Have you ever had to inflict pain and suffering onto one of your much loved fictional characters?
Have you ever reluctantly tipped a bucket full of life crap over two characters who have just found true love and as you you were doing it felt like you were betraying two old friends?
Have you ever struggled with your emotions while writing a scene where your character suffers and that scene ends up lasting only a few unbearable tiny paragraphs?
Before I published my debut novel Instructions For Falling In Love Again characters in my stories rarely suffered.
If I did have to inflict pain on a character it would last a paragraph at the most and then I would spend 3 lengthy chapters making things up to them.
I have been known to write a paragraph of character suffering and then at editing stage revise the hell out of that paragraph just so the character doesn’t hurt too much.
In addition I have been known to make the path easier for my characters and have gone out of my way to help them out of tricky situations.
Working with my two editors made me understand that characters need to suffer.
Stories need conflict.
Characters need to be put into growth-inducing situations.
I still struggle with making characters suffer though. It’s such a tough thing to do when you are an emotional writer like me. I get far too attached to my characters and I just want them to live in perfect harmony.
But that’s not how real life works.
Here are some points to consider if like me you struggle with hurting fictional folk:
1. Think about real life
In life we are not protected from the consequences of our actions so why should our characters be any different?
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. Suffering is a useful tool to build tension
In my romance genre suffering comes in the form of miscommunications, arguments, betrayals, lies, jealousy, bickering, fights over who gets more of the duvet cover, fear of commitment, wanting commitment too soon, long term resentment, incompatible life goals, boredom, family rifts, terrible kisses, secret kisses and worse of all – not enough kisses. All of this suffering helps to build uncertainty and creates tension.
3. Suffering could be your book’s standout.
A character’s suffering and the way he or she deals with it may prove to be the backbone of your story, that one story element that makes your fiction stand up and stand out. When they emerge from all their suffering and pain your characters start to become really interesting and memorable.
4. This is a fictional character.
I have to tell myself (repeatedly) that my characters are not real people and it’s not like I am actually hurting someone.
5. Suffering advances your story.
It pains me to type this but suffering needs to happen so that your heroes can get to (and earn) their happy ending. Suffering is what propels the plot forward: the protagonist is unhappy with their life as-is and wants to change things.
Do you suffer with this?
Or are you a tough cookie and making characters suffer is all part of the fun?
What I want to know is how the hell do crime thriller writers cope with making their characters suffer for the full length of the book? They must be nails!
Have a good day!