March 9th, 2011

What rotten things have you done to your characters?

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.