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Friday, August 17, 2007

Hurting Characters

There was a thread on the OWW list group about hurting your characters. I didn't read many of the emails in the beginning because I had this duh moment. You know…duh, of course you have to hurt your characters. Where else is the heart of the story going to come from?

I think people err on how far to hurt their characters, and sometimes go too far thinking that will improve the conflict. You don't have to chop off appendages or torture them to death. Death and dismemberment is only covered by auto insurance (lol) and isn't always necessary to excite the story. (Learned that the hard way!)

There are more subtle means, and sometimes through that subtlety it becomes even more tension-filled because the pain isn't visible on the surface. For example: the character can lose his career, his lover, his dignity. Hurt happens and it doesn't have to be physical or apparent to the casual viewer, or even to the character himself.

When a character is hurt, he reacts to the situation and provokes the next evolution in the scene---or he should because there's no need to hurt him unless it's integral to the plot. Action = Reaction. Can you see the domino effect? One action leads to another and then another; each creating a ripple that becomes cause and effect.

Now complicate things. What happens if the pain inflicted is done without malice, something done by accident, perhaps? Now two people are affected by pain, the giver and the receiver.

Pain is a great impetus for expanding the depth and tension of a story. Done well, it also creates empathy.

How can you hurt your characters without looking too manipulative? Give your mc a passionate want or need (something we as human beings can relate to) and then take it away from him--in a BIG way. Does he want the girl? Make sure the girl falls for the jerk who also happens to be his biggest rival. Does he love his dog? Kill the poor pooch or have him stolen. Does he need to pay for his father's operation? Get him fired, drunk and arrested for possession.

You can hurt your characters in all sorts of delicious ways that will make the story un-put-down-able. The more the mc suffers, the more readers have to know how he gets out of his jams.


Stephanie Humphreys said...

If we don't hurt them, who is going to care what happens next? Almost every conflict is painful in some way, and fiction is based on conflicts. Loved your post.

Maria Zannini said...

hurt'em til we love'em. :o)