As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer.
When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story.
Description: the ability to place oneself deeply within another person’s experience to see their view of the world and better identify with their emotions, concerns, goals and life struggles. NOTE: this entry does not cover Empaths, which is a talent that goes beyond learned empathy.
Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: control over one’s emotions and being able to reject any personal bias that might get in the way of seeing life from another person’s view, perceptiveness and knowing what questions to ask, strong listening and communication skills, openness to new experiences and ideas, being comfortable enough to open up and share in kind
Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: curious, kind, understanding, objective, honest, calm, encouraging, fair, diplomatic, selfless, imaginative, compassionate, non-judgmental
Required Resources and Training: to hone one’s empathy, a character must open themselves to other people, their thoughts, perceptions and experiences, and be able to view these as having as much value as their own personal ones. Listening–really listening–means not rushing in with advice or expressing sympathy or pity. Empathy is acknowledging another person’s emotion as being valid, and seating oneself in their viewpoint to better experience their perspective.
Learning to be open-minded, and set aside one’s own experiences and interactions that can lead to unintentional bias can be difficult to achieve, but necessary to achieve true empathy. Training oneself to watch for physical cues and body language will help the character see if supportive questions might encourage a deeper sharing of emotions and experience, or if quiet listening is better in the situation. Being aware of body language and what it communicates will also allow the character to use their own to reinforce the message that they are open and engaged, and listening without judgement. Trying new experiences, identifying and then facing different personal challenges, and looking for deeper meaning in the world around will help the character open themselves to “trying on” different perspectives, making it easier to set aside their own feelings to better feel another’s.
Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:
- The misconception that people with empathy are bleeding hearts who can’t make hard choices
- People who show empathy build trust quickly
- Empathy creates balanced leadership
- People who feel strong empathy may also feel strong guilt if they are unable to bring about a needed change
Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful: in friendship and relationships, in careers that focus on social sciences, mental health and well-being, human advocacy groups, politics and leadership, communication and diplomacy, any job that requires strong interpersonal skills, people in an advisory role to those in power (using empathy skills to convey the need for change, reinforce balance and promote open communication)
Resources for Further Information:
You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.