1. Ohmytheoctopus
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    Ohmytheoctopus Member

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    How can I make the reader sympathetic towards my MC?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ohmytheoctopus, Jul 9, 2008.

    I'm currently working on a story where the protagonist is a serial killer. Well, that's the brutally shortened version. At any rate, I'm not sure how to make him seem more... like the good guy without giving him a sob-story... does that make sense? Maybe I should explain the plot more.

    Well, the main character Kevin is getting ready to graduate from his Ivy League school and suffers from Depersonalization Disorder (Yes it's real lol). It makes everything around him seem unreal, and he only feels "alive" when he kills people. He decides to go on a cross country road trip, stopping in random towns to "take his medicine" as he words it. BUT he cant afford to take the trip alone and meets Daniel, a shy, subserviant guy in his American History course. He takes Daniel under his wing, so to speak, and they set out for their road trip. Along the way, SOMETHING (mysterious voice) happens and Kevin wants out. He's done killing. Daniel cant take it and tries to kill Kevin, and so Kev's on the run from a crazy-ass killer that HE created. Eh? Eh?

    SO. Is it possible to make readers associate with Kevin, even though he's done these terrible things?
     
  2. Rebekkamaria
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    Rebekkamaria Senior Member

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    Have you ever watched Dexter? The main character is a serial killer, and somehow it's very easy to "like" him. It works. Maybe you should watch it to see how it's done (or read the books the series is based on).

    Just make insane normal, and normal insane. It's his world. :)
     
  3. Ch1dori
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    Ch1dori New Member

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    Maybe you could have the main character explain how he feels that it is the right thing to do. Say it in a way that the reader could imagine thinking that as well.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Read the Hannibal Lecter books by Thomas Harris: Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising. Here is a character who is both repugnant and yet somehow irresistable to many.

    These books may give you some insight into how to write such a character successfully.
     
  5. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    I also recommend reading the Dexter books like rebekkamaria said, the titles are Dearly Devoted Dexter, Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Dexter in the Dark.
     
  6. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    This doesn't really have much to do with your sympathy thing, but, from what I know about Depersonalization Disorder, which is probably more than I should, it often coexists with other disorders, like Hypochondriasis, Depression, Anxiety Disorders, and Personality Disorders (Avoidant, Borderline, and Obsessive-Compulsive), and panic attacks are common with these patients. So, you might want to look into something like that too.

    You can PM me if you need any help with the mental disease thing, and I'm willing to beat NaCl would help too, he knows a lot about it.

    Btw, I got that information from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), so, I didn't just pull it out of thin air.
     
  7. Daisy
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    Daisy New Member

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    O,

    "like the good guy without giving him a sob-story..."

    If by this you mean, you don't want to give him a history that "makes him do what he does" ala Dexter witnessing his mothers brutal death... then why does he do it?

    If the intent is that he has an "uncontrollable urge to kill" then I think you could make him more sympathetic by invoking his inner struggle each time he kills, resisting, resisting, but ultimately taking the kill anyway, loving and hating the feeling he gets from it simultaneously, unlike Dexter who has no remorse or problem killing "the bad guys." And we don't have a problem with Dexter killing them either.

    However, this may not work well if he is "purposely" taking a road trip to kill -- perhaps that part could be explained by a recent kill in his hometown, and his fear not only about being linked to the murder but from a sympathetic point of view of hurting his parents, or family when they find out "what he is." Show a love for his family, friends, even animals or children, how about music. For sympathy to work he must have some redeeming qualities or as many as you can think of to offset the killing part.

    "SOMETHING (mysterious voice) happens and Kevin wants out. He's done killing. "

    Guess none of this would "work" if he simply "wants" out. If his urge is uncontrollable, basically he has no "choice" in the matter, I don't see how he could then make a choice to want out, but I"m sure you can think of something to explain that, some mind blowing life altering experience or as you say "mysterious" that completely alters his phyche.

    "so Kev's on the run from a crazy-ass killer that HE created. Eh? Eh?"

    Now, this is where it would get really interesting. Cool idea. But from a sympathetic POV I don't think he can be teaching her... perhaps from their travels together she discovers it, is turned on by it, always having had a dark inner self lurking deep in her subconscious beneath the subservience, and once she discovers, maybe witnesses one of his kills, confronts him, and wants him to include her, and perhaps he feels sympathy for her since he knows how the "urge" feels understands her need and then "takes her under his wing." Not without some struggle on his part as to whether he should or not. If he just loves the idea of "teaching" her, there goes the sympathy for him.

    None of this may help and may not be where you were going with this story at all, but if you truly want the reader to sympathize with him, you will have to build it from something and weave it through the story.

    Good luck with it.
     
  8. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Now for your original question.

    You want the reader to "like" this serial killer. I think you're confusing "like" with "empathy". You can not expect people to "like" a serial killer, but it is entirely possible for them to feel compassion for him. Build his character to show that he is conflicted about his actions. For example, most people are empathetic, and while they would never commit suicide, they certainly feel empathy for the terribly depressed person who makes that choice. Many years ago, I was involved in the treatment of a young woman who suffocated her baby. Despite her heinous action, I felt enormous empathy for her. She was a full blown schizophrenic and a persistent "voice from God" instructed her to kill the child. At the time of the killing, she had no ability to "feel" the pain she inflicted nor to comprehend the "right and wrong" of her actions. After the anti-psychotic medications brought her back to "reality", she was distraught at her behavior and the loss of her only child. In addition, her family (husband, parents and siblings) did not understand mental health disorders and they cast her out. She went through a grueling trial and was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" and she entered a state mental hospital for long term "treatment" (housing).

    As a writer, it is your job to create a character that will evoke empathy in readers even though he is a frightening killer. Remember...most mental health sufferers pass in and out of competence rather than remaining in the extreme state all the time. It is those moments of lucidity where conflict can best be illustrated...when they come to understand their own depravity...they may even become despondent at having no control over their actions. Then, after a period of anguish, the disease takes over again, removing the angst and replacing it with the renewed need to kill.
     
  9. Daisy
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    Daisy New Member

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    Oops, misread your "guy" descriptor of Daniel as "girl."
    But maybe a "girl" would make it even more thrilling... a bit harder to imagine a girl, though I know it happens, eaten up with the desire to kill and enraptured by the act itself... just a thought.
     
  10. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    I can also help you with some of that. I'm taking lessons on mental health at school as a sub-topic because I can't do Biology. I also have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, depression, several different types of anxiety disorders, panic attacks, and several other things. My mother is more or less an expert on topics of this sort, so if I can't help you, I can ask her.

    As for your question, I'd suggest that you try to give your MC some traits and emotions that your readers can relate to. Also, you might want to look into other things which make sufferers of Depersonalization Disorder feel more 'real'. These include self-harming (cutting, burning, starving themselves, all of which I can also help you with) and ritualistic behaviour (this is where the OCD comes in).
     
  11. just_danny
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    just_danny New Member

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    Agree with the statement that defining a character must mean justifying his/her actions.

    The movie Sweeny Todd is also another example of the bad guy being likable.
     
  12. Ohmytheoctopus
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    Ohmytheoctopus Member

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    It's kind of funny that you said that, because Daniel's almost hero-worshipping veiw of Kevin borders on homosexuality. I think maybe that's why Daniel feels so betrayed by Kevin. Thanks for the excellent advice.
     

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