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Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking about some of the rotten things I've done to my characters. Not that I feel guilty, mind. I'm a great believer in putting the folks I write about through the mill. 

In my novel, Fur-Face, Snowy (a black cat) has two big phobias, frogs and cat boxes. I introduced both fears in a non-dramatic way, so they wouldn't be a surprise when they come up later.

A couple of chapters after it's first mentioned, Snowy has a deep conversation with his new friend, Billy Euston, in which he explains how his loathing/fear of cat boxes came from a traumatic event in his past. His frog phobia surfaces later. It has no traumatic cause, he just hates them and can't bear to touch them. 

Later in the story, Snowy finds himself confronting both of these phobias, but in different ways.  
I tried to make the frog confrontation funny, but also show him making a conscious effort to face his fear. As the stakes (and hopefully tension level) had risen by the time he faced the second fear, I wanted something much more dramatic. Captured by the bad guys, Snowy ends up getting forced into a cat box after they spray him with a local anesthetic. Awake, aware, but unable to move he suffers his worst nightmare.

So why do we do such mean things to our characters? I think it's because, as readers, when we follow someone who hates (or better yet, is terrified of) something, but ends up in a position where they have to face that situation and come out on top (or at least alive), I think it brings us closer to them. It makes the story more rich and the character more believable, and more importantly, more relatable.

How about you?

What rotten things have you done to your characters?

Related posts:
What Are You Afraid Of? (Donald Maass) (from last week's interesting blog posts list)

What did they ever do to you? – Why all good writers are sadists. 

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( 47 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 9th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm always getting them beat up, so I don't think that qualifies. I feel like my treatment of Ethan in Demonised was particularly bad. He's possessed by a demon that feeds off negative emotion, and it gives him nightmares of raping a woman he cares about. Later in the book, the demon takes control of his body and actually attempts the rape. I felt pretty dirty after writing that!
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC)
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:46 pm (UTC)
I'm currently in the process of my main character's relationship breaking up - he's being a complete arse, and I keep wanting to go "it's okay, you meet someone better!"...
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:48 pm (UTC)
Lol, it's hard not to get emotionally involved, isn't it? :)
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:46 pm (UTC)
Well, I've noticed that in most of my short stories the protagonist (or someone close to the MC) either dies or goes mad. In the novel Im working on, the MC almost was suffocated during a seance. I'm trying to raise the stakes with him so who knows what will happen as i near the end?
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC)
In the novel I'm working on, the MC almost was suffocated during a seance.

There's a 'happy medium' joke in there somewhere, but my brain's just not up to the task today :)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Mar. 9th, 2011 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 9th, 2011 05:23 pm (UTC)
My finished novel is ripe with horrible things (husband sold the soul of first born,and all the fun stuff that goes with that), and in my new WIP, I'm half way through the first chapter and I've already stuck the 'hero' on an asteroid circling a sun that is about to go nova.

How's that?
Mar. 9th, 2011 07:12 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a fun read :)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jongibbs - Mar. 9th, 2011 07:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Mar. 9th, 2011 07:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 9th, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Okay, '
Oops, finger slipped.
I've linked to the Persimmony Glitchet Arthur episode before,
but it's worth repeating.
Mar. 9th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC)
Some of the worst things that have happened to my characters...
  1. Stefanie Tricarico, the cop, was gang raped and thrown in a lake when she was a teenager,
    then gang raped as adult by other cops...
    But she's still fighting crime...
  2. Stacy Katczinsky's lover was killed by the last V2...
  3. Several of my characters have witnessed the death of a lover or close friend...
    The worst of these was probably when a teenager slipped on ice and broke her leg,
    perforating her femoral artery...
  4. In a turn of ironic justice, a corrupt cop was deliberately suffocated by a six hundred pound woman he'd coerced into having sex with him...
    (I was intrigued by the idea of someone using their own body as a murder weapon.)
Mar. 9th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
RE #4 Couldn't you have just had them know Karate? :)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Mar. 9th, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 9th, 2011 06:20 pm (UTC)
*pets Snowy*
I'm working on a short story right now where I just killed my 6-year old protagonist's mother (snake bite) and then had wild dogs chase him away from the body so they could devour it. Oh yeah and he's now the last human being left on Earth.
Mar. 9th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
Re: *pets Snowy*
Oh yeah and he's now the last human being left on Earth.

In that case, I hope you're telling it in first person, present tense :P
Re: *pets Snowy* - mongrelheart - Mar. 9th, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 9th, 2011 06:32 pm (UTC)
One of my characters got caught picking his nose. It was super embarrassing.
Mar. 9th, 2011 07:14 pm (UTC)
Lol :)
Mar. 9th, 2011 07:55 pm (UTC)
I love doing bad things to my characters! I think you're right - it brings us, and readers, closer to the characters to see them struggle. No one likes that couple in high school who just seems TOO perfect to be true.
Mar. 9th, 2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
Though we secretly wish we could be them ;)
(no subject) - misha_mcg - Mar. 9th, 2011 08:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 9th, 2011 08:09 pm (UTC)
Well, I have a thing for vampires, so guess what happens to my protagonists a lot... Also, I have this novel in which two protagonists start out best friends, but end up quite literally at each other's throats. A number of my characters hate themselves and make others miserable because of it. I have a character who is trying to instigate a revolution, but who is betrayed half way through and gets stuck with a plan that will never work. My favourite character Sol is unable to save this wife and daughter from impending doom, and then spends four hundred years trying to forgive himself. And then of course there's that shrink who gets abducted by an insane vampire who thinks she needs to talk...
Mar. 9th, 2011 08:33 pm (UTC)
That last one sounds like fun. A sharper toothed version of Analyze This :)
Mar. 9th, 2011 11:00 pm (UTC)

Drudged yet awake, then emotionally abused by a life-long friend and then dumped out of the passenger door of a jeep, down a steep, muddy bank, into a raging river.

"No doubt about it -- I gotta get a new hat!" :o)

Mar. 10th, 2011 10:12 am (UTC)
At least he/she's got her priorities right ;)
Mar. 9th, 2011 11:14 pm (UTC)
I don't know if you read my blog entry titled "The Worst Sex Scene in History" but, yeah, that.

I've done an awful lot to my poor protagonist, but that...yeesh. ugh.
Mar. 10th, 2011 10:14 am (UTC)
That sounds like a good idea for a book :)
Mar. 9th, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
I vandalized my main character's darling Mini-Cooper, which she inherited from her beloved grandmother. It was the hardest thing to write.

Edited at 2011-03-09 11:42 pm (UTC)
Mar. 10th, 2011 10:15 am (UTC)
Ouch! My first car was a Hobbit (Mini-Traveller). I miss it to this day :(
Mar. 10th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
Let's start with the on-stage physical torture: burning with a white hod steel rod, flogging with a specially painful kind of lash, getting beaten up, holding a sort of taser on a guy's genitals, and getting stabbed.

For off-stage and psychological stuff (just to make the character more interesting), there's watching his family burn to death, being sold by her mother, being shut up alone in a space ship and having to watch someone else be tortured over and over, and brainwashing someone into killing his own father.

You know, until you asked that question, I thought I was a reasonably nice person. -)
Mar. 10th, 2011 10:16 am (UTC)
Let's start with the on-stage physical torture: burning with a white hod steel rod, flogging with a specially painful kind of lash, getting beaten up, holding a sort of taser on a guy's genitals, and getting stabbed.

Sounds like a typical day at my old school. Mind you, the students were just as bad as the teachers ;)
(no subject) - karen_w_newton - Mar. 10th, 2011 01:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
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