How to Write a Novel 7: The Truth, The Lies And The Empathy


“Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.”

Stephen King. On Writing


To have your reader empathise with your character is a job well done. There is nothing better for a reader than to be moved to smile, laugh out loud or cry when reading a novel. To write with some degree of empathy the writer needs to come from truth. Be convincing, take your grain of truth then build on it with all the embellishment you need to take that reader right into your prose. Make them wince with pain when the knife twists, make them feel the brush of wind on their cheeks, the sting of hot tea on their tongue or the soft hazy scent of lavender on a warm spring day.

All writing has some truth in it and I don’t mean simply well researched facts. I mean truth that comes from the writer. From their emotional experiences: their past, their outlook on life; their expectations of others. At the most basic level this truth relies on writer and reader empathy. The writer’s job is to make the reader empathise with the character and to do this the writer must dig deep into their reservoirs of experience, their truth.

For example, you might not feel as strongly as your character does about botany but you’ve felt strongly about another past-time. You know what it’s like to feel passionate about something that others might not ‘get’. Even down to how you imagine a hedgerow smells on a damp summer’s evening will lend truth to your narrative. Maybe you recall walking on such an evening after some grievous life event. Did that colour your experience? How does it feel to be in a place that’s at odds with your emotions?

There is a deeper truth. A truth that comes from a writer’s perception of pain, love, happiness, sorrow or hope. There isn’t anyone who has not experienced something of each of these emotions and the writer needs to tap into those memories, syphon away the emotion to be used in their writing even if their character’s experiences and actions are completely different. Somewhere underneath all the drama in a narrative is a thin bedrock of truth.


Follow on Twitter: @LivKiernan



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