I’ve been in an interesting quandary with this character I’ve been writing. She’s a successful actress who at first glance, might not quite be worthy of sympathy. In my first draft, the first time you met her, she was itching to get off the show she was working on, desperate for a week on vacation in Costa Rica, and while it was clear she was unhappy, no one really connected to the reasons why. That is on me. That is a writer thing.
But as I’ve been working through the character, and been given feedback, I keep coming across the same word: sympathetic. Why should we care about her? Why should the reader want her to leave the show she is working on? All of the questions have been valid. And yet, I keep sitting back because there has been an undercurrent of a question as the situation of the sexual harassment she is enduring is revealed: well, she’s made the choice to be in that situation. So again, why should it matter?
Over the past few months, I have definitely succeeded in making this character stronger and more well rounded as a human being. All of the things I’d sketched out initially in my head for character development have emerged in the telling of her tale. She’s gone from being an A-List Actress to being human. My writing group has been instrumental in that development and I thank them for it. But … the question still remains.
Even with the sexual harassment, there is an undercurrent of: did she ask for it? Is she making the choice to stay?
Is she sympathetic enough?
I think from a writer perspective, these are crucial questions. It’s my job to make my reader cheer when good things happen to good people. It’s my job to make my reader give a shit. But there is also this perspective that I’m haunted by – because to me, my characters are as human as I am. And shouldn’t we feel sympathy for a woman who is trapped in a situation where she is worried if she says “no” she will lose everything she has worked for?
So on the one hand, I’m walking the line of “Wait a minute!” And on the other, I’m wondering just how “sympathetic” I’m going to need to make this character. And what is staying with me is that (it feels like) the majority of the “sympathetic” comments are coming from my male counterparts while my female ones are missing Gina’s early strength and how tough she was to begin the story.
Last night, I opened her introduction and read it for the 9,000,000,000 time. I hated it. She wasn’t “sympathetic” enough and in my effort to turn her into a more human character, I found her walking a Diva line that is not who she is.
So what wins out?
I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.