A couple months ago I was watching a TV show while in the midst of one of my marathon TV on DVD watches. On a particular episode, a main character has her moving van stolen. It contained literally everything she owned except for the clothes on her back. The idea of this happening to me is a completely scary thing... then it got me to thinking about writing. What if this happened to one of my characters? Would I let this happen to one of my characters? Hence, today's special group discussion.
On Letting Bad Things Happen to Your Characters
Do you let bad things happen to your characters?
Marie: Yes. I think it's inevitable and necessary in a way. Some stories call for it more than others, but some stories almost require it to teach the character something or show how strong and resilient they are or how they react to bad things. If bad things didn't happen, where would most of the conflict come from, you know?
Lilly: Yes, I do! In my latest novel, Unexpected, it starts out with Alina having a bad day. Throughout the story, there are a few other things that happen to her along the way. Some are minor things, some are major things. But they are not fun... at all.
Jessica: With If Only We, the whole premise is bad things happening and wanting to change them, so, yeah, I have let bad things happen... even though I didn't really want them to.
Molli: Like Jess, one of my books (One Song Away), starts with my main character having a terrible string of bad luck. So sometimes I realize that something bad has to happen in order to get the story going, or move it along from one point to the other.
Do you try to prevent it, or do you let it happen in the name of the story?
Molli: Oh gosh, yes. Sometimes. When I was writing my first book, As You Turn Away, I had an idea of something that was going to happen and I fought it so hard. Ultimately I knew it needed to happen, but I didn't like it. But like Marie said, sometimes it's necessary for character development.
Jessica: Considering I wrote a book about a complete second chance, I have to say the desire to prevent it is really strong. But if a story is going too smoothly, the book becomes boring.
Lilly: Exactly... It's not easy, that's for sure. Sometimes I get a little twitchy as I'm writing when an idea comes to mind for a conflict/scene. And it hurts to write it into the story because, well, you love your characters (the good guys anyway) so you want them to be happy.
Marie: Right, you love your characters, so it does hurt. For me personally, my characters often feel like some alternate version of myself, so it's hard to have truly horrible things happen to them, for that reason, and because they become so real in my mind, I want to protect them from bad stuff. That being said, I don't try to prevent bad things - within reason. And that line is different for everyone, but my books tend to be quite emotional as it is, so I don't want to put my characters through too much. Like I said before, sometimes it's necessary for plot and character development.
Would you avoid writing a situation entirely just because it would frustrate you in real life?
Jessica: There are some stories you can get away with it... others, not so much. I'm a fixer by nature, so it's hard not to want to make the changes. Even though I did "fix" things in If Only We, there were some things that Adrienne had no control over. That conflict made the story better, even though it was very frustrating.
Marie: Probably not. If an idea comes to me and it fits the story and I think my character(s) can handle it, I'd likely go ahead, even if it's painful. I can't tell you how many tears I've shed over my characters and the stuff I've put them through. It makes me laugh to write that because it sounds crazy, but it's true - I've cried buckets.
Molli: I don't think so. I've written some really tragic characters before! Haha. I do try to be aware of things that could trigger readers, and talk about that before hand (for example, I have a book down the road that deals with the aftermath of a sexual assault).
For the most part though, even though like Marie, I've definitely cried my share of tears over what my characters go through, I also realize when it's necessary for the book. And I always have a happy ending I focus on, knowing they will come out stronger, having earned it.
Lilly: Probably. Just kidding! Like I said before with getting twitchy. It's an annoying feeling, but when you reach the end of the book, you know you've done the right thing.