How to Make Your Characters (Even the Evil Ones) Sympathetic

villain, vampire, evil, bad guy, antagonist, bloodOne of the books I forgot to mention yesterday was Write Your Novel in a Month – How to Complete a First Draft in 30 Days and What to Do Next by Jeff Gerke.

In his book Gerke lists some traits you can give your characters, even the evil ones, to make them more endearing to the reader.

By applying even one of these traits to your villain, you can at the very least round them out so that they’re not your stereotypical, flat, boring evil villain. Even Darth Vader appeared to have a code when it came to those he killed with his deadly Force grip. Except for that time when he actually turned into Darth Vader and pretty much slaughtered every Jedi he came across, when he became Darth Vader he only killed those who had failed him in some way.

The Selfless Hero

The person who is willing to put his or her needs above those of others. This is the person who lives out the words of Mr. Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

The Heroic Hero

Portraying your character as courageous in some way will endear him or her to the reader. Especially if they display this courage for the benefit of someone else.

The Heroic Hero – Maximus from Gladiator

The Compassionate Hero

The person who is willing to reach out to another in need will be seen as someone to admire.

The Generous Hero

We can’t help but love someone who is willing to give of themselves, their time or their money to help others.

The Kind and Gentle Hero

Kindness and gentleness are admirable traits and, as with the generous hero, it’s nice to see someone being kind and gentle when there aren’t many people around to see it.

The Humble Hero

Most people don’t like braggarts, the person who needs to draw attention to him or herself. We tend to admire those who are humble, the person who doesn’t make a big deal when they’ve done something amazing or fantastic, who genuinely celebrates the successes of others, even when it’s at his or her expense, and who shuns the spotlight even when it’s rightfully theirs.

The Charming Hero

It’s hard not to like a charming, pleasant person. They’re fun to be around, they make us laugh and we feel good when we’re with them. Except, of course, when they’re being charming only on the surface. Beware of those who smile and pat you on the back, but really wish they could stab you in the back. If you want readers to like your character, don’t make him or her one of those who, as they say, their smiles don’t reach their eyes.

The Principled Hero

Even villains have some kind of code or line they won’t cross. Or they should, if you don’t want them to be just another mustache-twirling, dyed in the black wool type of villain. A principled hero will not violate his or her code no matter what the reasons or the cost to themselves. Even if what the character does is something we might not do ourselves, like going out of our way to find out who dropped a hundred-dollar bill in a crowded mall, we will admire the person who does so.

The Smart Hero

The Smart Hero – Sherlock Holmes from Sherlock

We tend to like or at least admire people who are good at what they do. People who are intelligent (if they’re not arrogant about it, of course), are often admired because they’re usually the ones who can make sense of or see the pattern in the chaotic muddle we call existence. They don’t have to have huge IQ’s, but they usually are able to figure out a way to win. You could argue that Holmes is a bit arrogant when it comes to his towering intellect, but he’s so darn charming about it. 😉

The Sympathetic Hero

The hero who has suffered some kind of loss, injustice or defeat will usually garner our sympathy. There’s a reasons most fairy tales and Disney movies feature protagonists who have lost a parent, parents or, in the case of Marlin in Finding Nemo, his wife and all of his clownfish eggs but one. Or, even if the hero isn’t a literal orphan, you can show him or her being rejected by those around them.

Write Your Novel in a Month by Jeff Gerke


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