Empathy and TV shows

I find that as LS’s release comes closer, I have a harder time thinking of something to post here other than, “wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!”  😉  So first I’ll start off with a reminder that it’s the last day to enter the Gone, Gone, Gone giveaway contest.  Get me your songs if you want a chance to win the book.

So I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, and I’m still not sure if I’m even going to make a point with it.  But I’ll start out by admitting that I rarely cry for books.  I cry a lot, though, for television shows.  Some of this is the music.  Nothing will evoke tears from me faster than the right song.

But something that has made me more teary than usual lately is this sense of empathy I’ve been feeling for TV characters.  Oddly, it’s not always the characters you’d expect.

Two similar examples I can give from recent shows are West Wing and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Nobody knows how to make me cry worse than Joss Whedon…unless it’s Aaron Sorkin.

Warning: This post will have spoilers for shows that aired ages ago, so, yeah.

I’ve been listening to WW on my iPhone (more dialogue than visuals makes for good listening material) during work, and today I had to pretend that it was allergies that made me go blow my nose in the middle of a test.  Really it was Annabeth telling Josh that Leo had died.  Leo features in another of my teary WW moments, when he runs through the White House to tell President Bartlett that his daughter’s been kidnapped.  There’s something about imagining what it would be like to be the person who tells the bad news that gets me, I guess, because my first-impulse Buffy example?  Buffy telling Dawn that their mother has died.

I personally have a hard time showing empathy in real life situations.  I know the way I should be reacting, but sometimes I’m worrying about not looking like I’m sympathetic enough (even if I am sympathetic).  So it’s interesting that I can effortlessly put myself in these characters’ minds and feel the anguish they must be feeling in giving the bad news.

The Buffy example goes beyond what Buffy and Dawn must be feeling because Joss has cleverly turned the cameras to the people in Dawn’s art classroom, watching Buffy tell Dawn and clearly feeling exactly as helpless as the viewers at home.  A pane of glass separates them from the scene (as it does us), and they can no more go to Dawn to comfort her (because it’d be intruding on the moment, which belonged to her and Buffy) than we can (because it’s a tv show).  So it is very easy to put ourselves in their place and understand what they must be feeling.

Just so you don’t think that a character’s death is needed for me to do this, another Buffy example is when Buffy is given the Class Protector award.  For three seasons we watch Buffy protect people around her with no thanks.  In fact, except for the other MCs, the rest of her class seems ungracious and mean.  Buffy used to be popular and would love to be popular again, but the whole Slayer gig keeps her from achieving that goal.  So to get an award at the prom and be told that her classmates wrote her name in for it, that they recognize all her hard work, that they’ve paid attention to her this whole time, it really gets to me.

I don’t think I used to watch TV this way.  I had tragic (or happy!) moments that made me cry, sure, but sometimes it was the music, and sometimes it was the tragic beauty of the scene (Buffy sending Angel to Hell, Buffy killing herself to save Dawn).

I don’t know if it’s writing that has made me go beyond the text of the scene and delve into what the character is thinking (or, in some cases, what I think the writer/director/actor decided the character would think), or if it’s listening to a show while working and having more thought processes to go through when I’m not distracted by the visual.  Because it was definitely WW that got me going deeper into the heads of the characters.

But I think it helps with writing.  It helps to go beyond the surface of what’s being portrayed on screen.  I don’t do it much with reading because everything is right there on the page, and with rare exceptions, I take the author’s word that that’s what the character is thinking.  Plus my mind is more occupied with reading the words and processing them into images and the scene to stop and go deeper into the character’s mind most of the time.  But I hope that analyzing and empathizing these emotions through other media helps me express things in my own writing that I haven’t experienced myself.

So I wonder how deeply other people go into the heads of characters they’re watching.  Do you dive into your favorite character’s minds or just stay at the surface of what the TV show or movie is showing you?  Do you find it easier to relate to the emotions of novel characters instead?  Has going deeper (if you do) helped you with your writing, particularly with things you haven’t experienced before?

Lots of love,

Sage

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