Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Creating sympathetic characters

A few posts ago I asked "What makes a character loveable?" and a really interesting discussion started up in the comments box. It got me thinking, a lot, about loveable characters and how you go about creating them. I googled and googled 'writing a loveable character' but drew blank after blank. Tonight I decided to google 'writing a sympathetic character' and lo and behold - loads of links!

Here's a good one...

http://www.sff.net/people/alicia/artsympathy.htm

It's interesting in that it reflects a lot of what was said in the comments about what DOESN'T make a loveable/sympathetic character - i.e. someone what whinges and whines a lot, someone that is too passive when 'bad stuff' happens to her, someone who reflects too much instead of 'doing' etc etc.

By thinking about what makes a character sympathetic/unsympathetic I gradually realised something...

The reason why I'm not flying along with novel #2 is because my main character just isn't sympathetic enough (if I'm not in love with her there's no hope for my potential readership). In fact, in one of the early chapters when you're supposed to be sympathising with her you find yourself sympathising with her boyfriend instead. For reasons that become clear later in the book I couldn't let the readers dislike the character's boyfriend too much but I took it too far and made HIM the object of sympathy instead of her.

Bad move.

I've got some thinking to do...

p.s. Anyone ever realised their character is too unsympathetic and set about doing a rewrite to fix it? All suggestions welcome!

9 comments:

Yvonne said...

I've been there before, have written a character and worried if the readers would like her. I just thought about the characteristics that I liked in characters/real people (their habits, the way they speak, the way they interact with people, etc).

Then I thought about how I could show these characteristics within the story - like writing in a minor character like a foil and have the protagonist meet her, or showing her worried about another person, etc.

I worked primarly on the dialogue, because I think the mark of a character is how they act and feel towards others, (strangers especially!) but my novel is very dialogue heavy anyway.

Good luck and keep us posted, I'm very interested in this subject!

ChrisH said...

Hi Calistro,
I know how you feel - my last heroine was supposed to be gutsy and independent but when the t/s got its first read from my 'sympathetic' reader, he said she was the character he least cared about because she was so hostile and aggressive. Like Yvonne I revised her trying to convey the reasons why she was a bit prickly without 'telling' the reader and, yes, working on her dialogue to make her more sympathetic. I have to say my reader's reactions were quite a surprise to me as I didn't realise I'd created such an unsympathetic character- hopefully I'm a bit more aware of the possible pitfalls now.

Thanks very much for your running suggestions (glad I'm not the only one feeling a bit self-conscious about what gets them going!) I've got Prodigy 'Out of Space' on my playlist but it's a bit slow but I'd forgotten (how could I?) 'Firestarter'. Thank you!

PatP said...

Maybe your mc has a best friend/Mum/sister or who makes really awful jewellery or a skirt or top for her. And the mc, knowing it so doesn't look good/cool, wears it for a party where she knows that person will be.

Or is it something that happened in her past that makes her act the way she does in the part you mentioned? Something that wasn't her fault? If so, you could feed a snippet of that in earlier through dialogue with a friend or colleague.

Perhaps it started to rain when she was on her way out and she grabbed next door's washing in knowing it would make her late for her date? Or went looking for her own cat because she didn't want to leave it out in the rain.

I think sometimes if there's just one small thing that happens in an early chapter so the reader sees a sympathetic side, that gets sort of fixed in their mind and they'll forgive the mc when she isn't always 'nice'.

Alice said...

I have to say that I think that you are completely wrong when you say that the main character has to be someone the reader likes. I don't think that makes for an interesting book. What matters is that we can empathise with a character even if we don't like them. I wrote a whole book 'If Only You Knew' by Alice Jolly published by Simon and Schuster about a woman who is a bit of a pain in the back side. The book did well. People said, 'I didn't like her but I understood her. I believed in her absolutely.' Characters have to be real and lots of real people aren't that great. Sorry to be controversial but this is my view!

Alice

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I was the other way around - I made my villains too likeable and understandable, and had to learn to make them properly villainous!

Fiona said...

One of my protagonists is a snob. I wanted to show how she was redeemed by events in her life but I realised that I'd have to give her some decent qualities as well - and early on.

We know that our characters are going to become better people but it's hard to convince a reader to stick around to find that out too. IMHO that is.

KAREN said...

I've had a character be too passive, which became annoying after a while. I was also told, once, that a main character came across like she'd started life as a married woman - not enough background. It's tricky getting the balance right, but these days I think I can tell when a character's not working...thank goodness!

Paige said...

I've never really thought about whether my characters are sympathetic. This post certainly started me thinking!

P.S. Could you change your link to my new blog? Thank you!

dianejwright said...

Hi Calistro! Stumbled on your post here today. Remember that being lovable and sympathetic are not always the same thing when it comes to heroes and heroines. Maybe my post on creating protagonists your audience will latch on to will help? The key is to find those common-ground experiences that will bring your reader and character closer together. Eh, I've said it better here...

http://www.the-story-spot.com/2008/10/is-your-hero-sympathetic-and-what-heck.html

Good luck with your novel! Do you have an excerpt posted? I'd love to have a read. I'm in the same spot with my first novel finished a few months ago as well.
/djw