I’m starting to plot a new novel and have been thinking a lot about how to present my heroine, who is tough and battle-hardened. When you have a character like that, I think you need to go the extra mile to make sure your reader empathizes with her in some way. Otherwise you run the risk of the reader finding the character unlikable.
So what are some ways of creating an empathetic character? Michael Hague outlines a few suggestions in his DVD “The Hero’s 2 Journeys”:
- Make the Reader Feel Sympathy for Her
Perhaps something horrible happened to her in her past, or she’s a victim of some form of prejudice.
- Put her in Jeopardy
Whether it’s physical or otherwise. (Maybe she’s in danger of losing her child to her abusive ex-husband).
- Make her Likable
We automatically empathize with characters we like.
- Make her Funny
When we find someone funny we automatically like them and want them to succeed.
- Make her Powerful
We are all drawn to powerful people. We want to follow them. Create a powerful character and your reader will read on.
I recently read Red-Headed Stepchild, an urban fantasy by Jaye Wells. Even though the heroine begins the story by killing her friend, we feel empathy for her because of where’s she’s coming from. She’s been ordered by her grandmother (who raised her) to kill her friend because he is supposedly a traitor to the vampire clan. Her whole life she’s sought (and failed to receive) her grandmother’s approval. We can understand how her inner child would do anything to win her grandmother’s love, even kill a traitorous friend.