Thursday, April 12, 2012

K: Kindness Kills

K:  We love those books that tug on our emotions.  Some make us laugh and some make us cry.  The ones who stay with us for a long time after we read the last pages are the ones with characters we come to care about.  We learn to care about the imaginary people as they struggle against great odds, overcome losses and grow as people.  But what if they didn't have to struggle?

If a book character succeeds at everything they do, if everyone loves them, if nothing bad ever happens to them, how much would we care to turn the pages? If every chapter ends on a ray of sunshine and every night is clear and filled with the silver shine of a friendly moon, the story would bog down in the stickiness of too much sweetness and goodness.  Writers have to be unkind to their characters.

Think of one your favorite literary characters.  What loss did they experience? What mistakes did they make? How did they hold up under stress?  What event shook their confidence? How did they face heart break and despair? Did the author pile on difficulty after difficulty?  Did the character have to crawl, regroup, fall and get up again and again ... how did this beloved person find their way out of their situation?  Was their victory bittersweet and marred by emotional and physical costs?

To create a memorable character and write an unforgettable story, don't let your creations off too easily.  Being too kind to them might kill your story.

Have you tortured your protagonist enough? Have you read anything recently where the lead character suffered too much?


  1. What a tall order.
    My favourite character is Gösta Berling from Selma Lagerlöf's debut novel, Gösta Berlings Saga. Gösta Berling is a fun guy to read about, but I would probably get tired of him if I met a real life person like him. This is set in the early 19th century. Gösta Berling is a gifted poet working as a minister in a church, in a far off corner of western Sweden, a provence called Värmland. Gösta Berling drinks, gets drunk and misses church services. He is sober the day that the bishop comes to listen to his sermon. Gösta Berling almost avoids being defrocked by delivering the best sermon that he ever held. But his dribking buddings give him away and he looses his job anyway.
    This is the beginning of novel where things go from bad to worse until Gösta is saved by a woman who truly loves him, inspite of him being so irresponsble.

    I guess you are mostly right here.
    Best wishes,
    Anna's A-Z, the letter K

  2. I hate to do it sometimes, but yes, I've tortured my darlings.

  3. So true, Sue. I sure hope I'm torturing my main characters enough. (Only an author can get away with saying that and sound semi sane.)

  4. This is so true. Even in books for little kids. "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" comes to mind. :)

  5. I think the characters have to go through some difficulty or it isn't going to be a good story.

  6. I think I've thrown everything at my MCs but the kitchen sink but if this story goes on much longer, I'll have to throw that too...

  7. I've definitely packed on a lot of trials and tribulations for my heroes, particularly in my contemporary historical Bildungsroman and my Russian novels. When you're writing a long, sweeping saga, you kind of have to have lots of bumps in the road and sufferings! It makes the final resolution that much more sweeter, because it took so long to get there and because the main characters went through so many obstacles to be happy (at least for now).

  8. Things can't be plain-sailing...but I wish it could :)
    Rhia from Five Minute Piece for Inspiration (around # 793 on A to Z list)

  9. I'm actually working on a book now where I wonder how much I should make my character suffer for the good of the story! Gives me some thoughts...

  10. I threw a ton of stuff at my main character in my last book! he never knew what hit him.

  11. I just read my Best friends manuscript and it was so wonderful! She has her three main characters going through sooo much all at once and I immediately fell in love with all three of them!

    I think my biggest problem is finding balance between what my character needs to go through and what they can actually handle. (As in, would it really be physically possible for them to go through so much?)

    Wonderful post!

    Konstanz Silverbow
    A to Z C-host

  12. Anne Rivers Siddons wrote a novel called Colony and I just wanted the protagonist to have one (just one) party that didn't end in disaster... was that too much to ask?

  13. I'm a firm believer in making life tough for my characters. ;) The only series that borders on too much for me is GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire. I eventually lost hope that anything would ever change for those poor characters!

  14. Good post. I agree that you should make it tough on the characters to make it great for the reader. Thanks for sharing.