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72. Show Your Characters In Pain

72. Show Your Characters In Pain

Earlier we talked about starting in the middle and creating narrative hooks. The beginning of the story is when you need to give people a reason to keep going. If they don’t have questions to answer or mysteries to solve it’s going to be difficult to keep them moving forwards.

Another way of looking at this is to recognize the uses of pain in your narratives. Your audience needs to empathize with your characters, they need to see them as worth fighting alongside. Especially in long-form stories, if your characterization isn’t strong, your audience won’t have any reason to stick around when the plot starts to sag a little.

One extremely powerful tool to build empathy is to show your character in danger.

Give your characters something to overcome, whether it’s a romantic entanglement or a Tyrannosaurus, hurt your characters and your audience will love them – which, I’ll admit – should worry you just a little.

Ksenia Oustiougova founder of Lilipip Studios puts it like this when talking about television,

Talking head is a leftover from broadcast TV where the viewer was passive. In contrast, computer users create their own experiences, thus being active.

In an eye-tracing study, viewers of a talking head video spent most of their attention outside the video (on road sign in the background, player controls, etc.); in videos of moving objects and in animations the focus stays sharply on the subject.

Historically in movie making, by showing the main character in pain you create empathy and anticipation in the audience; by beginning with an explanation of who you are, you bore your audience to tears – they don’t care for you.

Above is a scene from Trigun, a Japanese anime. Interesting thing about Japanese cartoons is that many of them take a lot more cues from the dramatic than their American counterparts, which makes this scene perfect as an illustration. Even without having the exact context (you should pick up the show off of the DVD wrack if you want that) you can empathize with the character. Something about seeing someone in pain makes you want to dig deeper and learn more.

Watch the scene and consider what role “pain” can play in your stories.

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