Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Torturing your Characters (for fun and profit)

Part of character writing is to make a character who you love and you want to spend a lot of time with, and then torture that character mercilessly until they get the strength to break free and save themselves. It is part of what makes for good reading.

Without torturing your character to their breaking point it would be a pretty bad novel.

Imagine a novel where the main character was a high school girl who moved to a town of 3,000 and went to the local school of 4,000 students, on her first day became part of one of the most popular cliques in the school, and in her first week she’s giving her rejects to the other girls and her only problem is having to decide between bestiality and necrophilia.

Okay that was a bad example. But unless you can hit a cord with an audience that no one knew existed a novel should show the character’s depth, not just what the character wants and desires, but what they hate and fear as well.

I’ve been bogged down with a chapter in my latest book because I hit a spot where I needed to torture the female character mercilessly. She’s a Bipolar/Schizophrenic and she did the thing she fears most in the world, she took her mood stabilizers.

While writing that 5,000-word chapter I managed to do a 30,000-word revision on my other novel, write two short stories, and get a lot of work done around the house. Luckily I am now done with that chapter and my girl can go back to being her fun crazy self. It would have taken longer if I wasn’t forced into my office by 100-degree weather.

As I wrote it I had to keep reminding myself that I needed to torture her to show the conflict within her and the conflict that my hero has as he has to tolerate all her craziness.

I was wondering how other writers deal with making a character that they fall in love with and then have to torture them mercilessly. For me this was one of the hardest chapters I ever wrote.

By Darrell B. Nelson author of Invasive Thoughts


Stephanie Barr said...

My husband doesn't get it, doesn't understand why we have to be hard on characters. I've had characters go through horrible things, tragedies, fears, horrors, violence. I don't regret it for several reasons.

It's tough, though, and I've cried reading such things in books, writing them in my own. You don't want to see a character you love suffer, but characters have to grow and, truth is, it's hard to grow in an environment with no challenge, no hardship.

One is terrible things really happen. Another is that people survive terrible things happening without getting lost, even if it changes them, they can still become viable people.

Readers who see it can appreciate the resilience and capability of a character that's survived the "worst." More, since many people have gone through really rough things, it helps to be aware that even the worst things can be survived.

Shakespeare said...

Characters can't have it easy, or they have nothing to prove. My favorite character trait is vulnerability, but until a character is proven vulnerable, he/she isn't human.

That is why Galahad has to die when he finds the holy grail. He's not human--he's too perfect, and he easily passes every test. In the end, he's simply not that likable because he never really had his mettle tested. People in real life show who they are in times of extreme distress. They either fail (or turn) or rise above the circumstances we writers create, showing readers who they are when times aren't easy.

E. Jones said...

It's true torture is necessary, although I always heard it called "conflict." Maybe that's my goody-goody southern upbringing though.

People down here in the Bible belt are weird.

As I have just recently started writing stories, my experiences in torture are few but I have killed...a character.

Project Savior said...

Thanks for joining us E. Jones.
Obviously I'm using the words torture and conflict very loosely here. But the conflict part of a novel where the character has to face up to an individual, group, society is the external part that a character must deal with. In short stories it is usually the only part.
The torture of a character is them dealing with something that they must endure and how they react to that.
The difference between how they deal with a mugger and being trapped a snowstorm. Both show off their character but in different ways.