising one of your own?

  5. February 2, 2012 11:03 am

    I’m always looking for interesting charters for my stories, and the best place to find them is to study real people. So I’ve stopped talking and started listening to what people have to say and encouraging them to tell me more. I think this has benefited both my writing and my social skills.

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