The quickest way to achieve character sympathy in a story is to set it first person. When the reader is the mind of the protagonist it’s hard for them not to feel for the character as they travel on that epic journey with them. First Person perspective allows the reader to be privy to all those inner thoughts and funny quips without the cumbersome ‘she thought’ lines cluttering up the flow. Don’t forget First Person is also much easier for the reader to imagine themselves as that character.
I don’t know about you but I love reading and I especially love reading books that take me away from this awful dull reality and chuck me head first into amazing and other worldly situations. It’s one of the reasons that I write paranormal literature – I love reading it. The problem with this genre can arise from the fact that your protagonist is often supernatural in origin so you need to address their more villainous nature along the way. A great example of this is Isaac Marion’s ‘Warm Bodies’. The book is written First Person from the zombie’s point of view and goes into great detail to express his frustration of being a zombie, his need to feed on humans, and also injects snippets of memories from his consumed victims and his own past. Within the first few pages I was totally on his side and enjoyed being in a zombie’s braaaains…Lame joke I know but I’m going to do it again…braaaains!
Also make your main character relatable. How? Well, give them problems that readers can relate to – the most obvious problem is romance. We have all had our hearts broken and/or shattered someone else’s heart at some point. The most obvious example is of this is Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight Saga’. Moving aside the supernatural vampire and werewolf shenanigans; Bella falls in love, has her heart-broken, breaks Jacob’s heart and then falls in love again with her ex Edward. These problems alone make her instantly relatable to girls and women alike.
Know the gender and age of your market. Having a 12 year old boy the first person protagonist of an adult book aimed at a female market might seem ‘out of the box’ thinking, but in reality the character is almost completely foreign to your intended market. There’s a box for a reason and trying to cram a square peg into a round hole isn’t going to work and will ultimately frustrate your audience and probably you as the writer too. If you are writing YA make sure that your main characters are between 15-24 (good rule of thumb is work the age up from your intended market – girls of 18 rarely like to read about 13 year olds) Chick Lit = woman, Guy-Lit = man – it’s not rocket science. There are exceptions here, hey nothing is ever black or white, and there’s the whole muddy ground of general literature and thrillers – however I would strongly advise for a writer to actually pick a genre with a market in mind – it’s one of those magic questions that publishers and agents tend to ask nowadays.
Sympathy for the Devil – villains! Antagonists are one of my favourite things as a writer. They can be so much fun to write that they end up overshadowing the hero. Most of the time they are more interesting and quite frankly have a right to kick off and cause mayhem – Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ for example. Poor pieced together guy had severe abandonment issues that, ok didn’t give him the right to go on a killing rampage, but at least gave the readers a reason behind the deaths; he wasn’t killing for killing sake.
If you are going down the first person protagonist route, then you are limited as to what you can show of the motives of your villain, and of course the other supporting characters around them. In my next blog I’m going to go into a bit more details of the joys and limitations of the different perspectives: First, Third, Second and Third Limited.
Oh and one more thing…Braaaaains!
Do you know of any other techniques for creating sympathy for your characters? If so share them here.