The Empathy Map: Character profiling from the outside4 min read

by Feb 24, 2017Writing0 comments

When we talk about creating character profiles we often expect, as the writer, to sit down and hash out the whole internal world of that character.  What they love, what they hate, the overt anger they feel when they need to eat and they’re five miles from the nearest pub.

Character profiles tend to focus on that internal life.  Maybe that works for you as a tool, but maybe it doesn’t.  So let’s try approaching it a different way.

The empathy map puts more focus on the external life of your character.  The categories are simple.

What do your characters think and feel? 

The first category is still looking at the internal workings of your character.  What are their preoccupations, their aspirations, their worries?  What is really important to them and what are they motivated by?

But then the empathy map diverges and opens out in scope…

What do your characters see?

What is the environment around them like?  That can be as simple as their living space and the city around them.  But also, what are they taking in?  What adverts and news articles are they exposed to?  Who are their friends and co-workers?  Even consider what they don’t see, what are their blind spots?  The news articles they don’t see because they’re subscribed to certain political channels.  The affluence or poverty they don’t see because they live and work in only one sector of the city.  All these things influence your character.

What do your characters hear?

What do the friends they meet up with say?  Is is the same of different to what their co-workers say?  Do they say things that fit in with what your character believes, or are they divergent?

One thing that I think is particularly interesting to think about in this context is what are your characters hearing about themselves?  That can have a huge influence on their behaviour generally, as well as towards specific people.  We tend to like people who like us.  That means we’re likely to spend more time with them and listen to them more.  Does that mean we might be more influenced by them?  And is that influence going to always be positive?

What to your characters say and do?

This may be very different from their internal thoughts.  How do they behave in public?  They might be polite as anything to the person that bumps into them, and be swearing their head off inside.  How does your character dress?  (Not what do they wear, but do they dress to impress or dress for comfort?  Why is that?)

What they say and do is going to change depending on characters and objects they are interacting with.  So do you know why that is, and how it will impact their behaviour?  This is particularly important and something that even the best writers can forget.  A character isn’t just one personality, but a series of traits that flex depending on who you are with.

That’s a lot of questions to take in.  But have a go and see how you find this compared to traditional internal character profiling.

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