Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 22, 2009

Sympathic Characters – Donald Maass

maass“The big problem with 80 percent of the novels we reject at my agency is not too much tension, rather it is too little…The other 20 percent lack truly sympathetic characters and occasionally have other problems.” –Donald Maass

In his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Maass says we need to move our main character from protagonist to hero. Raise them up above the level they’ve been in their normal life. Be brave enough to give your character heroic qualities. That could mean they can fly or see through walls, or it could mean someone with integrity. Someone who won’t do something wrong, even if the reader could understand if he did.

For years, hundreds of people have been making lists of the qualities they want in a mate. Anyway, this is a good start. What qualities do you want in a hero? Maass gives a similar exercise: What qualities does a hero of yours have?

Show your protagonist’s heroic qualities, at least one of them, in the first few pages. “Demonstrate special qualities right away, and you will immediately turn your protagonist into a hero or heroine, a character whose outcome matters.” –Donald Maass


  1. I find it interesting that most manuscripts have too much tension. We’re told: put your hero up a tree and throw rocks at them. But I think balance is the key. You want to make the reader LIKE your main character and really pull for them. But you don’t want to suspend disbelief. Even when writing fantasy.

    I’ve been working hard to find that balance and I think I’m there. It helps to have a writing partner as well as someone with fresh eyes. My partner and I work closely together and when I’m ready, I read my pages out loud to anyone who wants to listen.

    My heroine is stubborn and strong. She’s developed these qualities because of the person who raised her after her own mother died in childbirth. But she gets her feelings hurt easily (and covers it well) and makes rash decisions at times. Still, she has integrity, knowing what must be done and does it – even though she may hesitate or question things.

    She also has a gift – spirit sight – she can see auras around living things, even plants. It’s a good gift since she’s a hunter, but at one point in the book, it also saves her life.

    I believe I’ve demonstrated these qualities from the beginning, like Mr. Maass advises. Now, if I can get the darn thing finished! I’m more than half way there, I think.

    Good topic, Kathy!


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