Loughborough University
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Fragmented perspectives: creating empathy through experiments in form and perspective in short fiction

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posted on 2017-10-25, 15:19 authored by Amanda M. Bigler
This thesis addresses a creative writing approach to exploring reader empathy through the critical analysis of writing devices implemented by contemporary American short fiction writers and through creative experimentation through a written collection of short stories. It explores the ways in which writers can implement specific literary devices to potentially affect a reader's emotional reaction to a character or situation. The specified devices in this research have been utilised by contemporary American authors in their short fiction collections, namely Lydia Davis (The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis), George Saunders (Tenth of December), and David Foster Wallace (Brief Interviews with Hideous Men), who have influenced reader empathy in their short stories. Two categories of devices are in focus: narrative perspective and story format. These categories are signified due to contemporary American authors' experimentation with these devices and due to their inclusion in literary theory on reader empathy and fiction, namely Suzanne Keen's theory of narrative empathy. She focuses on the importance of reader empathy (namely, the effects that fiction can have on a reader in reality) and discusses devices that writers have used to possibly evoke these emotions. Keen explores the relationship between a reader and character identification, with a further emphasis on reader empathy and reader altruism in an inter-disciplinary setting, stating that reader empathy may lead to reader altruism; however, little to no research has been conducted on the creative implementation of writing techniques in regards to reader empathy from the perspective of a creative writer. Through creative application, this thesis aims to show the ways in which devices explored by narrative theorists can create the possibility for reader empathy. Therefore, the thesis takes into account first-, second-, and third-person narrative perspectives and question and answer (Q&A), short-short (a.k.a. flash fiction), and segmented formats through literary analysis of contemporary short fiction and through writing experimentation in the form of a short story collection. The thesis aims to explore the creative use of these devices and their linkage to reader reaction by the production of a short fiction collection entitled Fragmented Perceptions: A Collection of Characters. This creative work intends to implement the specified devices researched in order to experiment with perspective and format in relation to a possible empathetic connection of the reader to a character. Finally, by analysing possible effects on reader empathy through devices employed in the creative work, the thesis explores ways in which authors can use narrative perspective and format to discover various ways in which a writer can implement devices to affect reader empathy through short fiction.



  • The Arts, English and Drama


  • English and Drama


© Amanda Bigler

Publisher statement

This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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