Saturday, May 9, 2009


No, I'm not asking for sympathy based on the fact that I'm sleep deprived (EXHAUSTED) after a week at the conference. I had a great time. Way too good a time, in fact. Such is life. I survived.

This morning, as I prowled through the blogsphere, and a part of my mind was obviously elsewhere (hate it when that happens), I started to think about sympathy toward characters, especially the main characters, even if that character is an evil despot out to rule the Universe.

My main character in my currently out to query project is sympathetic . . . I think. Truly he is, I have no doubts . . . I think. So, my fatigued mind begins to track over the events of my character's current situation and - dang, I don't think I'd really feel that much sympathy for him since he seems kind of flighty. Okay, it wasn't that bad. I just realized I need to tweak one or two really minor - Code Blue, crash cart, STAT - things. Seriously, they are really minor tweaks. The tweaks are not major plot twists or reveals, and only require minimal work on my part.

How sympathetic are your main characters? Is there something about them that might turn a reader off? Does Priscilla (just a name picked at random, not an actual character of mine) do one thing that totally skews the reader's perspective of her? Does that one thing cast her in an un-sympathetic light that makes her ultimate decision not so much a grand fireworks display, but more a flickering candle amid thousands of candles? Yes, that is similar to the dilemma I face.

My character is sympathetic. He realizes he has a decision to make. The decision is not an easy one. I chart his struggle, his frustration, his desire to do the right right thing and, hopefully, not hurt people in the process. It all seems pretty straightforward. Yes, until the character does this and that and then suddenly, there is a pattern which totally skews the readers perspective of the character. I mean, why care about somebody who is allegedly going through a life altering event if they did this and that? Personally, I wouldn't care, and I would feel robbed!

So, I must eliminate this and that so that the struggle makes more sense. For this character, in this instance, a pattern cannot exist.

Are your characters sympathetic enough? Are they too sympathetic? Is there something about your characters (preferably main, the drivers of the story) that might make a devoted reader suddenly go . . . HUNH!!!! Is there something that might make a reader think why keep reading?

Sometimes, it is the small things that make all the difference to the reader.

Oh, and since I brought up the whole evil despot thing . . . too often when I wrote villains, I wanted them to be sympathetic. I wanted to understand what made them the way they were and to - ultimately - redeem them at the end. Sometimes, redemption is not an option. Sometimes, people do bad things for no other reason than they want to do bad things. Don't try to redeem every bad (i.e., evil, villain like, etc.) character. I'm just saying . . .



Lady Glamis said...

Excellent post and questions and ideas!

I redeem some of my villains and leave others to their fiery demise. I don't think all my main characters have to be sympathetic. Honestly, you can't create a character that every reader will sympathize with. In my first novel, some readers hate the main character, and some love her. It depends on what they identify with. So you can't win them all.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is don't eliminate "this" and "that" if it ultimately makes your character more believable and real. You don't want to create a cardboard cutout that is screaming "feel sorry for me!" Trust me, I've done that to please readers before, and it just crumbled around me in a terrible mess.

Good luck! Keep us posted on if your planned fixed work out. :)

Scott said...

Lady Glamis - in this instance, I think 'this' and 'that' truly is detrimental to how I want the character to come across. I try and make my characters believable, and they all have their flaws. The struggle/dilemma of the character is the basis of the plot. 'This' and 'That' definitely undermine the plot.

I rarely write characters to please my readers. Okay, I did once upon a time, and most of those manuscripts are piled on the shelves in my office closet. This current, and most of my recent, work(s) are written mainly for me.

Basically, you can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time, so I just write what I'm comfortable writing, and the critics can deal with it. : )

Thanks for your comments. They're always insightful. I'll keep you updated.


Davin Malasarn said...

This is an incredibly interesting topic for me, one that I struggle with a lot. This discussion affects me because several of my kind readers have told me that they don't like my main character. In fact, almost all of them have told me that. He's not unsympathetic, but he's unlikable.

I think sometimes when people talk about wanting a sympathetic character, it means they want to like that character. That's where my problem lies. The stories that I'm drawn to usually involve unlikable people. I want to understand them. I don't know if readers will be interested at all, but I realize that it's what I want to write.

Scott said...

Davin - It's not that I want a totally sympathetic character, but rather a character whose conflicts make sense.

Example: If Jane, of Dick and Jane fame, in a fit of insanity married Tom (of Tom, Dick, and Harry fame), then divorced Tom and married Dick, then divorced Dick and married . . . well, what kind of sympathy would a reader have for a serial divorcer? She has a pattern of behavior that would maker her sudden love for . . . whoever seem just a bit sad and jaded. Now, if Jane married Dick (of Dick and Jane, not of Tom, Dick and Harry), was - so she thought - happily married for a number of years, then suddenly discovered she had feelings for Harry . . . well, that would be more understandable. Well, at least in the chaos of my mind. You see, Jane doesn't have a pattern of behavior that would make me (i.e., the reader) go HUNH!!! when she suddenly realizes that her happily ever after is not so happy after all. I'd, in some way, be able to relate to her desire to wonder if the grass is actually greener on the other side of the fence.

I don't want to read (or write, for that matter) about totally predictable or sympathetic characters. I want my characters to have flaws/doubts. I want my characters to be real.

As for your unlikable character . . . perhaps the greatest ability you have is to not make your readers 'like' your character, but to somehow care about your character. I may not especially like my neighbor (just an example, people) across the street, but I really don't want something bad to happen to that neighbor. In some small way, I care about that person. So, perhaps your task as the creator of the 'unlikable' character is to make the reader care. : )