Putting Our Characters Through H – E – double hockey stick and Back

I’m reading a wonderful book by T.M. Souders, Freedom Road, right now.    Her character is thrown into a world of pain, both literal and physical, and one thing after another goes wrong for her.  But in that midst, she finds happiness somehow.  But it got me to thinking about writing.  We throw our characters into every imaginable thing possible and make them force their way out of it.

And that makes for a heck of a story!  It really does.  I, mean, who wants to read about characters who don’t go through a bunch of stuff that will tear them apart limb from limb and destroy their mind slowly?  It would be boring.

It just isn’t this book though that I was thinking about.  It’s my own too.  (And trust me, this book is one of my new favorites!)  It’s every other book I’ve read.  (Mostly.)

One of my creative writing teachers told us to throw everything imaginable at our characters and force them to come back out of it.  So, that’s why I’ve been doing.  I think it develops our characters more.  It shows that we CAN in fact develop characters because they have to learn through each and every obstacle we, their writers, throw at them.

Don’t be afraid to drag your characters through their own personal h-e-double hockey stick and back.  It adds character to your characters.  It brings out the good and the bad of them.  It helps the reader sympathize with them, and I think sympathy goes a long way with readers.

In Piercing Through the Darkness, I make the readers sympathize with a character who ends up being the “bad guy” although I really don’t count him as the antagonist.  The accident that happens is more of the antagonist that destroys every one of their lives.  But, I drag these characters through so much.  Loss, revenge, lies, and attempted murder.  But they come out of it strong – well, sort of.

In Read Me Dead, I tossed my MC, Alex, into a world where she’s terrified to walk out the door because the guy she saw murder her parents has threatened to kill her if she told his secret, and in a moment of weakness, she tells that secret secluding her twin brother from her and inevitably losing more than she bargained for.  She’s weak, but she grows.  I love that about me throwing her into her own personal hell.

We’re cruel creatures, writers.  We kill people (on the page).  We put good people through the worst of obstacles.  And we sometimes root for the evil being hiding in the woods because that would make the story better.  But, in the end, we have a good product and story that will sell.

So again, I say, don’t regret putting your beloved characters through hell because they usually find their way back.

11 comments on “Putting Our Characters Through H – E – double hockey stick and Back

  1. I think in general this is true, and in one of my mystery stories I deliberately made the victim someone the detective knew and liked, just to raise the stakes for her.

    My only comment is that you have to watch out for predictability. I was reading a fantasy trilogy once, and in the first book it became obvious that, at every moment in the plot, the author would always go for maximum suffering for thee protagonists. If five different options were possible in a scene, it would always be the worst one that actually happened. This began to be rather boring, frankly, though the book was written well.

    Then, at the beginning of the second book, the author obviously said, “Okay, this is pretty unhappy, but it isn’t unhappy enough. I need to max out on the suffering here. What’s the saddest story I’ve ever read? Well, Camelot — the triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. So, I’ll bring them in.”

    It was a gutsy move, but frankly I started to lose interest (I never finished the book). Your characters should go through H-e-double-toothpicks, but there should always be the possibility of things going the other way. :-)

    • Oh, I agree with that. I don’t think that it should end up being predictable. I like for good stuff to happen as well, but then, usually when something good happens for my characters, I screw them up again. lol

      One thing that people have said a lot about my writing is that I kept them guessing and threw in twists they never expected. Honestly, I LOVE that I do that to them. :)

  2. Nice post, Emerald! I think Anthony’s comment is very true as well. It’s definitely good to put our character’s through tough times, but there have to be moments in the story where they still triumph. A good plot should be full of ups and downs – just because a character can’t win until the end of the story doesn’t mean they have to spend the whole of the book losing.

    I think that’s one of the few faults I find with Robin Hobb’s writing. I’ve read The Dragon Keeper and loved it, Shaman’s Crossing (hated it) and the first two books in the Farseer Trilogy (loved them both). They’re beautifully written, very clever and intriguing, but I find her main characters all have a tendency to sit around letting the bad stuff happen to them, and all they do is moan and berate themselves, until something else happens to get them out of the bad situation (and usually into another).

    Bad things have to happen, and as you say it helps up develop our characters, but we need to make sure that our characters react to and overcome those bad things, otherwise that’s the easiest way to end up with passive, boring characters.

    • I agree. Part of me wonders if I didn’t make my MC in Read Me Dead a little too passive, but the deed is done and she is the way she is.

      But like you said, our characters have to react to what we throw at them, and yes, I definitely agree about giving them some good moments as well. But like I told Anthony, I love giving them something and then taking away something. Cruel, but I like it. lol

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Dear Emerald,

    Again, I really enjoyed your post and what you wrote about sometimes putting a character in your story through the ringer so they can find the way back. I most definitely see that in both your books, “Read Me Dead and Piercing through the darkness”.

    For example in the book I am working on. My Character Sadie Martin Carlyle it begins with her telling us about a murder that has just happened only she is still trying to recall what led up to that moment. I have to say Sadie will be a very complex character. Her story is hopefully going to take the readers to so many emotional places.

    All the characters from my book ” Battered Mind, are hiding some type of secret and all of that will come to play and it will take it’s toll on Sadie and everyone that surrounds her.

    This post was so helpful and I thank you for sharing it !

    Syl

  4. I realized when plotting out the final volume in my “Ballad” trilogy that I was establishing a pattern: Whatever the worst possible thing that could happen to Allyn is, put him through that and watch to see what he does. It’s so mean of me; my poor little minstrel doesn’t deserve the half of what gets thrown at him! But I don’t regret doing it one bit, because it’s really shown us all — me, the Merry Men, and not least of all himself — just what stern stuff Allyn-a-Dale is made of, and every horrendous obstacle has strengthened him to the point where I just stand amazed at how much he’s grown since Book 1, Chapter 1. I’d really like to be him when I grow up, now.

    Give your babies heck, authors! It’s good for ‘em!

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