3 Steps to Use Empathy to Craft Inspirational Stories

“Storytellers often try to cash in on this audience appreciation for underdogs, but we can easily miss the foundational element of an underdog story: empathy. The reason the audience becomes entranced by the story of an underdog is not because underdogs are fundamentally attractive; we are entranced because we empathize with them.

Empathy is one of the most powerful tools available to a storyteller. Whether you are writing a novel, nonfiction, a screenplay, or even an ad campaign, empathy can draw your audience into the story and, by the end, inspire them as well. This is the heart and soul of a powerful story.

I will provide you with three integral pieces of story structure that you can use to create empathy in your story: creating a relatable protagonist, developing empathetic conflict, and delivering a shred of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation.

1. Create a relatable protagonist

Anyone, or indeed anything, can be a protagonist. That’s the beauty of modern storytelling. If Pixar has taught us anything, it’s that you can take a child’s toy, a clown fish, a basic emotion, a tow truck, an umbrella, or even the monster living beneath your child’s bed and make it a relatable protagonist.

Relatability is the key attribute of your protagonist. It doesn’t matter if he/she is human, inanimate, selfish, kind, or scary; if you can make a protagonist relatable, you invite your audience into a deeper connection with your story.

One of the most effective ways to build relatability is to give your protagonist a dream or ambition—something that will lead to perfect happiness. Everyone has a dream, and your audience can relate to having a dream or ambition. Depending on the maturity level of your audience you could keep it simple—being with the one you love—or make it more complex—bringing the joy of music to an orphanage of starving children in Africa.”

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