To Harm or not to Harm the Protagonist – Part II

One of the questions I am frequently asked is how I can stand to harm the characters that I so lovingly created.  This answer is: not without difficulty.

Harming a character can, and often is, as emotionally draining upon the author as it is physically upon the character.  Harming characters forces me to take these creations which I have poured my time, work and soul into creating and consciously choose to put them through a form of hell.  These characters in question are my friends, my confidants – the ones who have shared with me their deepest secrets, as I have shared my own.

Now don’t misunderstand me.  I do harm my characters.  The dark nature of the worlds I create requires it.  From parasitic aliens slowly removing the very essence of humanity from those they conquer, to the ancient torture chambers of my upcoming fantasy novel, Black Rose, characters are pushed to their physical, emotional, and mental limits.  Yet within these aspects often lie the heart of the story.  The character’s struggle to overcome the obstacles which are laid before them and the suffering they endure throughout their journeys make them more real, human and relatable to the reader.  It also becomes a point of suspense, helping to place readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder which of their characters will survive – and which ones will not.

“Do not be afraid to harm your characters” was one of the first and most fundamental elements that I was ever taught by my long-time mentor.  It is also one of the elements of writing that I am still, almost a decade later, struggling to learn.  In order to write dark, tragic scenes well, it forces the author to tear apart the same characters which they have spent so much time bringing to life.  In my personal experience, these scenes have left me sad, upset, and angry.  They can also leave me exhausted and emotionally drained, as though I had been forced to physically accompany the characters on their journey.

Now, I am not stating that this experience is typical of every author.  In fact, there is a wide variance of methods, experiences, and tricks to writing such scenes. To help demonstrate just how varied these methods are, I will include a link to a list of ‘rules of writing’ recently published by The Guardian.  Some of which I agree with, some of which I do not.

The list can be found here:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one

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