Sympathetic Characters

A common trick to make readers sympathize with a character is to have them “pet the dog”. They do something tender or sacrificial that tugs on the reader’s heartstrings. This humanizes a character with distasteful faults.

I remember reading a friend’s story where one of the character’s who’s on the “evil” side of things treats a prisoner with dignity. It intrigued me because it made me want to like that character when everything else about the story told me not to like him.

But there’s a second trick writer’s use to make character’s sympathetic.

Hurt them.

A lot.

Sympathetic Loki

Not self-inflicted wounds per se. Too many of those can make a character annoying. But serious failure and real pain can make an otherwise unlikable character much more sympathetic.

I saw this recently in The Crimson Campaign, book 2 of The Powder Mage Trilogy, by Brian McClellan. I love his story world, but the first book was a hard read. The characters were too grim for me.

Aside from the inspector, I found it difficult to root for anyone. On multiple occasions I wanted the protagonists to fail since I found their actions equally as despicable as those they fought against.

But that changed in book two. By hurting the other two protagonists in the series and showing them making sacrificial decisions, I suddenly wanted them to win. And live to enjoy it.

Loki from the Marvel universe is a character like this. You desperately hope he takes a turn for good because he’s experienced so much pain. You want him to somehow overcome his bitterness and anger and arrive at a happy ending.

I’m not sure that’s Loki’s destiny, but my hope is that my characters, despite their faults, elicit the same kind of sympathy from my readers someday.


About Will Ramirez

Will Ramirez grew up with a love for God's Word and fantastical worlds. The first passion led him to pastor Calvary Chapel Lighthouse for the the last 17 years. The second led him to create the world of Adme, the setting for his coming debut novel, an epic fantasy titled Soul Yearning. He lives in Central Florida with his bride of seventeen years and their four children. Since 2010, he's been a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on the leadership team of Word Weavers of Orlando. He is currently working on the second book of the Godslayer series as well as The Unspoken, book one of a dark fantasy trilogy. In the land of Adme, powerful beings rule as deities and compete with one another for followers. But when a young priest is revealed as the prophesied godslayer, the pantheon unites to destroy him.

5 comments on “Sympathetic Characters

  1. Loki? Indeed it would be interesting if he became a “recovering villain”. But Marvel has been stringing him along as a thorn in everybody’s side for decades. Someone has to play the trickster and if he’s no longer up to bat, someone else has to take his place.

    Stranger things have happened in the Marvel Universe, though. 🙂

    • Yeah, I don’t think Loki’s going to be redeemed. He’s more of a tragic character than one that lives happily ever after.But, unlike other bad guys, people love him 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Tales of the Undying Singer and commented:
    Loki? Overcoming his pain? Somehow I don’t think Marvel will ever let that happen, but stranger things have happened in the Marvel Universe.

  3. Oh yeah, I’ve been watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Zuko the exiled firebender prince is like that. You think you should hate him, but he’s in so much pain you just can’t do it. And his character arc swings from bad to good to bad to good. He’s fascinating. It’s stellar writing.

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