“Torture your characters more,” she told me after we talked for fifteen minutes about the book I’d just finished writing.
More? I thought. Torture her more?! I’d already done some irreparable damage to her physically, and mentally she was a total mess, I thought. What more could I realistically do to this poor character. People don’t go through that much torture in so short a time, not in real life…
But, the thing is, they do.
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but we live in a horribly broken world. People, good people, are tortured every day by disease, accidents, relationships, good decisions, bad decisions, inevitable decisions…
They say it never just rains, and clichés are cliché for a reason, aren’t they?
I was reminded of that this week. Through conversations with new people, but then it struck home when someone I love, someone dear to my heart, was dealt more torture than I thought fair for one person. From cars dying suddenly to fights with insurance agents she was already battling with the trials of being a new mom and then suddenly she found herself unexpectedly rushing to the emergency room with a close family member…and honestly, that’s not even the half of it. They’ve had enough torture to fill the pages for days to come.
So why on Earth would people want us to torture our characters then? Aren’t they sick of that from their own lives? They experience it themselves—why live through it with characters too?
I thought about this, and concluded that characters who experience life difficulties remind us of two things:
- We are not alone in our pain.
- Things always get better after the rain.
In the midst of pain, it is so easy to forget that there are others who share our burdens, sorrows, and even our experiences. There are those who DO know what we are going through and CAN give us hope. Sometimes we aren’t willing to hear that from our friends, so fiction can help—at least until we are ready to go back to our real world again.
Both of these lessons are hard to hold on to when you are going through the fire yourself, but when you’ve connected to a favorite character whose gone through the flames and come out on the other side refined, and not burned, it helps us remember that we can too.
So go ahead, writers, torture your characters. And readers, remember, it’s going to be OK.