Case Studies For Writers

a craft toolbox

Apr 5, 2019

Developing Character Empathy – A Darth Vader Example

By Margi Guilfoyle.

“Be Careful Not to Choke on Your Aspirations.” –Darth Vader
If you have not read Michael Hauge’s book, Writing Screenplays That Sell, it is worth your time to do so.  Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi recommend Writing Screenplays That Sell as a resource in their craft book, The Positive Trait Thesaurus. And, for good reason. Hauge’s character development advice is succinct, approachable and proven. All the quoted material in this blog (except for Darth Vader’s words, written by George Lucas), comes from Hauge’s book, Writing Screenplays That Sell.
Now, back to our friend Darth…



Darth Vader is the nemesis character in the Star Wars film series written by George Lucas.  If you have not read or seen Star Wars, don’t worry. You will have seen the nemesis archetype embodied by Darth Vader in other works. 
Frankenstein in the classic story, Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley.
Erik Killmonger in the 2018 film, Black Panther, co-written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole.
Miss Gulch/The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz written by L. Frank Baum.
Like Frankenstein, Erik Killmonger, and The Wicked Witch of the West, Darth Vader has one job in his role as nemesis;
Make the reader yearn for poetic justice.
The surest way to create that yearning? Help the reader connect to Darth Vader.
Notice, I did not write, Help the reader like Darth Vader. Darth Vader is not a likeable guy. He tortures rebel princesses, vaporizes planets, and strangles subordinates.
I wrote, Help the reader connect to Darth Vader. In other words, create empathy with Darth Vader.
In his book, Writing Screenplays That Sell, Michael Hauge outlines methods for creating empathy with the hero of your manuscript. Why not also use the same techniques to create empathy with your nemesis?
You may ask, why create empathy with a character who appears to be the universe’s biggest sociopath? Beyond the reason that well-drawn characters are fun to watch, is the reality that a fully imagined nemesis poses a legitimate threat to the hero.
Listed below are just three methods outlined by Hauge to elicit empathy for a character.
1.    “Make the character highly skilled.”
“We are naturally drawn to people who are talented, who are masters at what they do.”
Darth Vader is an undisputed master at manipulating the Force, using his immense skill to move objects and murder people with a flick of his hand. Cringe worthy, yes. But, also… impressive.

2.    “Show the character in touch with his own power.”
“Closely related to the quality of skill is that of power.
Darth Vader controls a cache of weapons so powerful, that with one command an entire planet is blown into oblivion.  Worse still, Darth forces a prisoner to watch the annihilation of her planet and her people. Darth is a character who does what needs to be done. Admittedly, Darth Vader’s opinion of “what needs to be done” is flawed. But, who among us wouldn’t love to act with that kind of unflinching resolve?

3.    “Power to express one’s feelings regardless of others’ opinions.”
“Such power is irresistibly seductive to all of us who worry about even raising our voices.”
Darth Vader, thanks in part to a mask that covers his face, shows little emotion when ordering people tortured and killed, or when revealing truths that destabilize the hero’s basic sense of self. He does not even twitch while using the Force to suffocate a few employees who failed to meet his expectations. Talk about an insensitive jerk!
If Darth Vader is powerful, skilled, relentless, and seemingly unbeatable, under what circumstances does he meet his end?  The reader cannot help but wonder, who is the hero strong enough to deliver poetic justice to a villain like Darth Vader?



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About the Author: Margi Guilfoyle
Margi is a writer, runner, and mom who occasionally blogs for CritiqueMatch. When she isn’t working on her novel, she can be found dissecting her favorite books, movies, television programs, and stage productions for character development strategies.