Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Tea and sympathy? Not for me... by Cathy Ace

Craft: Do characters need to be sympathetic? Why? Why not? Does it make a difference in different genres?

The 9th Cait Morgan Mystery was published on June 29th, so this is my first chance – here – to shout about it. If you follow me in other ways maybe, by now, you’ve grown a bit tired of seeing reviews, blog posts, interviews and profiles of the book, myself, and my characters. I hope not. But it’s a difficult balancing job…trying to make sure as many people know about a new book as possible, trying to get as many people to like the idea of reading it as possible – but not annoying the heck out of folks along the way. So, if this post is turning out to be a bit of a stressor, let me say this, and be done with it: The Corpse with the Crystal Skull is a book I am proud of, and I hope you consider buying it. If you’d like to find out more about it CLICK HERE. Thank you.

Now then…if you’re still here…let’s talk characters. This week’s question is interesting and it’s one I’ve faced on panels at conventions. The thing is, if you’ve read any of my work I think you already know my answer: no, I don’t think characters need to be sympathetic…not all of them, and not all of the time. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be, on occasion.

Why do I think they shouldn’t be sympathetic all the time? Well, who do you know in real life who’s sympathetic all the time? You might know the odd person whose life is so dreadful that you feel constantly sorry for them…but maybe even those people have a keen wit, or you know their life isn’t blighted for no reason – rather, they have become a victim of their choices.

Here I am...asking you to "choose the Ace"!!

While I write fiction, I want my readers to be able to relate to the characters I create, rather than always be fighting their battles for them. That’s not to say I haven’t written characters I believe should be sympathized with by readers, for at least a part of their time in my works, but one of the things I try to highlight in anything I write is that we are the product of our choices – and we all make some good choices, and some poor choices. Sometimes a character's arc is born not from the bad or good choices they have made prior to the start of the book, or even within it, but from how they deal with the implications of those choices.

“I had no choice” is often the bleating excuse of a fictional criminal – my job as a storyteller is to allow the reader to understand why ALL the characters in the book have acted as they have, and to especially understand why the killer/s chose to do what they did, and the way they did it. That’s not to give the killer an excuse – but a motivation. I also try to highlight the concept that having a reason to want someone dead isn’t the same as killing them – because, especially in my traditional Cait Morgan Mysteries, there are usually quite a few suspects who all had a reason to want the victim/s dead, but didn’t follow through and actually kill them. Cait Morgan herself is quite clear that her life is a product of the choices she’s made – and is equally clear she’s made some terrible ones in her past. In her adventures a part of her motivation to always seek the truth, and thereby justice, is a search for redemption within her “new life”.

For me, I aim for relatable rather than sympathetic. Different authors in different genres treat this challenge differently, and I know they have their reasons. I’ll stick to mine.

You can find out more about all my books - and me - by CLICKING HERE.


PS: please consider trying the new Cait Morgan Mystery? Oops…I couldn’t resist that one, final request. I hope you understand 😊


Paul D. Marks said...

You're right about us and our characters being the product of our choices, Cathy. That's what everything stems from.

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks, Paul - Cathy :-)