Do you know what makes A Song of Ice and Fire such a special work? Do you know what differentiates it from the rest of the fantasy? I tell you; George RR Martin is not afraid to screw his characters to sadistic limits. In fact, the more sadistic the better, or so it seems.
Many writers don’t want to hurt their characters. They are afraid of the unknown, they are afraid of pain or death. How do you intend to create a deep story without hurting your characters? How are you going to create those emotions if you are afraid of breaking a nail? If you are not able to throw your characters out of a seventh-floor window, then you are incapable of creating a rich and deep story that hooks the reader.
Yes, you will create a sea of friendly characters (and, surely, full of clichés) that will go around, wrapped in cotton, solving each and every one of the problems that they find because they will be like Superman immune to all evil.
Surely that is not what you would like to read, why do you want others to read that crap?
Why are we afraid to harm our characters, even knowing that it is necessary? Because we know that hurting them is hurting ourselves.
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Recently, in a project that I am involved in for Nanowrimo, I had to write a horrible scene. It wasn’t bloody at all, I wasn’t physically making my character suffer, yet it was a morally horrendous scene. What can be so terrible? Sex with a corpse, that of a nun, too. I had a terrible time, my hands were shaking as I wrote it, but I did. I have not opened that file for almost a week because of the disgust I took it, but I know that today or tomorrow I will get back to that story because it is worth it.
I dedicate myself, above all, to terror and the black genre, that is why I have learned to screw up my characters, to cause them psychological and physical suffering that, many times, border on the sadistic. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I don’t, but I know I have to and I do.
Who does love you, will make you cry
The characters — the real ones, the versatile ones — are people we care about. We have created them, we have built them in our image and likeness. They are part of our imagination, our hearts, and our soul. They are part of us.
The pain that they experience (whatever type it is), we will also feel. We will feel that wound on our skin. The most terrible thing of all is that we may change more than they do.
Why should that be bad? As a ghost writer, you have absolute control over what happens in your novel. You create the pain, the emotional and the physical, you can torture, bring your character to the brink of death, but you can stop whenever you want, you can end that pain whenever you want.
Find out now that torturing your characters does not make you a sadist. You are not torturing your loved ones for the simple pleasure of watching them suffer. You are offering them a gift (Do you remember Hell-raiser?). You help them grow and develop. By suffering, your characters acquire a deeper meaning and become living beings. They become more real.
Experience is a degree
Let them feel the pain and their scars will be proud. Do you want a perfect character who has never felt pain? Do you really want to present a character who does not know the price of anything?
In one of my stories (you will soon know more about her), one of the characters has lost everything; she is a woman who has always behaved in a rather trivial, scary way, however, after a particularly fucked up scene, she reacts in a way that I would never have expected.
She takes charge of the situation, realizes that she has nothing to lose and that she faces something that is beyond her. So he sends everything to hell and goes on the attack.
That character would never have reacted like that if she hadn’t gone through the hell I forced her to go through.
What does not kill you makes you stronger
My character adapted. She knows she can’t escape circumstances, she knows she’s trapped, and so she adjusts and fights.
The psychological scars that the development of the story leaves on her are really strong, she is aware of that and acts accordingly. Thanks to that pain, he becomes a strong, mature, and profound character.
She learns how quickly things can go to hell, how easily we can lose everything we have. That’s a good lesson, don’t you think?
It is those experiences; fear, loss, doubt, or pain, that make us grow as people, develop and mature, the same thing happens to them. With their pain, we grow as people, as writers and they mature as characters.
Let your characters experience pain, let them suffer emotionally and physically, let them live life as it is, dirty, complicated, and full of painful moments, but also other happy ones, of course.
Remember that you do not make them suffer for the pleasure of doing it, keep in mind that you offer them an opportunity to mature, a necessary experience. Your characters want to live, let them do it.
Now it’s your turn, do you make your characters suffer? Do you allow them to unfold or do you keep them in a cotton swab?