Florida Man Arrested for DUI after Ordering Burrito in Bank Drive-Thru
Florida Woman Shoots Husband and Her Mother after Uncovering Their Affair
Florida Man and Florida Woman have become icons of the 24-hour news cycle, the protagonists of a thousand “truth is stranger than fiction” stories. Florida Man and Woman get played for laughs or sensationalist click bait, even when the outcomes of their stories are serious injury, death, or emotional devastation. Because of that, they offer a useful exercise for connecting with your characters, even the ones you hate, even the ones you want your readers to hate.
While the news cycle and social media have turned Florida Man into a monolith of terrible life choices, the important thing to remember is that each Florida Man in each news story is a real person. The fateful decision that gets him on the news is a product of his personal life, his childhood, his hopes, dreams, and desires. This is true for Florida Man and it’s true for the characters you write.
Once, while discussing a writing project in which a couple of white supremacists have a walk-on role, my agent said, “Please don’t make them sympathetic.” She knows me well enough to know that my inclination as a writer is to connect with every character in some way. Even the characters I despise, I want to understand how they came to be who they are. It may not end up in the final draft of a book, but it’s always part of my writing process. The trick is to control how empathy and sympathy interact. Empathizing with your characters isn’t the same as writing them to be sympathetic characters.
In casual conversation, I frequently hear empathy and sympathy used almost interchangeably, but in terms of fiction, sympathy is for readers. Let them feel sorry for your characters. The writer’s job is empathy — submersing yourself in the worldview and emotions of your characters. You have to see the world through Florida Man’s eyes, and you have to share in the emotions that Florida Man feels.
Take for example that second headline about Florida Woman. That’s a real person who has arrived home from work to discover her husband and her mother are having an affair. Now, I’m not the sort of person who thinks a gun is a good solution to most problems, but if I were going to write this story, I would look back at the worst betrayals I’ve experienced in my life. None of them rise to this level, so I have to turn it up all the way, and put myself sincerely into this scenario to see how Florida Woman made the decision to shoot her husband and her mother. [Read more…]