Just some background: I'm writing a story centered around a boy who is not special. As in, there is nothing too defining about him physically. The thing is, he isn't in a realistic setting. He is trapped in something of a hellhole, but it's highly unlikely he will survive on his own. He has to make a lot of deals, take plenty of gambles and trust those he wouldn't trust. There are no other 'normal' people around, per see.

However, whilst creating the plot, world, and characters, I noticed that my character could come across as somebody to sympathize with. Not because of the situation, but because everything else put inside this abomination seems to be creatures of sorts that couldn't be met to the average human eye, yet he's here as well.

I don't want people to get the theme that 'normal people can do things too'. That's not what I'm going for at the slightest. However, the more I'm writing about this world, the more I'm thinking his character is coming across this way.

How do I refrain from making people sympathize with this character mainly because he doesn't have any physical abilities as other beasts do in the story, and instead with his other traits?

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    Need more details of the setting to be able to answer this question. The answer depends heavily on the context of whether or not there are other normal humans around. Feb 1, 2021 at 16:41
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    This question sounds a lot like the question here. Is this helpful? writing.stackexchange.com/questions/54497/…
    – DWKraus
    Feb 1, 2021 at 16:59
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    Rooting for an underdog is a normal feeling. Do you want readers to root for a different reason, or you tell us that there would be more commiseration than cheering?
    – Alexander
    Feb 1, 2021 at 19:08
  • @DWKraus It's definitely not the same. My question is asking about a specific personality, OP is asking about a character of indeterminate personality set in a setting where they are one of the only humans. Feb 2, 2021 at 2:25
  • @DWKraus It seems blatantly the opposite. OP does NOT want to create sympathy for this character.
    – Weckar E.
    Feb 2, 2021 at 13:09

2 Answers 2


More Normal People

Here's the thing, if your protagonist is the only normal person in a world full of non-humans, that immediately makes them stick out as unusual to the audience. By definition they are not normal, because they are the only ordinary human present in the setting. That will immediately make the character stick out to your human audience, and they will expect the character has some special destiny, special powers, etc. Even if they are just an ordinary human, people are going to expect your story to end up being about "the triumph of the human spirit" or somesuch because it is your ordinary human character that accomplishes whatever it is the plot is about.

The way you fix this? Make your character one of many ordinary people trapped in this hellhole. If there are a bunch of ordinary humans in your setting, it highlights that there isn't anything special about your protagonist for good or ill, they are no more than another dreg in the sea of humanity. If they are a street urchin or some other overlooked type of character, it highlights that there is nothing special about them compared to any other street urchin that stumbled into the plot.


If you do not want your character to feel special, do not make them special.

From reading your description, there should be no reason they should succeed at surviving in this place. If they do survive, seeing their struggle and seeing them overcome obstacles will automatically make them sympathetic to the audience. Their victories, however small, will end up making them special because the audience could not see themselves succeeding in a similar situation.

So, if you want to keep your character un-special, you need to show them failing. A lot. Any success should come from external sources or dumb luck. And, ideally, at some natural mental breaking point, they should stop trying to survive.

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