Impersonation. Empathy.

After writing a memoir and spending a year promoting it, I’m taking the chill of autumn and getting back to the craft I’ve been working on for 20 years and that’s fiction writing. I love fiction. Some people say, “I don’t read fiction. It’s not real.” To me fiction is realer than real. It’s distilled reality. The characters are not beholden to what actually happened in a room. Their words and feelings and actions tap into the collective We. And the act of climbing into that collective We as a writer and as a reader, requires the most important character trait I know: empathy. Without empathy, how can we love? Without empathy, how can we learn? How else am I to know what it is like to be a man, or a soldier, or a quadriplegic, or a Queen four hundred years ago?

People ask me often why I broke out of fiction to be the main character in a book. Well I think that sometimes people need to know that the main character exists in the world, to know that they are not alone. And as a writer, I needed to be the main character because I needed to create that kind of objectivity for myself during a challenging time in my marriage. I needed to write subjectively as an act of pure creation and catharsis, and then I needed to hold up the mirror to myself in reading it and wearing my editor’s cap. But memoir is limited. Though it’s still crafted and architectural, while you are still out on scaffoldings building your book, you are limited to reality. Back in the realm of fiction, I am free. I can climb into the mind and heart and actions of a 19 year old farrier from Montana and see the world through his eyes. In my comings and goings, I am back in that place of watching people move and talk and learning about that collective We. Maybe a certain turn of phrase might make it into my work. Or a gesture. Or a smell. Writers mine their lives. Hopefully we do it responsibly and hopefully we do it with compassion. It begins, however, by being empathetic. To a fault sometimes, tis true.

Here is a brilliant display of empathy. There is no way that Kevin Spacey became this good at these pitch-perfect impersonations, without studying these people he’s impersonating with a sharp dedication to the collective We, and years of developing his Empathy muscle. Enjoy this stunning performance.


Filed under A Place For Writers To Share, My book: This Is Not The Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, My Posts

6 Responses to Impersonation. Empathy.

  1. Interesting thoughts on how being the main character in a memoir can develop your empathy toward your fictional characters. I never would have thought of it that way. Working on a memoir now and will see what it brings to my fiction; thanks for planting the seed.

    Have always loved this piece with Spacey. Great impressionists are always fun to watch.

    • lauramunson

      Good luck with the memoir, Susan and thanks for saying hi. I had never seen this Spacey riff. Blew me away! Say hi to Chicago from Montana! yrs. Laura

  2. It’s interesting that you say memoir is limited by reality. I think the best memoirs I’ve read go beyond reality and tap into the same kind of collective processing that goes on with fictional characters. I think yours does too.

  3. I love this! Thank you for sharing!

  4. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, all excuses to ask the world if anyone is feeling the way we writers do. And when we are successful, as you are, it is because we have gone a little deeper into the human experience and someone who reads us feels less alone. I think your writers statement says something about shining light in the darkest corners.
    Yeah, kinda like that.

    • lauramunson

      Amanda, I think you nailed it not “kinda” but “exactly.” “…because we have gone a little deeper into the human experience and someone who reads us feels less alone.” That’s the generosity of spirit that makes me want to write. It’s not all masturbatory. It’s to help, yes? Not all writers feel that way. I’m glad you do. Write on! yrs. Laura

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