Evelyn & Evelyn. Who are they? A very interesting question to be sure. I stumbled upon these two, or one I should say, while listening to music on YouTube when I was writing. I have found many interesting tunes this way, and so it was when I found this hauntingly beautiful song.
This strange song by the conjoined sisters, Evelyn and Evelyn, totally enchanted me. They have other songs. Some funny ones as well as eerie and hunting; I couldn’t stop listening. In their album, I read the tragic, and somewhat fantastical, story of their life. From their mother’s death during their birth and their father’s tragic death by chainsaw, to life in the circus and befriending a two head elephant. Now some of the things in their story were a little – okay lot – odd, but I believed it. I wanted to believe it.
I listened to their songs, leaned more about them from the interviews of people that work with them, and I grew to know, and maybe even love them. Their story, their music, the videos of their live performances. The more I saw, the more I wanted to find them and give them a hug or something. I kept thinking of what it would be like to be conjoined with a twin, to share a body and a life with someone. Someone you would have to put up with your whole life, and who could never leave no matter what happened.
In the course of a day I had grown close to these girls, to their beautiful music, and the distressing story that was their life. So imagine my surprise when I find they are fictional. But… but… but… What!? I was shocked, and still don’t know what to think. Although, I should have seen it coming; the story was too far fetched. One of the girls had a beard at one point and they had four legs that I could see, when it was reported they had three.
Still, I feel betrayed.
I should know better, after all I spend a good deal of my time in fictional worlds and thinking about imaginary people. But thinking they are real, then finding them not to be… Well, Its like finding out your best friend was imaginary the whole time.
Now that I’ve had some time to recover from the shock, I’ve have taken a step back. And I can see how genius this is! Really, a fictional band brought to life with a cleverly devised and unreal back story. This is all done in just the right way to make it seem and feel real. It certainly had me fooled.
So what made them so real? The back story was fantastical and at times almost unbelievable, but woven in were real things that just could have happen. This, along with some pixie dust, and probably my over active imagination, allowed me to believe it.
But that wasn’t all. It needed more that spit and duck tape to hold together things like: being raised with chickens when they were new-borns, riding the only known two headed elephant in a circus, and the elephant later dying on their sixteenth birthday. Call me crazy, but I believed in all of these. Why? My answer is… sympathy.
The sisters are basically made and upheld upon sympathy. Conjoined twins, orphaned at birth, traveling from place to place, usually not of their own will, and being gawked at as a circus freak. Isn’t that sad? But they eventually pull through; running away, they find a hotel to stay at in exchange for work. After creating a My Space account and putting up some of their music, people began to take notice of them. That all led to making an album. Who wouldn’t feel at least a little interested, or something, at that? The key to their story, and it’s believe-ability, is sympathy.
(Now watch as I make a clever transition and connect this to my writing tip)
Can you see now how important it is to be able to sympathize with our characters, and make it so that our reads can as well? (Ah! Yes, this ramble has a point!) If we don’t have an attachment to, or at least care for a characters, why should we care about the rest of the story or what happens to them? Do you want to enrich your story? Then make us care. Make a deep connection with your main character: give us a struggle, give us a past, give us something to admire, give us something we can relate to, something we can sympathize with.
Making them sympathetic doesn’t have to mean: boohoo, sob story of orphan Anne living at a dirty orphanage with only a bowl of glop twice a week, and dreaming about a forever home.
It means that whatever your character is going through, whether it be saving the world or fixing a broken relationship, you care if they make it or not.
Sympathy means, in a sense, feeling with or for someone. Give us someone we can know and care about. Bring us deeper inside their head; what are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are their motives? Is there something in their past that helps us understand them more? Do they have an inner conflict? That’s always fun! Well… not for them, but it adds more layers and tension. Besides, who of us doesn’t have something about ourselves we wouldn’t want to change, or something we straggle with? Which leads me to my next point.
Build sympathy by making your characters relate-able. Even if he’s a vampire-slaying, gun slinging demigod, we’re all still human. Well, unless he’s also a supernatural elf or something. Find some situation or emotion that people can sympathize, or even empathize, with.
Anger, regret, love, sorrow, joy, are some of the emotions all of us go through at some point. Now that we’ve go those, we can put them into play. Like being angry at your at your brother for eating your candy bar, or angry at that other demigod who screwed up your life. The joy that you feel after all your hard work, you won the science fair even with those back stabber trying to take you down. Or the joy over knowing your lost love was not actually murdered by assassins, but is still alive and hiding to secretly help you.
Some characters may be harder to sympathize with than others. Like villains or tough-as-nails protagonists, but it can still be done.
So what can we do to make sure our main character isn’t an untouchable cold stone? Well, The first thing is to give them something they are really passionate about. The villain’s most valued possession could be money. And the war-scared old army man hates injustices.
Next, ask why? Why do they care about it. The villain is obsessed with money because it is the only means he knows to get anywhere in this world. The veteran risked his life for truth and justice. He cannot stand sneaky politicians who’ve stabbed him in the back by not giving the compensations they promised.
Take it deeper by asking why, again.
The Villain’s family was very poor, and they were never shown charity or compassion. He had to work hard for every cent he earned and would often be scammed out of it. Then his mother died because the had no money to pay for her surgery. The soldier’s brother was always causing trouble and blaming him for it when they were young.
Start at the top and just keep going deeper until you find their core, and what really drives them. Sympathy comes through understanding, and once you understand them you can weave that into your story. Reveal their deepest secrets when it’s needed, show what makes them do what they do, make your reader understand and care. But don’t throw it in all that once, that would just be an information dump. The art is knowing when to give and take; giving the reader enough, while keeping them wanting more.
I challenge you, take one of you characters and ask them Why? And see what you can find.