I know I mentioned that story trumps everything last week, but as I’ve recently finished reading another fantasy novel, it got me thinking about something I heard on a podcast.
The premise of the cast was that a character’s popularity depends on three things. You can listen to it here if you like.
What are the three things?
A character’s Competence, Pro-activity, and Sympathy.
In the novel I read, the protagonist annoyed me at first. So much so that the book sat in my kindle for a good six months stuck on the early chapters. If I had to grade that character on a scale of 1 to 10, it would be pretty poor.
Competence – 1 (He was the town bum/drunk)
Pro-activity – 2 (The only thing that motivated him was finding ways to get more ale, and even then he wasn’t that motivated to do anything but whine)
Sympathy – 1 (He was a drink-alone-until-you-pass-out drunk who whined a lot when sober)
As the story wove on, the character eventually reveals why he drinks, which raised his sympathy up to about a 5. Then he kicks the habit with the help of a mentor who trains him to be one of the finest staff fighters in the land. Competence up to about 5.
By the end of the story, all of those numbers would be around 8 or 9.
Which made for an awesome story. I couldn’t put it down once the character became more likable. But I think this shows the danger of having too large an arc in character development.
I think the recent popularity of grimmer tales reflects this. Very few readers want the story of the village boy who becomes king. Yet they’ll read about that insanely skilled assassin with questionable ethics. That assassin’s sympathy level might be low, but his competence and pro-activity are off the charts.
When I wrote the first draft of my debut novel, a lot of people complained about my protagonist. I didn’t know about these three things, but when I made my character more competent and proactive, the reactions went off the chart in the positive direction.
Maybe you’ve been struggling with a manuscript or not getting the positive feedback you hoped for. Scoring your characters on these three things might be a good place to change that :)