Thursday, 31 January 2013

Sympathetic Characters Part 6: Unfairness

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Over the last five posts I have discussed the various ways to elicit sympathy from the reader. But in all of these cases, it is possible to heighten the effect simply by showing the character to be undeserving of the punishment he’s being forced to undergo.

We all have an innate sense of right and wrong. Even when life proves to be oblivious to this idea, and even when we ourselves treat others unjustly, for some reason we cling to this concept of fairness.

Unfairness can come from a person, an institution or the universe. There’s no real logic behind why we expect good things to happen to good people and bad people to be punished (experience certainly doesn’t suggest either will happen very often), but we do. And this means a character who is treated unfairly is one who is probably going to win the sympathy of the reader.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Sympathetic Characters Part 5: Betrayal

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One of the sharpest pains we feel on behalf of a character is when they are betrayed. In order for the reader to feel this pain, they need to know who the betrayer is. The closer the relationship between the character and the betrayer, the greater their pain and the greater our sympathy.

A story that focuses on finding out who the traitor is—a mystery—usually reveals their identity near the end of the story, at which point the reader and the main character discover the truth together.

In terms of creating sympathy you can use to draw the reader into the story, that's too late to be of much use. 

When it comes to sympathy, the sooner you reveal the betrayal and who's responsible, the better.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Sympathetic Characters Part 4: Outcasts

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There’s something very attractive about the outsider character. Being rejected and having to strike out alone feels quite romantic.

The main things to remember when developing this sort of character is to show how happy everyone inside the group is (even if they’re just kidding themselves), and to demonstrate clearly that the character is not welcome.

Humans, as a whole, crave belonging. We want to be accepted into the group, to obtain status and be listened to.

People who reject the mainstream and become Goths or nerds or B-boys are still looking for a gang to call their own. We form societies both in small, familial group, and large metropolises. 

And each of these has its rules and hierarchies and cliques, even the ones that claim they don’t.

It hits deep when membership to any sort of club is either rejected or revoked.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Sympathetic Characters Part 3: Noble Souls

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So far in this series on creating sympathy, I’ve dealt with the extreme end of the spectrum. Danger and suffering are pretty broad, easy to grasp concepts. Readers who encounter these will find it hard to resist feeling concern for the characters in the story. However, they are also quite simplistic and blunt, and once the immediate danger/suffering passes, the concern for them will also.

There are more subtle ways to evoke sympathy in the reader. When readers work out what’s going on for themselves, it often has a more powerful and lasting effect than the more obvious methods described already.

Someone who is pretending not to be hurt or upset, immediately interests a reader. If your character is lonely and unhappy but acts like they’re perfectly fine in front of others, that kind of behaviour can be both appealing and intriguing.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Sympathetic Characters Part 2: Suffering

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When it comes to feeling sympathy, our emotion are hardwired to be triggered by the distress of others.

It can be tempting to avoid putting your characters (especially the ones you like) in too much pain and agony. Whether physical or mental, any kind of suffering can feel like a betrayal of characters you’ve become very fond of.

Unfortunately, if you don’t put them through the wringer their problems will seem minor and not worth worrying about.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Sympathetic Characters Part 1: Danger

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This first part of this series on creating emotional attachment between readers and characters is going to look at engendering sympathy, and in this particular post, by putting characters in risky situations. If you want the reader to feel concern for the characters in your story, putting them in danger is a simple way to do it.

Any time something of value is on the line, how the situation plays out will be of interest, and that is true for all the parties involved. But if you can communicate what’s at stake and make the reader as keen to avoid that outcome as the character, then it will amplify the level of interest in what happens next.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Forcing Readers To Like Characters

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The story you’re writing may have the kind of lead character that people automatically root for. He may be a good guy doing the right thing; or a decent woman trying to sort out something that needs sorting. Heroic behaviour and overcoming adversity can bypass the whole need to tell the reader this is someone to cheer on. It’s obvious.

But they might be a little more complex than that. Maybe flawed, maybe even a bit awkward. Or they may not get to their heroic moment until much later in the story. How do you get the reader on board as quickly as possible without having to add ‘stick with it, things get good later’ at the bottom of each page?

Monday, 7 January 2013

2013 For Book Lovers

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Sometimes I’m reading an ebook and I’d like to flip forward and see how many more pages till the end of the chapter. But I can’t.

Or I might be on a train and see someone reading their Kindle or Nook, and I wonder what book they’re reading. Bu there’s no way to tell.

Then I pull out  up my own Kindle from the inside pocket of my jacket, with over a hundred books on it, and a bunch of comics, and even a couple of WIPs, and I think, it’s probably a fair exchange.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Let Characters Be Wrong

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Nobody likes a perfect character. Someone who is super good at everything and gets everything right is annoying. 

Even the most suave secret agents of indestructible superheroes need to make mistakes in order to make the story interesting.  

There are two parts to using wrongness in a story. There’s the actual mistake (which sometimes isn’t known to be a mistake at the time), and there’s the consequences of the mistake, usually forcing the character to deal with powerful feeling of guilt or regret.
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