Creating Sympathetic Characters

Many novel writers agonize over the plot, and that’s a good thing. But did you know that a typical reader cares less about what happens in a novel than how and why?
Writing Tip for Today: Your main character holds the keys to your reader’s sympathy. And sympathy for the main character almost always equals a reader who “can’t put it down.” Here are some tips to help you create a sympathetic main character:

  • Create a Conflict Grid. A conflict grid is a tool to help you define and sharpen inner and outer conflicts for your character. Closely tied to high stakes, a conflict grid helps you balance what’s happening on stage (the outer conflict) with what’s happening on the character’s inside (old hurts, axes to grind or phobias, lusts and longings). In most cases it’s important to BALANCE these two elements. If it’s too psychological, the reader perceives little movement in the story. If it’s too much broad action, the reader feels as if he doesn’t really “know” the character. Your conflict grid is part of your research, usually not the actual manuscript.
  • Secrets Are Golden. A character with one or more secrets adds mystery and intrigue to any genre. Tension is created and maintained when secrets are part of the character–she’s scared to be found out and the antagonist is better able to look for her weak link. By the climax, though most secrets should be resolved in some way. No fair leaving everything for the sequel.
  • Feet to the Flames. A character without a problem is boring. Be sure to keep the pressure on until the big climax scene, very near the end of the story. Let your character solve the big problems himself (no deus ex machina) and remember: in the climax scene, most characters should ACT, not merely think about acting. It’s OK to let your character win now and then, but winning equals game over, so be careful. Give your reader a great reason to turn the page.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

3 comments on “Creating Sympathetic Characters

  1. Pingback: 99 Essential Quotes on Character Creation

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