Can Building 3D Characters Improve Your Readers’ Empathy?

You’re probably getting tired of everyone harping at you to make sure your characters are 3D, that they have depth and aren’t flat. I can’t really blame you – hearing the same nagging from every writing resource you look at can get old quickly. And, of course, the most important topics end up repeated everywhere. But this article isn’t about how to make 2D characters more realistic. It’s about why to make them more realistic, and I’m not just talking about improving the depth and complexity of your book.

You’re also changing how your readers see the world.

Arrogant? A bit. Hyperbole? Maybe or maybe not. In the article, “Are You Reading the Wrong Books? What Science Is Saying about Fiction Readers,” Will S. talks about several studies that show that people who read fiction develop stronger empathy than people who do not. Furthermore (to sound scientific), people who read more complex stories with more 3-dimensional characters develop more empathy than people who read more basic stories where characters are flat and less realistic.

Now, have I researched the studies listed? No. Do I know for sure that this is verified by science? No. Do I want to believe it because it matches my own experiences and expectations? Yep, totally guilty.

None of that makes it a less interesting idea.

You can talk all day about how reading increases vocabulary and teaches writing skills like sentences structure – and those are both really great, important things for people to learn – but (IMHO), one of the greatest gifts of a book is its ability to let you see through someone else’s eyes, to gain insight into situations you’ve never experienced.

Learning to think about other people’s perspectives and experiences is invaluable, and the harder (or more complicated) the situation and characters are, the more applicable those insights are to the real world.

Can those insights improve empathy? I think it’s a definite possibility. What about you?


  1. […] So why don’t you? Change the characters and put them in your stories. Believe me, your readers will empathize. […]

  2. […] 10. Teaches empathy […]

  3. […] to succeed at a goal, but it isn’t our need (although, for extreme fans or those with major empathy, it can be hard to tell the […]

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