How Much Do You Empathize With Your Characters?
This will have to be a short post as I am scrambling to finish the first draft of the second novel in the Marie Antoinette trilogy; and I have promised myself that I would write the last word today. To have my characters experience the events of Bastille Day tomorrow, on the 222nd anniversary of, well, Bastille Day, would be too painful for me and it's not a career milestone I'd like to remember.
The events of the second book, DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW span the years 1774 - 1789, from the ascenion to the throne of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the fall of the Bastille.
On Sunday I wrote the death of the dauphin (while in Marie Antoinette's head) and found myself sobbing hysterically at one point, as though someone close to me had passed away.
Does that ever happen to you as you work?
I also find my stomach knotting at tense moments for the characters, or getting headaches when they might have one, for example. And yet for me this is nothing new. Many years ago, when held a survival job slaving away at a personal injury law firm, I seemed to develop the plaintiffs' symptoms when I incorporated the information from their medical reports into their legal briefs. A good friend of mine who was also an actress with a similar day job had the same "syndrome." And she worked for medical malpractice attorneys!
But I've discovered that empathizing with accident victims on a psychological-physiological level seems to translate to fictional characters as well.
What about you? Do you laugh with your characters? Cry with them? Feel their pain? For readers -- can you tell whether or not an author seems to personally relate to her/his characters? Does it matter?