Are fiction writers sad people?

Can you write drama without having empathy?

This question has been bothering me for a while now. Are fiction writers sad people? For a fiction story to be good there needs to be drama, friction, conflict. No conflict, no story. If there is no challenge, your story will become a series of events. Nobody wants to read about a happily married couple who’s lives are perfect. People want a dilemma, pain, drama.

So, in order to write about this agony, this torment, would it be necessary to have experienced it to be able to write about it in such a way that the reader can feel it with you?

My writing often includes physical aspects of what the character is going through. It’s something I have learned to write (show, don’t tell). So my character clenches her fists until her knuckles are white when she’s angry. There’s a lump in her throat and her eyes fill with tears when she’s experiencing grief. I draw from emotions I have experienced in real life to write about what my characters are going through. But it’s not only my own experiences that I use, there’s also those of others. I feel their pain, I have empathy for them. They may go through emotions I haven’t experienced, but by listening to them, observing them, I relate to them, I experience their pain second hand. I can remember crying when I was listening to a song when I was a teenager. My sisters asked me why I was crying and I told them ‘because the song is so sad.’ They thought I was nuts.


There are, however, people who do not go through the emotional rollercoaster I often find myself in at all. I call them ’emotional flatliners.’ These people don’t show a lot of emotion. They do to some extent, otherwise they would be labelled as a freak, but in how far this is learned behaviour I don’t know. I guess these people have no empathy. They can’t feel the pain of others and hence don’t show emotion as a reaction to other people’s pain, especially in extreme situations. I’m not saying they don’t feel anything, just way below the level that I’m experiencing it. And I’m flabbergasted by it.

I’m wondering if these emotional flatliners can write fiction. In my Writers’ Corner updates I often add articles about psychology. Articles that describe certain psychological behaviours, in order to learn how these people behave. I don’t know what it is like to be jealous. I don’t know what it’s like to be a serial killer (that’s why I love watching Dexter, I call it research 😀 ). I don’t have anybody with these traits (as far as I know 🙂 ) as a friend who I can talk to. One day I may want to write about a character with one of these traits though, so I need to know how to portray them accurately. Hence I research it.

Would these flatliners be able to write a believable story including drama if they do their research?

Or do you truly have to be a sad person for this?

Author: Jacky Dahlhaus

Paranormal Romance Author

4 thoughts on “Are fiction writers sad people?”

  1. Reminds me of those actors who use the Stanislavsky/emotion memory thing in order to portray their characters more realistically. Then there’s the ones who make themselves destitute to portray a homeless person, or spend time in prison so they can bring that ‘realism’ to the part.

    I think good actors are like good writers – they just pretend. Simples.

    1. I had to look up what the Stanislavsky memory acting was, learned something again! It appears that most acting techniques are based on Stanislavsky’s technique. I agree that a lot of writing and acting is based on pretending. I mean, who has experienced an apocalypse? But won’t you need to have experienced those primal emotions of fear, love, and hate before being able to portray them, on stage or on paper, as convincingly as possible? If you have a ‘flatliner,’ say a serial killer like Dexter who can’t feel emotions, can that person perform a play or write a book as well as a ‘normal’ person?

      1. I’m sure you’re right, though some authors are just really good at appearing to know what they’re talking about. (I only ever watched the first episode of Dexter, so maybe have some catching up to do, flatliner-wise).

      2. Oooh, you really must watch Dexter! It’s funny, educational (writer wise) and highly entertaining :). It’s not accurate though, don’t think that the police really works that way :D.

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