Saturday, January 7, 2012

Those Characters Who Love to Hate You

There's a line in the movie Galaxy Quest that prompted this. If you haven't ever seen Galaxy Quest, this is a travesty that should be remedied immediately. I quote from it from time to time because a) it is so very quotable and b) it is full of good writery things. *adds "writery" to dictionary*


For those who may not have seen Galaxy Quest, the story is based around these burned out actors who are super popular for acting on a Star Trek-like show fifteen years earlier. What they don't know is that these aliens have been watching their old show from outer space and think they are "historical documents," so when they run into trouble, they go to these actors for help fighting their space battle. Anyway, the aliens recreate the ship from the show, down to the last detail.

And that brings me to this scene where two of the characters have to go through this crazy obstacle course thing in the ship and one of them is all like "Why is this here?" and the other one goes, "It was in the show!" and the first character says, "Whoever wrote this episode should die!"
How many times must our characters feel this way? Arguing with us, dealing with all of the crap we throw at them, the trauma and misery. Emotional upheaval, physical pain--and we assure them that it's okay, they'll get through it. Or in the case of a tragedy, maybe we assure them it's okay, they'll be out of their misery before long.

I used to be known as the "nice writer" in my writing group. I'm all for happily-ever-afters and romance and letting characters have hope and all that lovely stuff. It doesn't mean I don't put them through the wringer first, but apparently after I wrote one of my last novels, I became the author who was capable of doing anything to a character. Want some physical trauma? Here you go, character, have that. And that. And then that. And here's your emotional trauma on the side. Yep, you'll be dealing with that for the next twelve years. Oh, look, I found some more problems for you!

It's a wonder some of my characters even speak to me anymore.

I want there to be character conflict. Conflict--inner or outer conflict--propels the story onward. Some of my characters and stories just get more intense conflict than others.

Do you have a character that you're sure must hate you because of everything you put him/her through?

Or do you have trouble giving your characters conflict to work through? Do you want to protect them and keep them in a bubble because you can't bear the thought of doing harm to them? If so, how do you work past that?

What do you do to cause your characters conflict?


  1. Guess what movie I'll be watching this weekend for the billionth time? That movie is great fun!

    My poor characters just keep getting more stuff thrown at them the more I edit it. They probably wish I'd decide I was done already.

  2. I LOVE Galaxy Quest! Great movie.

    I've never had trouble heaping the abuse on my characters... maybe because I know without the problems, there can't be the emotional payoff when they're solved. And that is the BEST PART.

  3. It seems that if you write a dark story you can't hold back the darkness anymore. LOL.

    Oh my gosh, this story I'm writing now... completely dark. I don't want it this dark, and I have a reader complaining. But I can't write rainbows, sunshine, and light no matter how hard I try.

    Then again, I'm writing a story where my main lovers are supposed to kill each other, but still. There's not a lot of light there. I'd add happy flashbacks, but they seem pointless. And the ones I have written haven't been too happy, either.

    I don't know what to do. LOL. Then again, I may just need a break from writing. My characters keep fighting with me. They're wanting to be with other characters, it seems. And it doesn't help that the pairings I want are separated at the moment.

    I'm having a hard time lately. LOL. I feel bad for my characters. Maybe they're rebelling against me because of all I'm putthing them through. LOL. Oh well. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually. And that'll be half the fun!

  4. I have to confess that I don't like being mean to characters. I had an opportunity to kill a character off but didn't do it because I wanted him to live. Does that make me spineless?

  5. I'm with Katie. I LOVE Galaxy Quest. I'm a Trekker from way back when the original series was being shown new (yes, I'm that old--shut up). The way it makes fun of stuff in ST is just sheer awesomeness!

    I guess you can tell me if I'm too mean to my characters. And, of course, that means we're being mean to our readers, too. But like I've heard other writers say--HEAs have to be earned. They mean more to us because of all we've been through with the characters to get to that point. We value our own health the most when we're sick.

    My challenge is that my hubby is one of my first betas. He's a really tender-hearted guy, plus he's struggling with a lot of heath issues. He hates conflict. If he had his way, all the books I wrote would be sweetness and light and everyone would be nice. I have to keep reminding him that when we reach that point, the book's over.

    Love your post, Laura.

  6. I figure out what it is that they want most, then I take it away from them. Then when it seems like they are finally going to get it, I take it away from them again, or at least I make it really really really hard for them to get it.

    Love your humor and this was a fun post. Also, I am adding writery to my vocabulary.

  7. I love to torture my characters! I mean, uh, give them conflicts which they will be better for overcoming. Yes, not torture. Heh. I've never protected a character from anything. And I'm pretty sure a couple of them really hate me!

  8. I generally try to keep it on a 60/40 ratio for punishment and reward.
    It's high enough for them to hold out the hope of success but unless its something majorly plot changing then they will usually end up mucking it up.

    (and then finding some other way to finish the task resulting in, yet another, rewrite)

  9. I'm like a pendulum. I really go back and forth between the two. Sometimes it's all apocalypse here and dictator there, and then sometimes it's buffoonery hither and babyfic yonder. Which is not, of course, to say that humor and darkness can't coexist. There's just different kinds of humor at play.

    Really, the level of character torment that goes on has more to do with the setting than anything else. I don't know if that's true for other people, but my characters are more likely to sustain significant trauma in a war zone than in an office building.

  10. I think stories are about stuff happening to characters. The fun part of writing is revealing that unique quality inside the characters that allows them survive (or the lack of a quality or two that keeps them from surviving).

  11. Definitely my main character must hate me! I think she's officially exhausted! I find it easier to put my characters through the ringer if it is a "genre-based" work I'm writing, but something more general, literary fiction, is tough, because those characters are based off me most of the time...and I'd like to keep liking me. :)


Thanks for sharing your thoughts!