Weekend Workout: Sympathy for Bad Boys (and Girls)

Last week I posted a workout about creating compassion for characters. More specifically, getting your readers to sympathize with a protagonist who isn’t a particularly nice person. Who probably changes by the end of the story, who probably redeems him or herself eventually, but who starts out as someone you might not want to bring home for dinner.

This is something I am personally dealing with in my W.I.P. for my protagonist IdoLL. I brought this up in my writing group and we talked about the need to create a “save the cat” moment for her.

STCsoftwarev3Save the Cat is a book, and a concept, by screenwriter Blake Snyder (1956-2009). If you want to show who your hero is, have him save a cat early on in the story. Even if the character is a not-so-nice person, we will immediately have sympathy for him if he saves a cat (conversely, if you want your audience to hate a character, my own screenwriting mentors used to say show him “kick a dog” – don’t ask me why the cat gets saved and the dog gets kicked)

This doesn’t mean literally (could be, but careful of not being cliche). It’s simply a moment that shows the person has a heart. It’s a moment of vulnerability.

In my story, IdoLL would never do something that made her feel vulnerable in front of others. Even hugs from friends can’t last too long. So, her “save the cat” moment is while she’s alone and it’s not so much a cat, but a loving moment with a broken toy her father gave her as a child. She even hides it from others. In this secret time, her true character is revealed.


This workout is slightly different because you will write the SCENE at the end of it. Your “save the cat” scene or private vulnerable moment.

1) Set your timer for 5-7 minutes.

Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

My character feels broken when she finds / discovers that . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

2) When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7-10 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

When my character is alone she faces . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

3) NOW, set your timer for 10-15 more minutes.

WRITE the scene in which we feel the pain of your protagonist’s private moment  (just write what’s happening, don’t get caught up in the minutia of description).

Use the start line:  When he/she walked into the room . . .

Even though you are writing a scene, just Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises and your scene, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

Happy Weekend!


  1. Jennifer D. Munro
    Jan 25, 2013

    OMG I have a cat who fulfills such a function in what I’m writing. So Joe Campbell.

  2. Danika Dinsmore
    Jan 28, 2013

    Literally? haha. At least I know with you it won’t be a cliche. Your writing is anything but.

  3. 4amWriter
    Jan 28, 2013

    I have never read this book, but I have to laugh at the coincidence: I started writing about my protag who needs to show an act of courage — and I have him climbing a tree to save a cat in a bully’s backyard.

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