Friday, March 07, 2008

Why torturing my characters isn’t as much fun as I thought it should be….

Creating tense, exciting fiction often means putting our characters in situations that are usually uncomfortable, if not at times, downright agonizing.

Torturing them isn’t always the wham, bam, I’m running for my life situations, it can be a family dinner, a business meeting, anything where the stakes are high for the character and they stand to lose something vitally important to them.

So as writers it’s our job to put them in these types of situations throughout our books, constantly upping the stakes, making their predicament worse for every victory we give them.

Essentially torturing them. But my first instinct when I sit to write a scene is to give my characters a break. Not twist the screws, and it usually takes me three or four ideas before I really come up with a really terrible thing for my hero and heroine.

Now I’m not sure if this is because I’m by my nature, not antagonistic, or because I’m a mommy and used to smoothing out arguments.

But its something I’m working on, because truthfully, once I get past my initial reserve, I really love torturing my characters. Because my favourite scenes to write are the really dramatic, tense scenes where at least one of my characters are terrified.

And on a completely different note. Damages and the wonderful Glen Close. Patty, the character she plays is one of the most amazing characters on TV right now. A heinous bitch willing to use and abuse anyone to win a case, a case where it seems she is on the side of a hundred employees who were cheated our of their pensions. Normally the lawyer trying such a case would be a noble archetype, but Patty is no where near noble. She’s harsh and manipulative and at the same time, appears to really love her husband and has this underlying vulnerability that as a viewer I never know whether to believe. And Glen Close makes this all believable.

Love it..


Annette Gallant said...

I can relate to this. When I first joined my critique group, they frequently complained that my characters were too nice and I never let anyone say or do anything that might be controversial or dangerous.

At first I didn't get it (because I'm sorta passive and too sunshiny for my own good sometimes) but then I found even I was bored. And when the writer is bored by her own characters, that ain't good.

Plus, I find torturing our characters is a great way to do and say the things you can't in real life -- without all the consequences. :-)

Anonymous said...

I agree, it's also great Mommy therapy... after saying 'please be nice to your sister' all day long, it's really fun to be really awful to my hero and heroine..

Maureen McGowan said...

Hmmmm... I wonder if we writers have secret desires to be sadists in another life. Thinking about this more... most of the really great writers I've met are really nice, sensitive people in real life. Maybe we use writing to let the devil out. (or in?)

Molly O'Keefe said...

Ha! I love it -- I keep thinking "this is too much." But it usually never is. I just think that maybe it's human nature or a woman's nature to not want to inflict quite so much chaos and angst on a person - real or not -- so it always takes some practice to get used to using those thumb screws and the rack. And the reality is - books aren't real life -- particularly romance novels -- there are far more cases of amnesia in books than there have ever been in real life. And who gets blackmailed into marriage these days? Really.

But it's that kind of drama and conflict that readers love.

Kimber Chin said...

Loved this post!

I think one of the fun things about writing is exploring sides of our personalities that we are too "nice" to in real life.

In my novels, my characters cuss like sailors. I don't cuss at all (at least not out loud - I cuss constantly mentally).

As for torturing my characters. Well, my characters are not always the nicest people in the world anyway. And they're tough. They can take the beats.

Better them than the hubby.

Anonymous said...

Kimber, so smart... I believe writing is an outlet for all my aggression..

I could even say writing has made my marriage a sucess... hmm...

writing as marriage therapy..

Anonymous said...

I keep coming across your blog (must be the Viggo Mortensen search!)and find it quite entertaining. I write LOTR (Lord of the Rings) fanfiction (alas, nothing of my own but I've had very good success with it) and I agree with you. I love torturing my heroes but it's not the easiest thing to do! There are some lines I can't mentally cross even when my reviewers want me to! Those reviewers are a bloodthirsty, sadistic lot for sure :)But it does allow me to come up with some innovative ideas at least. Oh what darkness lurks in our minds! Things that in Real Life would be downright creepy but I write them anyway!

Hope you don't mind anonymous comments but I enjoy your blog and just had to comment on this.

Maureen McGowan said...

Thanks for stopping by, anonymous and glad you enjoy our blog. We love debating all things re writing and storytelling... (Not to mention talking about Viggo.) BTW the #1 page hit on my own blog is one where I discussed Viggo.

Anonymous said...

Oh you're welcome. I have aspirations of being a writer and every little tip I get helps. As for your comment -- no real surprise there *g*. My nephew is a writer too and has his own blog. I'm thinking of telling him to include Viggo's or Johnny Depp's name somewhere in the blog and then he'll get some hits!

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