character and audience

Susan Gibb writes

Excellent writers group meeting tonight, and I’ll post more on it tomorrow. But one thing remains floating in my mind that I wanted to put down.

One of the workshopped pieces we felt needed a character buildup, fleshing out. While I said at the time that we need to sympathize with the protagonist, the author rightly said that it is not a likeable character, and that’s exactly the reaction he wanted to him.

This is very true, of course. It’s not sympathy or empathy we’re seeking from the reader for the character, it’s knowing him well enough to love or hate him. Otherwise, we just really don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to him, or his story.

My question goes to the nature of the story in this regard. I agree that the success of a character depends less on likeability than on depth and dimension, but without development, change, or disruption, then what reaction to a character will come other than “okay but so what?”

If a story is mearly meant as an exercise in getting a specific reaction from the audience, the story becomes a manipulative prod, much like ghasts in a haunted house. Is a story really meant for workshop that seeks nothing more for itself?

2 thoughts on “character and audience

  1. susan

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear, especially in focusing on only one element (character) of many that makes up story, just as development, change and disruption reveal and define who a character is, so of course, are included in his makeup. Though thought of separately, the cause and effect are also seen as conflict and character reaction. i.e., the egg in need of frying and the man (what type of man?) who fries it.

    As to story being merely an exercise in getting a specific reaction from an audience, aren’t we writing for the reader? And is it manipulative to give birth to a character and present him as we wish? We still have no say in how a reader will react to him/her. You can weave all the ribbons you want into a 6-year-old’s hair, give her a dozen lollipops to hand out, paint a cherry pink smile on her face, and someone still won’t like her. I’m not sure what you’re getting at here, but feel that while we cannot insist on our vision of a character being unanimously accepted as such, we are obligated to offer a character that is at least well-seated within himself. The same can be said for the story.

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