3 Tips for Creating Sympathy-Inducing Conflict
by Karin Beery @karinbeery
A few years ago, I edited a contemporary romance with one main conflict – the female lead needed money, and the only person buying her homemade products was the one man she truly despised. She spent the whole book trying to work with this man to make more money.
There were two problems with that conflict:
a.He wasn’t her only option. She could have created a free blog or Facebook page to sell her wares online, or she could have rented a booth at a local craft show and sold her goods there.
b. Her plan clearly wasn’t working, but she kept doing the same thing over and over again.
It didn’t take long to lose sympathy for this character. Why? Because she repeatedly created her own mess, then complained about it!
If you’re writing a coming-of-age story where your main plot point is the maturity and change of the main character, then it works to have a character repeatedly making mistakes on the path to wisdom. In other genres, however, the characters come across as not-to-smart and whiney.
So how do you create conflict that evokes sympathy for your characters? Here are three tips that will help readers feel sympathy for your characters.
1. Include more than one conflict. It can get boring (and frustrating) to watch a character struggle with the same situation for three hundred pages. Your reader will wonder why the character isn’t learning, then eventually lose sympathy. Instead, pile the conflicts on top of each other.
2. Use external conflicts. Your character should work through some internal struggles, but don’t rely on those issues to provide the main source of conflict. Instead, throw some rocks into your character’s life – move him to a new location, make him lose his job or his girlfriend, have his car break down.
3. Get rid of the options. In the example I mentioned earlier, the character had other options, she just didn’t use them. To make her situation more relatable (and sympathetic), the author needed to get rid of the character’s options. Say the character set-up a website, but her computer crashed so she couldn’t access it, then her hosting service went out of business and deleted all the files on her website so she spent her money trying to recreate her website instead of going to local craft shows. At that point she really is out of options – she has to turn to the repulsive man for help.
When you start piling on problems and eliminating the escape routes, your
readers will stop wondering “Why doesn’t the character do this instead?” and start thinking “Oh no! How will she get out of this mess now?” And that’s the response that you want.
Are you struggling to create conflict in your story, or are you looking for ways to make it more intense? Think about how you can make it worse for your character – then do it!
Owner of Write Now Editing and Copywriting Services, Karin Beery specializes in fiction and professional business copy. She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the American Christian Writers Association.
A Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network member, she is the Substantive Editing for Fiction instructor for the PEN Institute. Karin is represented by literary agent Steve Hutson at Word Wise Media. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or at her website, www.karinbeery.com.