Posted by: victanguera | January 3, 2011

Warning, This Prompt Contains Spoilery for Black Swan (the Movie)

Thought I’d put that in the title. That way, if you want to see the movie you don’t read any further. Unless you want to, of course.

So for today’s prompt, I’d like to explore the idea of creating sympathy for an unlikeable (or potentially unlikeable) character.

Black Swan is a great example of how this can be done. The movie starts with a wide point of view. We are introduced to Nina, played by Natalie Portman. We see a painfully shy girl with a domineering mother. As I watched the early scenes, I saw a beautiful young girl who needed to come out of her shell and stand up for herself. And the director gave me a glimmer of potential for that to occur–something to root for.

Further along, the point of view shifts. We go closer and closer to Nina’s perspective until we are deep inside her head. And man, is it ever dark and fucked up in there. Very fucked up. And if I’d seen that at the beginning, I’m not so sure I would have cared what happened to her in the end. But instead, because I had sympathy for her at the beginning, by the end, I so wanted her to become what she could be, to overcome the paranoia and fear inside herself. I wanted her to become the brilliant and beautiful girl I thought she might be.

So for today’s prompt, come up with ways to create sympathy for an unlikeable character. Do you start from a distance and hook the reader before you show their darker side? Do you give them a weakness that almost anyone could relate to? How about a friend that sticks with them no matter what?

What ideas do you have for building sympathy for those dark characters?



  1. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Black Swan.
    I think one of the things we can do is bear in mind the fact that life is all shades of grey. A writer friend of mine, Cody James, writes about seemingly unloveable characters, but she always portrays the humour and the hope in their lives as well as the despair and the darkness. I think we do not only our characters but our readers a disservice when we forget this. It’s very easy to hoodwink people into sympathy or antipathy by failing to convey a character completely. Really powerful work comes along when we show it all, and allow the readers to become involved with everyone, and think their own way through.

    • It’s so true that we should allow a reader to find their own way through a story–and that the most powerful characters aren’t strictly good. When we show all the flaws along with the good characteristics, I think readers are more able to form a bond with the character. We can’t really relate if the story is about someone perfect–after all, none of us can claim to be like that.

      Enjoy the movie. I’d be interested to know what you think once you’ve seen it.

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