Through my years of writing, I’ve read that it is important for my characters to suffer in some way so that they can grow and become what they need to be in their minds and hearts. I typically do not like to torture my characters too much. I’m as soft in my writing as I am in real life.
Along my journey, I came up with a heroine that was put into an American classroom as a child and spoke nothing but Russian. Moving at a young age had a big impact on how she grew up and moved into the American culture, forgetting her Russian past, despite her parent’s disappointment. To prove her merit, she had to face danger and keep it to herself.
My first sell had a hero with panic attacks, due to an attempt on his life. My second sell had a hero, a rancher that struggled with the wolf entering the county and eating livestock. My third sale had a hero that came back from being a surgeon in the Civil War, recovering and searching for purpose in life.
I had a heroine that lost her family and suffered over selling the family’s vacation home, the emotions on her sleeve affected every move she made. I had a heroine that placed herself in danger in the 1860s because she naively thought she could survive in a man’s world.
But how much is too much? How much can a reader take without being lifted from the page and out of the story? I was told by an editor not to put my heroine on an anti-anxiety pill, even for a short time. Then I had a villain who was mentally ill. He was a bad guy, which seems to be more acceptable, I guess.
I began writing a story about a heroine that had a father with multiple sclerosis and a brother with low functioning autism. Hey, between my family and my job, I know these topics well, but I didn’t enjoy writing about it. Even though it’s said to write what you know, some things can be too close to home.
Lately I’ve been thinking about “torturing” my characters, because I started thinking of an acquaintance I met when I was in college who suffers with bulimia. I thought maybe a supporting character could have bulimia, but when I researched the subject, it was like opening a Pandora’s Box. For that matter multiple sclerosis can be the same way. Yet, I know there is at least one heroine in a romance novel who has suffered with breast cancer, but I heard it was hard getting the book out there in the first place.
Okay, your turn. How much is too much?