Original Post: How to Survive Making Your Characters Suffer by Lucy Mitchell
Have you ever had to inflict pain and suffering onto a character who you like . . . a lot?
Have you ever tipped a bucket full of “life hell” over your character and whilst you were doing it felt like you were betraying an old friend?
This week I have struggled with making one of my characters suffer. As you know I am close to finishing the second draft of my romance novel, and everything was fine until I had to write the twist at the end. I wanted to shake things up a bit for my reader and not let them think the romance was going to run smoothly. Plus, and more importantly, this particular character needed to understand the consequences of his past actions.
The twist involved putting this main character through hell, and it broke me! I was an emotional mess—sobbing at the laptop, touching the screen whilst whispering “I am so sorry!” and frantically texting writer friends for emotional support.
The worst thing about this heartbreaking situation was that I had to fight hard against myself, as all I wanted to do was write him out of his painful situation as quickly as possible. He was too beautiful to harm. Sigh!
But—I knew that in order to give my reader a literary treat I had to make him suffer. Mikey (my character) . . . if you are listening sweetie—you can do this . . . stay strong! My blog readers are now going to get behind you. It is going to be ok. Trust me. #thinkingofMikey
*Blonde writer looks out of the window, whilst dabbing away a tear.*
So, after such a traumatic week I thought I would write some handy hints and tips on how to survive making your characters suffer.
1. Think about why we hurt our characters.
- No one likes dull and perfect characters.
- In life we are not protected from the consequences of our actions, so why should our characters be any different?
- Hurting a fictional character is actually good for them. It strengthens their character which helps them develop.
- It is the character’s flaws, passions, and bad habits that readers will relate to.
- Think about what Kurt Vonnegut said: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- In life we admire those who, in the face of adversity, pick themselves up and find the courage to carry on. The same applies to our fictional characters.
2. Accept early on that it is going to hurt you, as well.
Your characters are part of you. They were created by you, and no matter how much you deny it there is an emotional connection. I wish I had accepted early on that hurting beautiful Mikey was going to have me frantically reaching for the tissues. I could have ordered more tissues in and worn a waterproof mascara whilst writing!
3. Look forward to knocking ’em down and building them back up!
The building them back up is the fun part. When they emerge from all their suffering and pain, your characters start to become really interesting. In my situation, Mikey is considerably more attractive now than he was before with all those mental scars and emotional wounds. Sigh!
4. Find some inner strength and prolong their suffering!
It sounds sadistic, but you have to refrain from saving them. The longer they are hurting, the better! Now, I don’t think I let Mikey suffer for long enough, which I am sure my beta readers will pick up on. I held out for nearly two chapters before I leapt in and rescued him! *Blonde writer crosses all her fingers and toes that her beta readers won’t come back with the comment, “He didn’t suffer enough!”*
If you are about to sit down in Writing Corner and inflict some pain on your poor characters, you have my sympathies. Take it easy out there!
Image by Jason Rust