Fantasy v. Empathy

I was recently wondering about what it is exactly that I enjoy in a story. When I read an adventure about a hero who saves the world, what is the nature of the thrill that I feel? When I read a love story that moves me, what is the nature of the romantic excitement that keeps me turning pages?

The obvious answer is that I’m taken up in the fantasy. I read Lord of the Rings and I am Aragorn. I read Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Darcy is wooing me. Obvious as that answer is, it doesn’t feel right to me. I, Erica, do not want to be Aragorn–I want my own adventure in which I save the world. And I’m not in love with Mr. Darcy myself–my husband’s personality is quite different from that character’s, and, to my mind, much preferable.

Instead, I think it’s empathy that I feel when I read. I am thrilled by the idea of finding one’s larger purpose (saving the world). I remember what it feels like to discover that a particular person is the person I want to marry, and so I am excited for Elizabeth when she makes this discovery about Darcy.

As a writer, I think I am even less likely to be taken up by the fantasy of putting myself in the story. It’s true that my characters come out of me, and so share aspects of my personality. But when I think about the characters in Vintage, for example, it’s clear to me that the concert Josh sets up is his dream, not mine. I feel for him, and I feel his victory keenly, but I made him and I know he’s not me.

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