Thursday, December 9, 2010

Creating Sympathetic Characters

I'm sorry today's post is late - I blame it on not getting enough sleep. Son #2 is back in a rut where he likes to wake up 3-4 times a night to nurse. And if there are any typos, I also blame that on the lack of sleep. That and typing in the dark. Son #2 is still sleeping (and I should be too...)

Anyhow, today I want to talk about sympathetic characters. Specifically how to create one.*

1. Give them a puppy.
2. Give them red hair.
3. Give them zits and glasses (works best in YA novels.)
4. Make them tip the scale.

* Obviously this list is meant purely in jest.

 I've been receiving a lot of conflicting advice regarding Hidden in Shadows, stemming from Lorna, the MC. For one thing, she's an assassin, definitely an anti-heroine., automatically making her less sympathetic. (Btw, can anyone think of some good stories with anti-heroines? I want to read some for research but can't think of any off the top of my head.)

I had two versions of the opening scene, where Lorna hunts and kills a man. In version A, I mention immediately that the man is a druggie who beat his kill, almost trying to force the reader to align him/herself with Lorna. But I was told that it was basically an infodump (the paragraph about the druggie) and that I should sprinkle in the details as to why Lorna was killing him.

I agreed. I also pared down the descriptions more, thinking that Lorna would be more focused at the task at hand, killing a target, so I dropped hints that he was a druggie. But now Lorna wasn't sympathetic enough, even though I have her reflect on the druggie beating his child after she kills him.

So now I’m not sure what to do with the scene. I still think that having Lorna reflect on the druggie would be out of character. Basically, I’m not sure how quickly I have to make Lorna a sympathetic character, nor how exactly to do about showing it.
 Because of her profession, does she have to be sympathetic right away on page one? Or by the end of the first scene?

Maybe this is because I’m sleep deprived but is it so wrong that I’m actually thinking about giving Lorna a puppy in scene two?

I’ll have a more serious post on sympathetic characters on Tuesday.


LTM said...

I got some good advice from a crit partner on this--try to show her having some weakness. Something that makes her relatable to the reader...

I don't think it's a bad idea to show her victim as being awful either~

good luck! :o)

Cherie Reich said...

Personally, I don't think a character has to be sympathetic on page one or even at the end of chapter one. I like to get to know the protagonist and develop a sense of them as the story progresses.

Lorna is an assassin. Frankly, we shouldn't like her, but that's where you, the author, gets to show us why we should. If we instantly like her, then it might feel false, or at least that's how I view it.

I do think a glimpse of weakness might add to it. Also, as to Lorna's motives in the first scene, the reader should know them eventually, but I still don't know if the first chapter is the place. It's hard to know. Sometimes you just have to go with a gut feeling about who your character is.

Carol Riggs said...

Maybe not so much LIKE her right away, but relate to her and understand why she is the way she is. I have somewhat of the same prob with one of my MCs, who is fairly self-focused and egotistical at the start of the novel. While she does change, it's crucial to make her more relatable so readers will want to keep/start reading. Anyway, I've heard that if you can show (not tell or info dump) some way to explain her to the reader or give her some more endearing quality, that works better. A hint, which you can elaborate on in further chapters.

Patti said...

I had a friend who is struggling with the same problem, except her MC is not an assassin. I told her to show a little bit of vulernability, emotions, how she's really feeling.

Just my two cents.

Beth Fred said...

I think what Patti says is good. I don't think your mc has to be sympathetic on page one or the end of the first chapter, but I don't want to read about someone I absolutely hate either. I think you can portray her as "real." She's an assasin she does bad things. But don't we all? I think what Patti says about showing a vulnerability or emotions might be the best way to do that.

Talli Roland said...

Oh, don't even talk to me about sympathetic characters! :) I'm with Cherie - I don't think they have to be immediately likeable, as long as we can see why they're behaving the way they are and they go on some kind of journey.

Bast said...

Don't give her a puppy. That would seem like you're trying to hard. I agree with the others, she doesn't have to be likeable right away.

DL Hammons said...

I agree with the others in that there's no rush to create sympathy for your characters, but when you do then all of their previous actions should withstand the newly sympathetic scrutiny of your reader.

Colene Murphy said...

I agree with everyone else. No rush to make her sympathetic right away. I mean, it can be developed later no problem. And when the reader realizes why she did what she did then it will fall more into favor of her. Have her show a bit of remorse or whatever would be in character for her after the fact would be just fine.

Dominic de Mattos said...

Is there any way that she could observe the druggie beating his child? (you know - the old show, don't tell thing) It sounds like she would react with contempt rather than outrage, but even so, it does what you want doesn't it?


Vicki Rocho said...

Without having read your passage, I don't know how much help I can be. My first thought was to show her in the beginning tracking him, so she witnesses the beating but can't do anything because she doesn't want the child to see him get shot....

It's not a book, but if you've not seen Grosse Point Blank with Jon Cusack, you should rent it since he's also a paid assassin and very sympathetic. They gave him a sharp sense of humor and strong supporting relationships.

Good luck!