In the Mask of Night discussion a few weeks ago, there were quite a few comments about Isobel and Oliver. A number of readers found Isobel much more sympathetic than Oliver. Which intrigued me, because I confess while I was quite sympathetic to Isobel as I planned the book, when I actually wrote it, I had a hard time with her. I’m not sure what it was precisely. But though I felt sorry for her, it was though her coolness held me at a distance as well. I often found myself sympathizing more with Oliver. Perhaps because he’s an outsider? Mostly, though, I felt sorry for both Bel and Oliver and the way their marriage eroded. In any case, I was intrigued and quite relieved by the reaction of these readers to Bel, because it means that even if I had trouble sympathizing with her myself, she didn’t come across as unsympathetic the way I wrote her.
Princess Tatiana in Vienna Waltz was something of the opposite case. I didn’t particularly sympathize with her when I plotted the book, yet I found myself sympathizing with her more and more as I wrote it and saw sides of her beyond the schemer. I also found myself quite sympathetic to Talleyrand, despite the fact that he was a schemer par excellence, with questionable motives both in the novel and in the historical record..
I recently got revision notes from my editor on Imperial Scandal (“the Waterloo book”, the sequel to Vienna Waltz). There’s one action of Suzanne/Mélanie’s she suggested I take out, because she’s afraid it goes too far and could destroy reader sympathy for her. I confess I was worried myself that that scene pushed the envelope too far. I’m glad I got to write it the way I did (and that’s the way it happens in my mind), but I don’t mind changing it in the revisions.
All of which goes to the question of what makes a character sympathetic and what destroys reader sympathy for a character. What makes a character sympathetic to you? What makes a character lose your sympathy? What are some characters you’ve found particularly sympathetic? Are there seemingly admirable characters you’ve found yourself not sympathizing with? What actions have made characters lose your sympathy?
I’ve just posted another Fraser Correspondence letter containing reactions to Princess Tatiana’s murder, this one from Raoul to Lady Frances about Tatiana’s murder.