Friday, April 3, 2009

Fear of Hurting Characters

We're going to kick off our hot April discussion on fear with my plea to you to inflict pain on your characters.

Hurt my babies?

Yes. If you don't, or can't, force your characters into their discomfort zone, your readers won't care about them. Think about every book you've loved over the years (excluding Dr. Seuss). Did the stories follow along on a happy trail from page one to the end? Not so much. I'll bet every book that's on your list of favorites was chock full of drama.

Even childhood books that have weathered time such as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie are brimming with problems. Strange land, all alone? Check. Missing beloved dog? Check. Surprise visit by Indians? Check. Sickness? You betcha!

Do the books you read now raise your pulse, make you nibble on your fingernails, have you gripping the pages? Pick one off of your bookshelf (or the pile on the floor) and skim through it. Look at how many trauma-inducing events pop up.

But it's hard to hurt the ones I love...

Yeah, I know, but readers need to identify with characters. When I read, I'm in effect, watching a drama unfold. I want to know how the lead will handle the obstacles thrown his way. I need to understand why the heroine can't love the hero. Books help me make sense of the world, and I don't need to make sense of the good stuff; I need help understanding the bad.

Join me next week as we continue our discussion on fear, only we'll be applying it to our fear of writing.

Enjoy your weekend!


  1. Good morning Jill,
    Beautiful spring weather we're having, eh?! (It's raining buckets up here in Mid-Michigan!) I'm heading south to your part of the world today. My son has qualified for the state geography bee and it's held in Kalamazoo. Exciting stuff!

    I continually struggle to find fresh ways to "hurt" my characters! I know we need to pile on the pain and tension. But it is challenging to keep it going to the end, isn't it?

    I'll look forward to hearing more of your insights on fear next week!

  2. Good morning to you too Jody. Congratulations to your son! Please let us know how he fares.

    I'm sorry your trip won't be very scenic with the sheets of rain slicing down. That's Michigan for you!

    It's funny, but I don't have a hard time "hurting" my characters--yikes!--what does that say about me? Ha! I have a hard time with other things, though, like writing beautiful descriptions and coming up with fresh action tags in dialogue.

    Enjoy your day!

  3. Hi Jill,

    Great post. I agree if your not physically hurting the characters, then they better be in a world of internal hurt/conflict. Hurt=drama=pages turning.

    Hope you're have a good one!

  4. Connie,
    I love your magic formula. Hurt=drama=pages turning! Perfect!

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Hhhmmm...I don't seem to mind hurting my heroine. She gets a black eye and cut by a sword in my WIP! She is one tough lass.

  6. Hi Sherrinda,

    She sounds like a toughie! Can I assume she's a historical heroine? Is she Scottish by any chance? I love historicals!

    One of my books to this day clenches my gut. I had to destroy my heroine's dream of ever marrying the hero. I wrote the book a year and a half ago, and I'm still getting watery eyes! Poor, poor Tessa.

    Of course, since I write romance, she gets him in the end, but oh, what a struggle.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. Ha! No, my heroine is English, but close to the Scottish border. I just like to say lass. Or wench. So if you love historicals, why do you write contemporary? How many have you written? Any published?

  8. Hi Sherrinda,

    English and close to the Scottish border? Sounds perfect!

    Good question about the historicals. I enjoy reading contemporary, historicals, classics, non-fiction... Yeah. I love to read!

    I've written six category romance novels, and no, I'm not published yet. The first four were mainstream, but last summer I felt called to write my faith. I enjoy blending faith and romance; in fact, I find it oddly freeing.

    Eventually, I see myself writing contemporary and historical, but not for several years. My research time is limited and I don't do anything halfway!

    What about you? I'm assuming your English lass is from another time period? I'd love to hear your story if you feel like sharing.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Hi Jill! Thanks for stopping by my blog. :-) And yes, I know the kinds of "twinkles in the eye" that you're talking about - I see it in old pictures of my grandmother, too. Best of all, she's still pretty feisty!

    It took me a long time to realize that I had to really sock it to my characters, but I've gotten much better with it over the years. Sometimes I wince when I have to do it, but I guess if it bothers me, it will bother my readers, right? :-)

  10. Hi Melissa,

    I come from feisty stock too (although I might have some catching up to do--he! he!).

    At first it was hard for me to cause emotional pain to my protagonists because I wanted the villains to suffer, but now it's easy and inevitable. For me, part of the lure of writing is that I entertain myself with every word I write.

    I cringe, wince, tear up, laugh, and sigh with my characters. So yes, we have to bother ourselves to bother our readers. Great observation!

    Thanks so much for stopping by.


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