Memorable characters are the heart and the soul of every movie. Without them, there will be no one to create and tell the story of the film. Everybody loves a character or hates another, and the certain emotions that viewers feel about them can be explained through the art of character empathy in filmmaking. 

Did you ever notice how when your favorite character is sad, you also experience sadness? Or how when the “good guy” from the movie achieves a goal they were working hard for, you also experience a sense of accomplishment? You feel what the movie character is feeling thanks to empathy. 

The way characters are able to evoke certain emotions in viewers is mainly thanks to the principles of neurocinematic. It seems that our brains are programmed to perceive the emotions of the people in front of us and 
evoke mirror emotional responses. That is why when an actor or actress is smiling, you also, consciously or unconsciously, smile too. 

How character empathy is created?

Apart from the neuroscience principles that make us feel immediate empathy for the characters we see on the screen, the way characters are created also plays a huge role in our willingness to feel emphatic towards them.

 Simply put, when you hate a character because he or she is 
the “bad guy” of the movie, you refuse to feel sad when something bad happens to them. Why? Because you don’t like the character and you can’t feel sad for someone who displays negative attitudes and behaviors that you don’t normally support in real life. 

On the other hand, you hardly even realize how supportive and empathic you tend to be with those characters whose actions and behaviors you can relate to. 

regardless of the movie genre, characters are created in a certain manner to be able to manipulate the emotions of the audience and foster empathy. Here are the main features that are used to create a character that can trigger immediate empathy in viewers: 

Realistic and relatable 

The best way to create film characters that the audience will care about and empathize with is to make them realistic and relatable. Even if you are making a fantasy movie picturing an imaginary character, as long as you attribute them human traits, values, or emotions, they will be perceived as realistic and relatable. For example, a talking dog as the main character is hardly a realistic one. However, if the dog experiences humane emotions and struggles, the audience can feel empathy for their internal feelings. 

Adding emotions to the character is the best way to encourage the audience to identify themselves with him or her. Common emotions that almost every human has ever felt such as rejection from a loved one, loss, loneliness, joy or love are the best triggers for the viewer’s brain. 

Valued traits 

In all societies, it is common knowledge of what traits are considered good and which ones are considered to be punishable and easy to judge. For example, loyalty, courage, or honesty are all considered valued traits that make a person good. These features in a character are necessary to trigger immediate empathy and erase negativity.

A character that displays positive behaviors and choices based on their traits will easily make the audience feel empathic towards their feeling, be it negative or positive. 

 Real talent 

Seeing real talent in others seems to have a powerful impact on people’s emotions encouraging them to feel more empathic towards them. A character that is particularly good at something, be it dancing, singing, helping others or saving the world is more likely to make the audience care and feel empathy. 

However, in order to prove their talent, the development of the character must go into details involving their skill. How did he or she managed to become so good at what they are doing? What encourages their passion? And how they are using their talent to positively impact the stories of the other characters. 

Treated poorly by their peers 

Every one of us hates injustice and this principle is extremely effective to trigger immediate empathy from the audience. Take the most childish, yet very emblematic story of Cinderella for example. All viewers felt empathy and experienced feelings of sadness and frustration for her situation that her stepmother and stepsisters took advantage of her kindness. On the other hand, everybody experienced negative feelings towards her family for treating her that way. 

A character, like Cinderella, who is treated poorly and unjustly by the other characters of the story is very likely to encourage the audience to care and feel bad for them. 

The power to make a change 

Viewers can easily identify with someone who wants to make a change. It’s in our human nature to be eager about improvement whether we want to make a change in our life or the world we live in. However, change is difficult both to achieve and to cope with. Thus, a character who shows the strength to do it is very likely to be seen as the hero of the story and evoke positive emotions from the audience.

A goal to achieve  

One of the most important aspects that must define a winning character is their goal in the storyline. Struggling and working hard to achieve their goal will make the audience feel engaged in 
supporting the character through their journey. The character’s goal can be the reason for a multitude of emotions and attitudes that can happen during the movie which will also make the viewers experience themselves.  Feelings like hope, worries, happiness or sadness can be easily felt by the viewers throughout the hero’s journey. 

An engaging and believable plot would be difficult to be created without memorable characters which are able to trigger immediate empathy from the viewers. Their motivations, behaviors, beliefs, and actions must be worthy of the viewers’ empathy in order to attract them to continue watching to see how the story unfolds. 

Author's Bio: 

Cynthia Madison