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To torture or not to torture

25 Jan

Writers are told to torture their characters. Which sounds like a Catch 22, doesn’t it? Here is your book – your baby – that you have slaved over, revised, pampered and revised again. This is your creation. Your masterpiece. And you are supposed to torture it?

Yes. Absolutely.

If your hero or heroine is going to have a character arc, you have to provide some sort of stimulus for that arc to take place. A story about a woman finding love and getting married is fine and dandy, but add in a jealous ex-girlfriend, disapproving in-laws and a secret in the hero’s past and the story grows, becomes richer. The heroine has to fight for her happily-ever-after and while she might end up with a few bruises, she is so much stronger for that fight.

The degree to which we torment our characters is entirely up to us, of course. A woman in love facing disapproving in-laws might be considered more of a slap to the face than actual torment. But what if the in-laws disliked the heroine so much they had her framed for a crime? And she winds up in jail? Suddenly you’ve got sucker punch to the gut torment.

It’s not always easy to poke and prod at our characters. To expose their weaknesses. Have them cry into their pillows. But it makes them three dimensional and relatable, which is what a good story should have.

I hate to torment my characters. Can’t stand it. I’ve written scenes with tears leaking down my face and a knot in my stomach. And usually I have to stay up until I’ve written the next scene so my heroine is feeling better before I can go to sleep.

In the end though, my story and my characters are all the better for it.

How do you torment your characters?

 
12 Comments

Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Idaho

 

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12 responses to “To torture or not to torture

  1. Janis McCurry

    January 25, 2012 at 7:05 AM

    Like many people, I find that the character is most often tormented by his/herself more than by others. We are our “own worst enemies” so I usually go for the internal agonies that are self-afflicted. Doubts, regrets, mourning, insecurities, self-loathing. It’s a rocky road when you can’t blame others for your problems but have to dig deep to heal yourself.

     
    • Meredith Conner

      January 25, 2012 at 11:54 AM

      Those are my favorites too Janis. “How can anyone love me? I’m not . . . ” It’s a recurring theme🙂

       
  2. Suzie Quint

    January 25, 2012 at 7:11 AM

    I actually enjoy torturing my characters. I love putting them in situations where they’re emotionally uncomfortable and then watching them struggle to get back to their comfort zone. I have a scene I’m preparing to write where the hero has to deal with a crying woman. He doesn’t do well with crying women, so he’ll be trying to get the heroine to handle it for him, but she’s got things she needs to be doing, so she’s going to tell him to “man up.” It’s all about character growth.😉

     
    • Meredith Conner

      January 25, 2012 at 11:56 AM

      It is about the growth and I’m always so proud and happy when my characters handle their challenges. I just cry right along with them while they’re dealing with those challenges🙂

       
  3. ramblingsfromtheleft

    January 25, 2012 at 7:41 AM

    Meredith, you she-devil you. Why not torture them just a tad, or a bit more? Without a little challenge to show the character’s back-bone or humanity, we could be in danger of creating paper cut outs and remain flat on the page.

    All that being said, can I please borrow that scenario about the in-laws sending the poor girl to prison ??

     
    • Meredith Conner

      January 25, 2012 at 11:58 AM

      Please borrow the scene! Wouldn’t it be awful? Can you imagine all the drama and mental anguish that it would provide?

       
  4. Liz Fredericks

    January 25, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    See, Meredith, I keep telling you – ‘you’re a plotting genius!’ I agree with you about the difficulty in torturing characters and suspect it’s because we empathize too much. Certainly, the plot twist of the evil in-laws made my heart clench, then sputter – perhaps having lived the . . .😉

    Anyhoo, Florence, Janis and Suzie are dead on – we need to torture them if only to make the happily ever after more satisfying. Besides, if we don’t work out our demons on the page, to whom would we turn for cheap therapy? Oh yeah, our writing group.

     
    • Meredith Conner

      January 25, 2012 at 12:00 PM

      You hit it on the head as usual Liz! Writing is such wonderful therapy!! And as much as I hate it, I know you are right. The torment does make for a better story.

       
  5. Peggy Staggs

    January 25, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    I always try to keep in mind that torturing them means that in the end I can make them supremely happy. It doesn’t always help because I find myself tearing up when I pull out all that emotional baggage for everyone to see. Sigh…all that torture and baggage does make for a good read.

     
  6. Meredith Conner

    January 25, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    Peggy, you genius! I will try that trick the next time I’m weeping over my keyboard. “She’ll be so much, sniff, sniff, happier after this. Sniff. This is going to make her so happy, sniff, sniff.” – Wow, I’m almost eager to torment my heroine a little to see if that will work🙂

     
  7. Clarissa Southwick

    January 26, 2012 at 9:30 PM

    You always come up with the best stories, Meredith. I love the scheming in-laws. Put me down to beta read that one🙂

     
  8. Mary Vine

    February 1, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    I think I get a little shy sometimes of torturing my characters, at first, but then I get with the story and let her rip. Thanks for the post- it’s good to think about “counting the ways” it can be done.

     

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