“I don’t like your main character. He’s kind of obnoxious.” my beta reader laughingly told me, after reading the first chapter of my novel.
On the surface, I looked like this:
Inside, I looked like this:
Aloud, I said “Oh, well, he’s kind of hard to understand. He changes by the end.”
Inside, I screamed “How could you not like him?! Do you have a heart?! Is there a void where your soul should be?! Are you actually a Dementor that’s really good at makeup? Well, I guess this is what the Dementors are doing after getting kicked out of Azkaban!”
Outside: “But I really enjoyed it!” *Hugs between broken writer and Dementor in disguise* “Thank you for reading!"
But you know what? That person that might be a soul-sucking cloaked demon creature? They were right. The character was unlikable, or more accurately, there was no reason to cheer him on. There was nothing to make the reader connect with him, relate to him, transfer themselves into his story, feel affection towards him.
And if the reader doesn’t connect with the character through empathy? Nothing else in the story can work. Everything relies on this one fictional person. The basic definition of story is "A flawed hero with a goal overcoming obstacles to reach that goal, and how that journey changes them.” So without character, you don’t have story. Without empathy from the reader, you don’t even have character.
So what is empathy when it comes to characters?
It’s the process of a reader transferring their own lives onto the character. When this happens, the character’s goal and inner desires, values and weaknesses, everything about them, become proxies for our own. We learn of a shared piece of human nature between us, something we have in common on a significant inner level, and suddenly we want to see this character succeed. Because now, they are us – and we want to see ourselves succeed in real life. We feel what they feel, we experience what they experience.
The best way to sum up character empathy in my opinion, is this quote from C.S.Lewis: “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another ‘Really? You too? I thought I was the only one!’”
Which doesn’t mean the character has to be an angelic little cherub …
There are characters that operate in a moral gray area, there are characters that are downright awful, there are characters that shouldn’t be lovable …but we love them. So this is NOT saying that a main character has to be a perfect angel that rescues baby squirrels when they’re not busy volunteering at the local soup kitchen, it just means there’s something WORTHWHILE in the character that persuades the reader to stick around. We need a reason to relate with that at-first-glance unlikable character. Just as we have flawed people in our own lives who we can forgive and love.
A good quote for this one would be this, by G.K.Chesterton: “That’s the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
So how does a writer accomplish a good empathetic connection?
Luckily for us, establishing this only takes a little planning in the beginning of the story. Certain elements foster empathy, elements which you can give to your character and display in the story. Making sure to incorporate a few of these will ensure that first connection between reader and character. A connection which you, the author, will then be able to grow. It’s this tiny first note of shared humanity which deepens into those important links we hold with characters. We’re living people, they’re imagined and comprised of words on a page; yet these people can be friends to us, family, mentors, role models, and become some of the most influential people in our lives.
And how does that begin? Evoking empathy.
And how do you evoke empathy? Well here are the characteristics that human beings instinctively identify with and admire …
– Courage (This is the one EVERY main character should possess. Gumption to pursue what they want separates main from background characters.)
It’s a good plan to give your main character at least FIVE of these empathetic little “virtues.”
If this sounds like a resume, that’s kind of what it is. “Dear Potential Reader, I’m applying for the job of Main Character of this book series. I aspire to consume your every waking thought and drastically change your life, for better and worse.” It’s a diagram of the worthwhile traits of the hero, the characteristics that win us over, which promise the reader “If you follow my story, knowing me – and experiencing the story through me – will be well worth your time.”
These traits will be displayed in the set-up of the story, the first ten pages or so. But the story CANNOT stop to let the character exhibit these winning behaviors; the story must KEEP PROGRESSING, every empathetic element must be shown with a story reason for existing within a scene. Like exposition, empathy needs to be added in subtly, as the story motors onward, slipping into the reader’s knowledge without them noticing. If it’s a scene created for the express purpose of convincing the reader “This character is lovable! Love them! I said love them!” then it will be glaringly obvious and the reader will feel the exact opposite. (They’ll also feel that way about the author, incidentally.)
Now! How does this work?
Harry is the poster child for being treated unfairly. Yet in the face of the abusive treatment of his childhood, Harry is courageous. He does not succumb to the Dursley’s relentless campaign to stamp the magic out of him, and become a proper Dursley; though this would’ve won their approval, put him in their good graces, and made his life exponentially easier – but he didn’t do it. He knew they were wrong, knew what was right, and refused to become like them. So heck yes Sorting Hat, there is “plenty of courage, I see”. He was loved by his parents, by the three that dropped him off at his Aunt and Uncle’s, and by the majority of the Wizarding World. He’s also snarky, loving, and in constant danger.
Every reason why we care about Judy is established in the first few scenes. She’s courageous. She’s funny. She’s loved by her parents. She’s motivated by noble values. Definitely goal oriented, hard working, and smart. She’s also in imminent danger, and being treated unfairly.
If we took out the pieces of the story meant to evoke our empathy, what would happen?
Nobody would care. Judy Hopps would have been an annoying, smug, and consumed by ruthless ambition. Harry Potter would have ceased to exist because everything about him is empathetic.
Establishing these early allows us to begin the process of temporarily transferring our lives into a story. Or in the case of some life-changing stories, not temporarily transferring, but letting them become part of our souls forever.
Yup, having your story connect with a reader forever starts with just a little empathy. Pretty useful.
Oh, and speaking of souls, give me mine back, Dementor reader. I learned how to make people like my characters. Now you’re out of the Azkaban job and the beta reading job.
Richie freaking out over the missing child poster with his face on it and Eddie in the background with his hands over his mouth in shock and worry like he’s honestly about to start crying because he’s never seen Richie that scared before - @confnded
No, you’re not. In fact none of us are just one anything. So let’s dial it back to day we were born. The stars and planets in the sky aligned to convey a story completely unique to you, and thus your natal chart was born!
Our Sun sign
“Playboi, what’s a Sun Sign?”
Well, the Sun Sign is the sign everyone typically knows about themselves. It’s the sign you were born under that immediately correlates with your birthday. Meaning, “I was born in April so I’m a Taurus!” Your sun sign is the sign the Sun was in on the day of your birth. So what does the sun represent in astrology? Our vitality and ego, “who we are.” The thing about the Sun is we’re constantly growing into ourselves and our egos, constantly learning ourselves and strengths, so we’re constantly growing into our Suns. Many people write off astrology due to their inability to relate to their Sun signs when so much more goes into a person. Your Sun sign is less “who i am” and more so “who i’m becoming.” And sometimes we never fully become the poster child of our Sun signs because we grow at different rates and resonate with different things, not to mention the housing of the Sun plays a heavy role in how our “egos” will play out. Also aspects made to our Sun by other planets are most important as they shape our Sun’s characteristics, but that’s another post!
Our Moon Sign
“…okay, so I understand Sun Signs now, but what’s a moon sign?”
The moon sign in astrology is of immense importance. This is where we feel most comfortable and secure and our primal emotional reactions. As I mentioned previously, the sun is “who we’re becoming’’ while the moon can be defined as “who we always are.” Unlike the Sun who illuminates everything, the moon is a softer, dimmer light. It lights up the dark sky at night and it does the same for our personal dark sky emotionally. Simply put, the moon is our emotions. Emotions can be simply irrational and erratic, so we suppress them because throwing a hissy fit in public is not that endearing. My point being that our moons can sometimes be overlooked by others as well as our selves because the attributes of our moons are highly subconscious at times.The moon is how we were nourished, and in turn how we nourish others. It’s an extremely sentimental and personal part of our being.It’s what makes us feel safe as well as habitual patterns we carry. A balanced moon is very important as an unbalanced one can take a toll on us physically. When the needs our moon requires aren’t met, we can start to display it’s negative attributes and fall into a bit of a depression, eat less, and never leave your bed. Or perhaps become more aggressive and angry depending on your moon sign. It’s also equally important to understand that others around us have different moon placements then us natally. Everyone requires different things to feel emotionally secure, sometimes we’re harder on others because their love languages differ from our own.
Our Mercury Sign
“What does Mercury have to do with anything?”
Well, everything. Mercury rules over the mind, how we think, how fast we think, how we learn, our speech, and even our style of writing. He’s the fastest moving planet in the solar system so it’s fitting that he rules the nervous system. The poor guy gets glossed over a lot until he turns retrograde and everyone starts running around like chickens missing their heads because that’s when we notice most how strong Mercury’s influence is on our lives. Mercury is not an emotional planet but more so an intellectual one. It’s how we asses things and use logic before we act, if we use logic before we act.
Our Venus Sign
“I KNOW THIS ONE…LOVE RIGHT?”
You’ve guessed it, Venus rules over romance but a lot more as well. She’s our social graces, if we have any social graces at all. How we charm others as well as what we personally find pleasurable. Venus rules over our attitude towards money and material things. How much we spend and how often we treat ourselves. What we like to eat, what tastes good, what feels good. Venus is also our attractiveness, and what we’re attracted to. She gives us a clue to our love language on a more superficial level, what it takes to woo us. How we like to be seduced and pursued. Venus is diplomatic, she shows us how we make peace with others. Venus also rules over artistry and how appreciate the arts and even the possibility of having artistic gifts as well. Venus also highlights our sexual nature in terms of what we find pleasurable, what feels right, and what we find acceptable.
Our Mars Sign
“Mars is our…anger?”
He can be, yes. After all he is the God of War. Mars in astrology represents energy. Our physical energy and vitality, and especially our sexual energy. He’s all about action, what it physically takes us to do…well, anything. He’s our day to day strength and drive. He exemplifies how aggressive and assertive we are. Our ambitions, durability, temperament, action, and drive. Do we exercise? How sexual are we? Our sexual style? Our competitiveness? All can be answered by our mars sign. Mars showcases how quick we are to anger, what makes us tick/explode. He’s also the last of the personal planets.
Our Jupiter Sign
Jupiter is the first non personal planet as it stays in the same for an entire year. Everyone born within that year will have the same Jupiter sign. That doesn’t negate Jupiter’s importance in anyway, so don’t skim over him. It just means we have take a closer look at him in our natal chart by examining his house placement and aspects made towards him by other planets. Jupiter rules over good fortune, philosophy, travel, and higher level learning (different from mercury.) He is expansive and optimistic. He’s a grand catalyst to spiritual growth. He’s where we overindulge, our generosity, and wisdom.
Our Saturn Sign
“So what does Saturn do?”
Saturn is like our astrological father. He sets the rules and regulations, the routine. And like when we disobey our paternal father there’s consequences the same applies for Saturn. Saturn is not out to punish anyone, he just returns anything we put out into the universe. “What goes around comes around.” Sound familiar? Saturn rules over Karma. Saturn in our chart shows us where he grounds us, where we must be held responsible, where we must work hard. Our careers, the practicality of how we achieve success.
Our Uranus Sign
Uranus is a much slower moving planet. His energy is very erratic, spontaneous, and rebellious. He’s extremely progressive and an advocate for originality. Uranus has to be looked at by house placement to determine its effects on us individually, as people from the same generation will share the same Uranus sign. Uranus in our charts will show us where we are unpredictable and rebellious. How and where we go against the grain. Our humanitarian side. How interested in activism we are, where we are liberated ourselves.
Our Neptune Sign
“that Sea God?”
Indeed. Neptune is the God of the Sea. In astrology Neptune rules over spirituality, all things hazy, confusion, love and romance on a deeper, ethereal level. He is illusions and our dreams. Intuition and psychic abilities. Neptune has dominion over deeper creativity and artistic abilities. He also shows us where we might try to escape reality and what we may try to use to escape reality with. He is addiction, substance abuse, and deception. Our fantasies.
Our Pluto Sign
“isn’t Pluto like not even a planet anymore?”
Yes, technically Pluto is a planetoid, but we still refer to Pluto as a planet in astrology so he will be respected as such! Despite his small size and the grand amount of distance he is from us his effects are undeniable.Pluto in our charts shows us where we are transformed and regenerated. Where we must die to be born again. His energy is very subconscious, we don’t always see it, but we feel it. He is obsession, and our hunger for power, where we struggle for power. He is how we react to sex on a deeper, subconscious level. Where and what we become drawn and attached to. His energy is very primal. He also highlights where we’re manipulative or jealous if we’re displaying the negative attributes of Pluto.
Our Ascendant Sign
Our Ascendant sign is crowned the ruler of our chart, and is of equal importance as our Sun and Moon signs. It’s specific to our birth time and location. The Ascendant is like the mask we put on to face the world. It’s our initial reaction to external forces. The lens we see life through on a day to day basis. Our ascendant is our physical bodies, how we look and how we act in public. It’s how people initially receive you, our first impressions, our mannerisms. Our outer personality. If people were to describe you they’d likely describe this sign.
So, as you can see a lot goes into a persons personality even more than what’s been mentioned above, humans are complex beings who can’t be described as just one sign, or one anything. We are more than our sun signs, we are more than signs period.
… That one time (Actually the second time ever) we came home from seeing Kito and playing at the dog park, and she didn’t wanna go, and by the time we got home she was the saddest most dejected thing I have ever seen in my life.
The questions I would like to see Episode IX tackle
One of the most fascinating things I’ve observed about the fan reaction to The Last Jedi has been how many people were thrown off because what they saw as the big questions of The Force Awakens were either shrugged off or weren’t even acknowledged. This, naturally, means it is dangerous to go into Episode IX expecting answers to specific questions. Nonetheless, I think it is fun and potentially constructive to consider which questions J.J. Abrams will have been asking himself when coming up with a story to wrap up the sequel trilogy.
So, with no further adieu, check out the questions that I would like to see tackled in Episode IX below.
I’m poor. B12 and vitamin D deficiency runs in my family, as well as anemia. I have multiple allergies, PCOS, and depression/anxiety. I’m basically a walking poster-child for all the “why people can’t be vegan” excuses.
I’ve been vegan since 2005. I just went to my PCP and she said I was healthy. Stop using my real problems as your hypotheticals. You clearly don’t care about me, or people like me, and just want a half-assed excuse to shit on veganism.
Posting this week’s update early in celebration of Pokemon Day! Happy Birthday @pokemon, and here’s to many more! Here’s everybody’s favorite Pokemon poster child, Pikachu and its family~
Part of the reason I chose to do the Johto regional Pokedex is because the Johto Pokemon are pretty inseparable from the Kanto Pokemon. The Johto region brought new pre-evolutions (along with breeding mechanics) as well as new evolutions (with new evolutionary stones, day/night mechanics etc.). It’s why in my opinion Johto felt so fresh while also refreshing some old Pokemon.
Also I’m a big fan of how chubby and cute some Pokemon were in their old GBC sprites that have been slimmed-down and stream-lined in recent years. Raichu and Pikachu used to be such fat little beans and I’ll always have a soft spot for their original pudgy designs.