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  1. AdventureAlways
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    AdventureAlways New Member

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    Should you have sympathy for the protagonist?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by AdventureAlways, Sep 20, 2010.

    As I have read and witnessed, it seems that every story needs a protagonist you can empathize with or at least have sympathy for. This device is used, from my understanding, to convince the audience of your themes through intrigue in your character. At very least it seems that the character has to be interesting or ambiguous to catch the audience's attention or else the audience will not care.

    I know there are other methods of composing a story, but I only know of one other variation to the story centered protagonist: a group of people with equal focus and not just one main character.

    My question to all of you is whether or not you need to have sympathy for the main character/s a story surrounds for it be a good story? Examples would be appreciated.
     
  2. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, considering characters are used to draw you along through the story, there needs to be some sympathy to keep people reading. Even in stories I've seen (there are a few) where a city, or forest, or some other inanimate object was the focus for at least the first scene if not well into the story, they were given all the aspects of a character and given things to empathise with.

    You CAN try to write a completely unsympathetic main character, but it's a brave thing to do, because people may be turned off from reading. Often it's better to start sympathetic and turn the character slowly away until by the end they've lost that initial trust. By the time you get to that point the readers have an emotional investment and care deeply for the betrayal you deal.

    Erm, I had another point, but I forgot it by the end of that paragraph, so this shall have to do for now. :p I might come back in a bit?
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is usually the case, but not always true. I've read books where you not only can't empathize with the protagonist or have sympathy for him, but pretty much despise him. It can be done, though it isn't common.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I personally struggle when I don't like the main protagonist. If I can't love them why invest a few hours of my time on them.

    However the classic examples are Picture of Dorian Gray, Perfume, Mayor of Casterbridge - well at least for me. Incredibly popular stories with unlikelable main protagonists
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    If it's obvious that the writer didn't intend for the protag to be likeable, like the abovementioned stories than sure.

    If the protag is someone I can't stand, but I feel like the writer likes them (cough, Twilight) then yeah...no. ;)
     
  6. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    I can't bring to mind a book I've liked where I don't empathise with the protagonist. You don't have to like someone to empathise with them. Thomas Covenant was a rapist with leprosy yet his suffering made him a strong character whom I, and most readers, wanted to see succeed.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Read MONUMENT, by Ian Graham. A fantasy novel, and a good one to read even apart from what we're discussing here.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If the story is good, and written in an engaging manner, then I'll devote the time to it whether I can 'love' the protag or not.
     
  9. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It hard to du but books can manage with a protagonist you love to hate for example rather then sympathy with.
     
  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just can't - if I love the character don't care how it is written to be honest. Because of the way I speak I often have to 'edit' perfect punctuation as I go through a book anyway.

    For me reading is about spending time with old friends or making new ones. I don't mix with people I don't like socially. I got about third of the way through Perfume because it was for a book group, generally never finish Thomas Hardy unless it is for education purposes. I finished Catcher in the Rye because it was for school. Usually though if I don't like a book I simply don't read anymore of it.

    When I restart formal education I'll have to but I only get chance to read about thirty books a year at the moment.
     
  11. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    Yeah, read that a while ago. I recall that I did like it although I didn't have much empathy for the main character who seemed to be more of a thug than anything. I do remember him doing a whole lot of stabbing and killing for no apparent reason.

    Another anti-hero that comes to mind (Donaldson again) is Angus Thermopyle from the Gap books, a thoroughly unpleasant bloke with no redeeming features whatsoever, yet at the end I was still rooting for him.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Ah, yes. That's another very good example.
     
  13. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Reading American Psycho was informative because it taught me that that main character need not be sympathetic in the least. We are all interested in people who do not fit into our moral code because it tells us about the human condition. I don't know what it tells us about the human psyche, but people are far more interested in reading about a serial killer than someone who builds orphanages.

    When I was reading about Patrick Bateman, I was constantly wondering how on earth he rationalised his murders and why he did the things he did. If you create a character who acts based on his/her own moral compass, it will no doubt be interesting for the reader to pick apart.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    doesn't matter if you like/love, empathize/sympathize with your protag or not... all that does matter is if you, as the writer, can make the readers have to find out what happens to him/her...
     

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