Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Sympathy for the Devil

One of the major criticisms I get about my writing is that I need to make sympathetic characters. The hero that everyone admires from the beginning, the shining knight on the white horse so to speak. So I looked at some writers known for their strong characters.

Brett Ellis:

Most famous novels: LESS THAN ZERO and AMERICAN PSYCHO

Who can't help but admire a rich self absorbed drug addict on the path to self-destruction, or a yuppie stock broker who thinks he is a serial killer.

Early in his career Brett Ellis was told the same thing that no one would read novels where the main character isn't sympathetic from the start. Simon & Schuster refused to publish AMERICAN PSYCHO because of protests. Something I'm sure must bring a tear to his eye every time he cashes the checks he is still receiving from the novel and screenplay.

Chuck Palahniuk:

Most famous novel: FIGHT CLUB

It's hard to imagine some one more sympathetic than an anarchist terrorist who takes out his frustrations with the modern word by spreading mayhem. I'm sure he also feels the sting of all the agents that rejected him and wouldn't take him on until after FIGHT CLUB was published and turned into an Oscar Nominated Film.

Anthony Burgess:

Most famous novel: A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

A truly sympathetic character; Alex, our humble narrator merely wants to engage in a little of the old in and out, and some ultra-violence while listening to a little Ludwig Van. The complaints about Alex not being sympathetic must have hurt Burgess when the TIMES ranked him #17 on their list of greatest British authors since 1945.

I'm not saying that my writing is as good as those three, but the critics who say that people won't read a story that doesn't have a sympathetic main character are clearly wrong.

To all the writers out there that are having your work criticized because editors don't believe the public will read it based on some aspect other than the writing I'd like to give you this little word of wisdom: Find authors that successfully use that aspect and write something that goes all out with that. It will help define it for you.

As John Jakes says about writing, ““Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.”


  1. Nothing wrong, in my opinion. with writing what you like to read. Readers are not cookie cutter.

    I didn't personally like a one of the books you listed, though there are a few anti-heroes I appreciate elsewhere, but books with dark even detestable heroes have been successful.

    In my opinion, the best advice is to write what you like to read. If that's what works for you, and it's in print, obviously it has some marketability.

  2. I'm a little surprised that you only found one of those books that you didn't like.
    Good literature provokes emotion, the books I mentioned are loved and hated but few people are neutral towards them. So they do their job of provoking emotion.
    As far as the "writing what you like to read" that is something I'm going to have to do a whole other post about.

  3. I didn't speak clearly. Of those books I've read, I didn't like any of them. From what I know, I wouldn't like any.

    I should have used less ambiguous language.

    Personally, I prefer at least a little "pro" in my protagonist.