DO YOU HAVE TO LOVE THE MAIN CHARACTER?

Post written by; Lynde Lakes

                                                

John Grisham showed us in his page-turning novel, THE BROKER, that the main character does NOT have to be admirable. The lead character steam-rolled over everyone his whole life for monetary gain and ended up in jail. When he is pardoned by the president and whisked away into hiding, we start to garner a smidgeon of sympathy for him. He is forced to live on-the-run in Italy, a country where he can’t even speak the language. He fears even his “protectors” might be planning to kill him and are merely waiting for the right moment. He gives them only slight trust while remaining alert for situational shifts that scream danger. (We readers know that his situation is even worse than he thinks. He was pardoned only to be killed.)

 

Slowly we begin to identify with him. He doesn’t just lie down and take it. He makes plans. We find ourselves supporting his goals and no matter what a scumbag we think he is, we admire his gumption and when he starts feeling remorse for the bad things he’s done and wants to make amends, we suddenly want him to win his battle to reach this noble goal and are willing to take his side, no matter how much of a selfish, money-grubbing, slime bucket he has proven himself to be in the past.

 

Our desire to put aside our natural disgust of him transpires when he experiences extreme loneliness. We are not lonely, but we can understand his feeling because at some point we’ve experienced similar feelings in our past. Through this empathy, which is more powerful than sympathy, we get closer to him. We feel his growing stress and buoy ourselves up when he takes a positive step to improve his situation. We admire his guts, clever thinking, and determination not be a pawn at the mercy of his expanding list of enemies.  The author has moved us beyond mere sympathy. We now feel the power of empathy.

 

We have this image of this guy willing to do more than learn Italian, he must become Italian. And he must be cunning, cautious and he must win over others in the story to gain their help. But we see a change here. He works them, not only for his benefit as he did in the past, but he now gives his heart and concern to others. Suddenly this man, who we feel received what he deserved, is becoming human to us and we suffer with him. The world is ganging up on him. But a few of us are on his side. We don’t want his supporters to get in trouble. We realize without their help he is a dead man. The power of suggestion is at work. We feel what it is like to be him, looking over his shoulder. We feel his hesitancy to put others in danger. We feel the love and tremendous trust the woman character brings into the story. We don’t want him to disappoint her. She is a good person and her positive view of him strengthens our belief that he is changing. The author has used sights, sounds, pains, smells and the romantic connection of one character to another to trigger our emotions and transport us into a plenary state where we are totally involved and our real world disappears. The push-pull decisions this man must make now are now of a moral nature and will have grave consequences. He is in the throes of great inner conflict. He’s not only messing with his own life, he has to consider others. Then he makes the big change. His honor or self-worth is at stake. He has to make it right at all cost. Can he pull it off? We cheer for him when amazingly he does—in a surprising way that we would never expect. Yea, the book is a bestseller. Now let’s keep doing amazing things with our books. We can do it! We will do it! Just watch us.

 

I have used this empathy concept in several of my novels, One of them was SILENT CYMBALS. Also used to a lesser degree in VIRGIN WOLF and DEADLY

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kerrianne Coombes
    Jul 14, 2014 @ 12:24:46

    I love this post! Its true, you don’t have to LOVE the main character, just understand them… i think it takes a good writer to make you empathise with someone you really don’t want to….

    Reply

  2. Author
    Jul 14, 2014 @ 16:17:15

    I really like to like the main character. I love to have someone to root for. I’m reading a book now that has an unlikable main character- it’s intriguing and interesting – as well as well written but it’s hard not to have someone to really cheer on. Jillian Chantal

    Reply

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