Pity, Fear, and Catharsis

Here’s a little something for both my readers and my writing friends.

Aristotle, 2000 years ago, described this writing formula. A story must have pity, fear, and catharsis. I think it’s helpful for us to remember this formula when we write. I’d venture it can be applied to just about any writing you mean to be persuasive.

He said an author must make the audience feel pity for a character. We do that by making the character go through some misfortune. This enables the reader to emotionally connect with the character. Another word for pity would be empathy. So, for instance, a while back I wrote a blog about the importance of not publishing a book until it was ready. I called the blog post, Harness the Elephant.  My goal was to help you understand why a book I’d been working on wasn’t going to come out when I had originally thought it would. Essentially, I asked for your empathy.

Once the writer has that emotional connection between the reader and the character, the writer has some control over the reader. You then put the character into worse and worse and worse situations. Because of the emotional connection (pity or empathy), the audience will feel fear for the character. In the blog I mentioned earlier, I likened myself to having steered my elephant down the wrong path. Now, these aren’t the highest of imaginary stakes, yet, a source of tension was introduced and a problem required a solution.

When you release the character from the jeopardy of whatever problematic situation they’re in, then the audience experiences catharsis. A sigh. Whew. That’s over! So, what’s the catharsis of my Harness the Elephant blog post? I finally got my book, Flames of Roses, finished. I just got it back from the editor. Hopefully, It will be available to readers very soon. 

8 thoughts on “Pity, Fear, and Catharsis

  1. Yea! I knew you’d figure out what Flames needed. I’m excited for it to come out. Let me know if I can help you at all with it. You’re amazing!

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