1. Dan Kirkalnd
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    Dan Kirkalnd Member

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    How to develop sympathy for a Secondary Character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Dan Kirkalnd, Apr 7, 2012.

    I'm working on my first real story and it's written from a first-person perspective, my problem that I'm facing is that I don't know how to make my main character's interactions with the secondary characters help the reader to develop sympathy for the secondary characters. Mainly in conversations with the main character I don't want the readers opinion to be overly jaded by the main character's thoughts.

    To be more specific, my main character is out alone in the wilderness trying to find his way to safety and he comes across a thief. The thief tried to steal from him so he has angst towards him. I want the readers to feel sympathy for the thief in opposition to the main character's viewpoint and opinion, any thoughts as to how I could accomplish this?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You are telling the story from the POV of someone who initially dislikes and mistrusts the other character - let's call him Cutter. Cutter doesn't like you much either. Over time, you will probably do and say shameful things toward each other. But you will also need each other to survive, and learn that each of you has essential skills toward that end. You will develop a respect for one another, despite your differences.

    In the end, you may betray Cutter, or he you. Maybe he will even give his life so you can survive. Or you may reach safety, shake hands, and go your separate ways. There are many more possible outcomes.

    But the respect you have developed toward Cutter will remain. And because the reader is seeing Cutter through your eyes, the reader will hold the same respect.



    But here's the rub. Your character doesn't respect Cutter. So how do you get the reader to still respect Cutter? You tell it the same way, but make your character less reasonable, less relatable. Your character, Jackson, takes advantage of Cutter, and continues to mistyrust him. Maybe he comes up with unfounded suspicions about Cutter's motives the reader can't relate to. Or accuses Cutter of betrayals that are at some point proven wrong.

    Maybe Jackson comes around in the end, maybe he doesn't. If he does, the story is one about Jackson's epiphany. If not, the story is really about Cutter.

    Capische?
     
  3. Dan Kirkalnd
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    Dan Kirkalnd Member

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    That makes sense, so basically I should shift the concentration from Cutter to my character and make his personality one that the reader will dislike? Is that sort of what you're talking about?
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Pretty much. For the reader to not hold the same opinion as your first person character, you have to drive a bit of a wedge between the reader and Jackson. The reader may sympathize with Jackson to a degree, but in order to make the reader view Cutter more favorably, you have to have the reader disappointed with Jackson.

    If you had chosen a third person point of view, it would be easier to make the reader more impartial. However, if you are up to the challenge, the first person approach could be more powerful. If you aren't able to strike that fine balance, it can be a disaster. And writing first person well is a tougher task under the best of conditions.

    The payoff for taking the greater risk isn't much at all, so it might be better to take the safer route.
     
  5. Dan Kirkalnd
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    Dan Kirkalnd Member

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    True, I've always wanted to try to write a first person story, just always seemed much more intimate from a reader's perspective. I'll take your advice though, if I totally screw it up it's a learning experience, thanks for your advice
     
  6. Boomage
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    Boomage New Member

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    You could also try using description to show that the secondary character -- let's still call him Cutter -- isn't all that your MC says he is. You could have your main character notice details about Cutter (say, scraggy clothes or thinness) and then dismiss them, but that doesn't mean your readers will dismiss those details. Perceptive readers will pick up on description and go, "oh man, this guy is a thief because he's obviously struggling with life." Try it, see how it works for you.
     

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