Empathy Maps in Creative Writing: How to create believable characters?

So, today I did something new at work. I created an Empathy Map for a potential client. What is an Empathy Map, you’re wondering? I’ll explain it to you in a moment. Please have a look at the cute diagram below:

Empathy-Map-No-Stickies.png

Empathy Maps are often used in business to understand the motivations of a potential client. It is like prepping yourself before asking out the girl/guy you have been swooning over for a long time. You want to know who they are, what they like and how you can impress them. You are the one with the merchandise, they are the buyers. You want to wrap your goods in the shiniest wrapper, before presenting it to your customer.

So what you do is you create an empathy map. You want to get into the head of the person you’re trying to impress. How? Well, you draw up something like in the figure above and fill the white portions with the following pointers:

  1. What does the prospective client/boyfriend/girlfriend, let’s call him/her X, think or feel?
  2. What do they hear? What do you hear about X from others?
  3. What does X see? What might X see in you?
  4. What does X usually say or do? Do you have any idea what a typical day in X’s life look like?
  5. What are the pain points in X’s life?
  6. What is X trying to gain in life?

To do this exercise to its maximum benefit, you must put yourself in X’s shoes and see/think/feel as X does. And hence, this map is called an empathy map.

empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
While doing this exercise at office today, a sudden idea came to my mind. What if I created an empathy map for each of the characters in my works-in-progress?
For us authors,understanding our characters is of utmost importance. Maybe, you hate your antagonist, but have you ever put yourself into the shoes of your antagonist and tried to understand why he is the way he is? We talk about POVs often while writing a book, but do we bother to understand the POVs of each character that we create?
Let’s think of every character as a prospective client, and try to feel/see the world as they see. Maybe then we can create that life-like character that we had been trying to create, and not merely caricatures?
 Have you ever used an Empathy Map before? If yes, how has it helped you? If not, do you think an Empathy Map might help you any manner? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this!
Until next time, Sayounara!
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About Arpita

Arpita Pramanick is a little, young woman with a bright face (who'd rather not look directly into a stranger's eye) you'll find walking on the corridors of Mu Sigma, Inc. She tells herself she wants to be a properly published writer (by which she means she wants to be published from the likes of Penguin), but isn't really so sincere about writing everyday. So if you see her, tell her to go write. She'll love you for doing that!
This entry was posted in General, Journey of a Beginning Author, Life at Work, Tips and Suggestions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Empathy Maps in Creative Writing: How to create believable characters?

  1. anankhan98 says:

    I had the exact same thought! Empathy map would probably be more helpful in understanding a character than long detailed notes on their pasts, their interests and hobbies, etc. At least for novices like us. I’m planning on giving this a try next time I write something big. Thanks for the inspiration, Arpi!

    Liked by 1 person

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