Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 12, 2014

Creating a Sympathetic Character


This exciting illustration was sent in by Amal Karzai. Amal was featured on Illustrator Saturday. Here is the Link.

Food for thought:

As writers, one of the questions we ask ourselves when we are reading our first draft is, “Is my main character sympathetic? What we are really asking is, “Have I written a character that the reader will want to root for?” “Will the reader feel what your character feels?” Will the reader understand the difficulties that face the MC and will the care?”

The goal is to create the fictive dream, to immerse the reader into the story’s world, but if we make our protagonist too snarky or whiny, even if they will grow during the book, the reader may not want to spend their time with the little brat and put down your book. You need to give the reader a glimpse of some redeeming quality. The MC could be in the middle of a meltdown, but the writer could show the MC unconsciously doing something nice during that scene. It could be as little as just stopping a glass of juice from falling off the table or keeping their little brother from slipping on the juice that has spread across the floor. By doing this you have shown the reader something good about the character and given them a reason to want to stay on the journey with him or her.

Just be careful not to go too much the other direction. If your MC is too perfect, the reader probably will not like him or her. Making your protagonist too perfect will make it almost impossible for reader to identify with them. Plus, it does not give the MC any room for a character arc and no need to grow and change. There needs to be flaws that the character can overcome.

The problem is not to go overboard. No one wants to read about a stupid person. No one wants to read about a major sad sack. Award winning author, Alicia Rasley says, “A passive victim doesn’t struggle – just suffers,” and “Defeat isn’t sympathetic. It’s pathetic.”

There are many ways to create sympathy for your characters, but just try to keep it fresh. Use a combination of strengths, struggles, and sacrifices. There are outer strengths, like physical and skills, and there are inner strengths, like perseverance, self-control, optimism, wit or humor, and integrity. Try to avoid old tired troupes.

Remember, you can show your character as lonely, disadvantaged, unpopular, unfulfilled, sad, and confused, but the reader doesn’t have to pity the character to identify with him.

Do you have any “food for thought” to add, that might help create a sympathetic character, while not making them feel stale? Any tips on making your characters interesting and someone the reader would like to spend time getting to know? We’d love to hear.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. All great reminders when we’re writing that main character. Thanks, Kathy.


  2. I struggle with this, too. In the piece I’ve recently gone back to edit, I had a lot of problems with my MC being a complete “sad sack.” I think if your character is going to have lots of worries, the reader needs a clear understanding of why, in the MC’s eyes, these worries are legitimate.


  3. Great post including Amal’s illustration!


  4. I most appreciate characters who are, in some way, selfless.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: