Monday, March 21, 2011

Empathy For the Characters

Last Tuesday I went to the theatre, to see the newest of Wajdi Mouawad's play. You probably don't know who that is and because I'm a big fan, I will tell you. He is the playwright behind Incendies, which this year was Canada's runner up for the Foreign Movie Oscar. It's a fantastic movie. Get your hands on it, if you can!

As much as I love Mouawad's work, something about his latest baby didn't work for me. Thankfully, I could tell what was wrong right away.

I never sympathised about his main character. I liked the two secondary ones, but their emotional stakes in the story aren't as high. They aren't driving it.

Don't make this mistake. If your readers don't identify to the MC on some level, they won't care. And then you might have the best story in the world, it won't matter.

Here are a few ways to make the connection between your reader and your character. There are more in James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure, by the way!

1. Identification
Identification is an easy one, but if your MC isn't human, it's an important one. What about him makes him like most people? He probably has flaws, dreams and fears that are shared by a lot of human beings. Find these elements and highlight them early on (show them). Prove your character is human despite all his differences and you have reader identification.

2. Sympathy
There are a lot of ways to achieve sympathy for your character. Put her through hardships. Make her vulnerable. Put something she loves in jeopardy. Readers will cheer for someone in difficulty and this is a good way to make an early connection.

3. Inner Conflict
Characters who are certain of themselves, who have no doubts and no fears, aren't that interesting. We're not like that. We question everything we do. Bring your character's inner conflicts to the surface and we'll feel for your character.

There are more ways to get your readers to like your character, of course. Choose whichever you want, but make sure you use one.

Reader empathy will keep them reading.

And happy spring everyone! There's still snow everywhere on the ground here. :)

1 comment:

  1. So true! Good post.

    I felt like something was missing in my fantasy WIP. Then I figured it out. The story began with a battle, but there was no previous connection with the main character. So I added in a scene with the main character and her friends. I feel like it will give the reader more empathy when the battle does come.