Portraying the emotion of sympathy

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#FeelLines runs every Thursday on Twitter. Each weekly theme is an emotion. The aim is to show a line where a character in your writing expresses this emotion.

Expressing the emotion of sympathy

The definition of sympathy is the feeling of being sorry for somebody; showing that you understand and care about somebody’s problems.

A character expressing sympathy conveys to the reader who they care about. If the reader sympathises with the protagonist they’ll care about the same things.

Yet, the lack of an emotion can give hints to the relationship a character has towards others.

A lack of sympathy towards someone who has fallen on hard times could highlight a rivalry. Or they know something about the situation which has yet to be revealed to the reader. E.g. A lack of sympathy towards a man whose wife has left him. It later transpires he had an affair and the unsympathetic character knew from the start.

Unexpected sympathy highlights more to a relationship than previously revealed. A secret crush for example.

There is also false sympathy expressed for a character’s own gain, e.g. sympathy to a horrible boss in hope of a pay rise.

False emotions can be easier to spot unless your character is very good at acting. Are gestures way over the top? Do words of sympathy uttered lack the body language to back them up?

Additionally, some people struggle conveying their emotions.

How would a sympathetic person feel?

  • A sensation of weight in the body
  • A desire to help the affected person(s)
  • A need to offer thoughts and prayers and they may often think of the person
  • Glad it didn’t happen to them or worry it might

What body language do you expect to see of someone who is feeling sympathetic?

  • A neutral expression
  • A lowered tone of voice, speaking words the person wants to hear or saying, ‘I’m sorry. Is there anything I can do to help? Do you want to talk?’
  • Physical contact, squeezing a hand, a hug
  • Leaning towards the person

Remember, the factors which will influence the expression of emotion:

  • Character personality
  • Who they are feeling sympathy towards
  • The situation

Also, consider the duration of the situation. Emotions can wear thin, or they can shift. A character’s behaviour over time may change to reflect this.

I hope you can join in on #FeelLines and will be looking out for your entries every Thursday.

FeelLines sympathy theme

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