Here’s the deal on the post I made a couple days ago on sympathetic versus unsympathetic characters. In my story, I had a woman whose son was kidnapped at age 10 by a pedophile and returned four years later, and whose son then runs away from home at age 15, leaving a note for his parents to say that "I'm sorry, but I just can't stay here. Don't worry." In the story, the woman tries to contact him through his cell phone, calls the police, checks with his friends (although he doesn’t have many since his return), goes on TV, where pictures and contact information are posted, hires a private detective, and then drives around for almost four days looking for him in places she’s sure he won’t be in. But she just has to “Do” something. She has her cell phone with her constantly and knows that her son knows her number. After four tearful and nearly sleepless days, she ends up at the home of a man whose son was murdered by the same molester. (This is about a week after her son has run away.)
Here’s where the controversy came in. In my story, I had the woman tell the man that she wants to kill the molester who has so damaged her son, and that she wants him (the guy who lost his son) to help. I thought that all this actually made my female character into a sympathetic character. However, most members of my writing group disagreed. Their major points, as I understand them, are:
1. A mother would not turn her mind to revenge when her son is still “out there” somewhere, lost and in need of help. Her only concern at the time would be to “find her son.” Thinking and seeking revenge at this time makes the women unsympathetic.
2. The woman is also made unsympathetic, (and weak), because she is trying to “manipulate” (their word) the man who lost his son into helping her.
I can agree that seeking the “help” of the man weakens the female character, although I also thought it would be a “realistic” response. It never occurred to me that the woman was trying to manipulate the man, only that she was seeking aid and comfort from someone who she thought would “understand her pain.” Also, knowing the rule that characters must ‘act’ to be sympathetic, I didn’t want to leave the woman sitting at home waiting for things to happen.
Point number 1 is the most confusing to me, and through further discussion in our group it seems that we are looking at some differences between men and women here, especially for women who are mothers. My female character reacts more like a male than a female, it seems. All in all, it’s led to some wide ranging and interesting discussion about what men and women expect from characters of the same gender, and of the opposite gender. It seems we’ve got a long way to go to understand each other.