Creating Sympathy for the Hero

Nobody will care about your story if they don’t like your hero. Even if your hero is actually the villain, you must make the hero likable and sympathetic in some way. When the hero is trying to pursue a noble goal against an evil villain, your hero needs to connect with the audience and that involves several factors:

First, make the hero weaker than the villain. Rooting for an underdog is always easier than rooting for the stronger foe to win. If you watch a boxing match where the stronger boxer wins easily, there’s no suspense or interest. But if you watch that same boxing match where the hero is the weaker boxer and is likable, you want the hero to win but you can’t see how. That’s basically the way “Creed” makes the hero likable.

Second, give the hero redeeming qualities. If the hero is a total jerk, nobody will like that person at all. Blake Snyder, in his book “Save the Cat,” calls this the “Save the cat” moment when the hero does something noble that endears us to him or her. In “The Revenant,” the hero is close to his son and cares for him. In “Creed,” the hero is trying to succeed in life on his own terms without relying on his famous dad’s name. In “Die Hard,” the hero is tough but friendly.

Third, give the hero a flaw. If your hero is too perfect, it’s hard to like him or her in much the same way that woman dislike supermodels because they look too perfect. The flaw makes the hero seem more real and thus more likable. Luke in “Star Wars” has the flaw of being wishy washy. John McClane in “Die Hard” is stubborn. Olive in “Little Miss Sunshine” is naive. Flaws make heroes seem less like gods and more like us.

When your hero is likable and sympathetic, now the audience will want to see how the hero overcomes obstacles and achieves his or her goal against overwhelming odds and a villain who’s much stronger. That’s the basis for creating a story that creates tension and suspense, and that’s what every story needs no matter what it’s really about.

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