Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Cruel to Be Kind
I have the disconcerting sensation that if my characters ever came to life, they'd go straight for my throat. Not unlike the powerful beast controlled through magic that would immediately seek revenge upon its tormentor (me) if it ever gained its freedom. I've had my dearest friends and family members read my stories and look up at me, an expression of mild horror and shock in their watery eyes, and say, "You're so MEAN!! How can you do that to (insert character name here)??"
Heehee. I am mean to my characters. It's good for them.
I might feel terrible about the various ways in which I ruin their lives if they didn't make for such tantalizing storylines. But I like the hard endings, the ones other authors often lack the intestinal fortitude to put to paper. Not always, mind you; I enjoy the happy ending as much as anybody else (well, maybe not quite as much as ANYBODY else), but only if it's organic to the story. That cheesy "Deus-ex-machina" crap makes me want to hurl. The book. Into the author's face. Just because you don't want to see Sally die doesn't mean she shouldn't.
Ok...so I may enjoy tormenting my characters. A little. Hey, it's my job, right? If I don't kidnap my MC's pregnant beloved and maroon her on a desert island filled with poisonous coconuts and man-eating-zombies, then who will? And if I don't give our hero's beloved an incurable poisoned coconut addiction and a new zombified crack-dealing boyfriend (and newborn twins - who may or may not be the hero's brother's children) just as he is about to rescue her, then who will?
No one, that's who. And then we have no story.
No one wants to read about the ever-smiling, picture-perfect Smith family attending the church picnic and living in perfect harmony, whose biggest problems include unexpected pimples or getting grass stains out of Johnny's football uniform. We want to watch characters grow and change and react to tragedy. Call me when the youngest Smith daughter spontaneously combusts and Dad enters a downward spiral of alcoholism and gay porn, Mom can't stop repainting the kitchen, and Brother Johnny embraces Satanism and a magic marker addiction. But in the end, they all learn a valuable lesson about love and togetherness and what it means to be a family.
So, as Mr. Wendig urges (in the post linked to below), don't be afraid to "put the irons to [your characters'] feet." It's the only way they'll learn.
25 Ways to F with your Characters