There has been such a wonderful outpouring of help and concern for the people of Haiti. But in such times it is easy to feel that as fiction writers we cannot help. And perhaps we can't directly. But lets widen our scope for a moment, let's not think only of Haiti, but let's think of all beings in the world, of all those suffering, whether through a natural disaster, famine, loss of a job or loneliness. Can we as fiction writers do anything to help alleviate this suffering? I believe we can.
You may have noticed that many of my writing exercises focus on getting in the skin of a character. And that's exactly what I want you to do as fiction writers - invest yourself completely in the heart and soul of the character you are writing about. Become the character. Because an interesting thing happens when you do. Not only does your fiction get better because your characters become more fully developed and therefore real to the reader, but you become a better person because you begin to develop empathy.
Empathy: the power of identifying oneself mentally with (and so fully comprehending) a person or object.
When you are empathetic you care about your fellow humans, you care about this miraculous planet we find ourselves sharing. And when you care, your readers begin to care as well. Through your words they may begin to think about people or a situation from a perspective they never had before. Things they may never have considered previously, they may now begin to care about. And all because of your writing. So as fiction writers we do have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the world, and perhaps, to even change it for the better.