Friday, September 14, 2012

People Who Have Suffered

I read this quote and it really got me thinking:

"Its unfortunate and I really wish I wouldn't have to say this, but I really like human beings who have suffered. They're kinder." ~ Emma Thompson

I've done my fair share of emotional suffering in my brief 30 years on this planet. I also work every day with clients who have suffered more than any one person ever should.  And I realize that I have a sort of... well contempt, though it's a strong word... for people who have never suffered.  I think they don't really get it.  They don't understand life and as a result can be pretty petty, uncaring, or ignorant.  When you're going through something rough, you really don't want Mr. Happy-go-lucky-sunshine in your face.  Trust me on this. 

But on the flip side of that coin, I see that people who have suffered  are almost completely unable to tolerate the suffering of others.  Because we've been there.  We know. 

Buddhist beliefs say that we are all born into suffering and pain, and that we are constantly seeking to be free of suffering, and that we have that power within us- in our minds.  Yes.  You have the power (I'm now going off on a fantasy book idea tangent.....)

How does this apply to writing? One of the bits of advice that is bandied about is that you need to make your main character struggle and fail.  Make bad things happen to them just when they think they've won.  Make them fall and get back up and eventually rise above it.  Because your readers will connect with and sympathize for a character that has it tough.  But its more than that.  It's not just sympathy, its the recognition of a fellow sufferer.  Someone who hasn't always had it easy, and the realization that if this person turned out better for their pain, then maybe we can too.

Some of the most influential people have pages of suffering and struggle in their backgrounds.  Its that struggle that made them who they are.  That made them able to see the world through a different pair of glasses than the others around them.  Your main character should have that ability.  Otherwise their successes in your story will feel shallow and undeserved. 


  1. I'm afraid my suffering has had the opposite effect on me...I tend to expect people to just deal with it and move on. My therapist sometimes tells me I need to be more empathic; it's hard. I am very compassionate-just not all the time. But I'm working on it!

    1. I did wonder about that- if it had the opposite effect for some people. But then, when you're reading a book do you identify with characters that have it tough? Or do you want a kittens and rainbows story?
      I'm definitely over-empathetic to people in pain, and working in health care that is very hard (anyone in that position please check out this website about vicarious trauma or compassion burn out : )

      Anyway, so I tend to over empathize, and even when reading I get really, really emotionally involved with my characters. But I do have a lack of empathy for people/characters I perceive to have had it too easy or who are just whining and not looking for a solution.

  2. Beautiful and true. I'm not too disheartened by the less-than-enthusiastic response my first manuscript got because I tried to tackle some serious emotions and,at 18, I don't think I've experienced enough to portray them properly. Maybe with time, my writing will improve because by then I would have had sufficient life experience.

    1. Avantika, that's pretty insightful for someone your age! It could just be that you just didn't find the right fit for your book, so don't let it get to you. But yes, I'm sure life experience will only help :)


I'd love to hear your musings :)