Boohoo!! Poor little thing. Her parents died. Her brother gone. Her boyfriend broke up with her. Boohoo? Heartless I may sound, but the character’s life has bottomed out and the reader has put down the book. And THAT is the most tragic part of all.
I recently read a novel in which the main character’s mother had been murdered and the suspect convicted of killing her may go free; her father lying ill and unconscious has only weeks to live; her career could fold any minute and her personal life is wallowing under a current of disappointment with an undertow of failure threatening to pull her deep into the ocean of despair. To not empathize with her sympathetic circumstances would be cold-hearted. Wouldn’t it?
Sympathy causes a reader to care. Empathy forces a reader to relate. Both are needed to keep the reader engaged. But sometimes a writer can create a character that becomes pathetic. As was the case in this novel. Pathetic can kill a story. Pathetic can make readers wish death upon the character. Quick. Simple. Done.
As a writer I want to create a character who has found herself stuck in an impossible situation and getting out of it may mean the loss of career, love, family, or life. What I don’t want is a weak character. I want a warrior; a fighter; an overcomer. Someone who goes down for the count and then fights with everything they have left to get back up and face their opponent, again, and again.
Think about the last time you read an article about someone overcoming great odds to survive cancer? Or who stood up for the downtrodden? Or during immense adversity chose to continue to do what was right instead of what was easy? Those are the people you remember, right? Their stories touch your heart and leave you with a simple truth: life does not define character, life reveals it.
As I continue to work on my new novel, Unrest, I am committed to bringing out characters who will face refinement through their circumstances. It is my hope that my readers will empathize with their struggles but been encouraged by their resolve to overcome, no matter the cost.
Has there been a character in a story you’ve read that you just couldn’t relate to? What was it about that character that made them pathetic and instead of empathetic?
What about a great character whose story continues to take residence in your mind long after you’ve closed the book? What characteristic did you most appreciate seeing revealed in the character?
Natalie Walters is a freelance writer and blogger who resides wherever the Army sends her. She has written for many online publications and has been published in P31 Woman magazine. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the Christian Writers Guild. Her travels across the world give her stories the rich details that help immerse her readers in the adventure of high stakes, personal struggle, and page-turning suspense.