Novel Writing 101 – 3. Character Sympathy

Last week we looked at the second part of my Novel Writing 101 series titled: Novel Writing 101 – 2. A Great Protagonist. This week we’ll look at giving your character Sympathetic traits in order for your readers to really connect with them. If your readers care about your main characters, then you’re truly on your way to creating a loyal fanbase.

Like last week, I’ll walk you through the best steps to help you plan your novel and the small exercises involved in doing so. For this week, we’ll be looking at certain traits and events that inspire sympathy in your readers.


Get Them Active

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There’s nothing worse than a non active lazy character, especially your protagonist! When planning the events in your novel, try and ensure that your protagonist is up and about and really pursuing their Goal. More on Goals here. Oftentimes writers rely on their plot or the events in the novel happening around your protagonist, and your character will only “react” to what’s happening.

Instead, get them “active”. Look into their motivation and get them actively pursuing that Goal. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book and really liked the VILLAIN? I know I have. Sometimes the villain is my favourite character, and that’s because the Villain is generally active, pursuing they goal to stop the protagonist.

Consistent Inner Conflict

Remember last week when we discussed the Character Flaw? When your character is flawed, it makes them far more believable to your readers. However, it’s important to ensure that a flawed character remains consistent and continues to battle that inner conflict until it’s time for them to shed it towards the end of the novel. This inner conflict can be sparked off by the events that happen around the character, or how the character acts.

Put Them In Danger

In my first post, we discussed the importance of idea generating and beneficial it is to have a strong list of potential scenes and events in your story to help you terming what you want to happen throughout your novel. Have your protagonist claw their way out of an upturned flaming car.

Better yet, make them do that but have them being chased down by gunmen at the same time, only to take a hit in the leg where they have to limp to safety. Remember not to go against your character flaw when doing this. Your character has to always react and act towards things the way you planned them.

Dangerous not Deadly

It’s also important to note here that when I mean danger, I don’t necessarily mean deadly.Β Why, you might be asking? It’s all well and good having a terrifying scene where your protagonist comes close to death but at the end of the day, we as readers know your main charater isn’t going to die half way though the novel. That would be silly. The story just can’t end like that. Instead, have something dangerous happen that might set your character back in their journey.

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A good idea here would be something like loosing a limb or being humiliated. Think of Stephen King’s Carrie. Carrie never came close to death from the other characters around her, but she was always in danger, such as being terribly abused by her mother, locked in closets, bullied by her horrible school peers etcetera.

Make Them Sacrifice

Something else that’s sympathy inspiring is to make your protagonist give up something of their own or give up something they love. This could be as simple as giving up a certain food, or even sacrificing themselves to save a family member. Think of Katniss from The Hunger Games. She valiantly sacrificed herself and entered the horrific Hunger Games in order to save her sister, and we LOVED her for it.

Make Them Virtuous

Ensuring that your protagonist isn’t too fabulously lovely to everyone, remember you still have a flaw to ensure, it’s often a good idea to show your protagonist being a little virtuous from time to time. Your character knows what’s right and wrong, and they’re usually good members of society. But make sure your readers can relate to them in some way.

Make Them Smart

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Intelligent characters usually go down very well. Readers like to be surprised by acts of wit and problem solving, especially if the reader couldn’t figure it out themselves. Have your main character think outside the box or go out of their way to crack a riddle every now and then. This also goes hand in hand with the first point with being Active. It’s never a good idea to let the plot happen for your character, rather have them actively solve an issue on their own.

Conclusion and Check list

There are many points to consider when creating characters. This exercise can be applied to most of your characters. The Villain is a little different and we’ll get to that another time, but figuring out a few events in your novel ahead of time with these points in mind will save you a tone of work and will ensure you’ve got a character most readers will love.

To summarise:

  1. Make your Protagonist Active – off the couch and out the door
  2. Keep your protagonist’s flaw consistent – no sudden reasonless change of heart
  3. Put your protagonist in danger – dangerous scenes, not deadly scenes
  4. Make your protagonist sacrifice something – anything, as long as it hurts them
  5. Make your protagonist virtuous – have them do a good deed now and then
  6. Make your protagonist intelligent – wit is always a valuable trait

That concludes Part 3 of my Novel Writing 101. You can read Part 2 here: Novel Writing 101 – 2. A Great Protagonist.Β I’ll try and get something like this done each week to give you guys a better understanding of how I write my own novels.

If you have any questions or want to discuss the ideas above, either drop me a message, or leave a comment below so we can chat about it! Other than that, what things do you do to get your creative juices flowing? What do you think inspires sympathy in characters? Who are your favourite characters and why? Let us know in the comments!

Next week, I’ll discuss THE VILLAIN 😰 😱

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