Wednesday, January 31, 2007

We Always Hurt the Ones We Love

Kate posted about how it can be difficult to put characters that you love through pain and suffering. We all know we have to, but I agree that sometimes it's tough, particularly if the character is based closely on someone we know and love in real life. I'd have a very hard time, for example, putting a character through hell who was based on my son. In fact, though, I find it difficult to describe any significant pain for a child in my fiction. I was once asked at a panel at a writing conference if there was any theme I wouldn't touch in horror fiction, and I said I wouldn't torture a child. Someone popped up with, "what if they offered you a lot of money?" That hasn't happened yet, but I'd probably still say no. And the fact is that I don't need to. There are plenty of themes in horror fiction besides the suffering of children. I could write a lifetime without exhausting those themes, so if I chose not to work with a particular theme then neither I nor my readers are missing much.

But no matter what type of character you choose for your fiction, you still have to love them, and you still have to make them hurt. My usual solution for this is to make the characters who suffer the most in my fiction resemble me in some crucial way. I don't seem to have much trouble making a surrogate for myself suffer. Perhaps it's my Catholic upbringing, or my German ancestry (Gramlich means Grief and Sorrow, btw), but I can put a doppleganger for myself through the ringer without much thought or pity. So:

Writer! Hurt thyself!

7 comments:

Kate S said...

Interesting take, Charles. I think you're on to something in terms of characters who remind us of others vs. those who are most like us.

There's one WIP I have in which the woman is remembering something her daughter went through, and every time I get to that part, I start sobbing. It's because the daughter is too much like my own, and it's why I've had trouble with that scene. The mom, I could handle; the daughter, no.

Something to think about.

cs harris said...

Very interesting, Charles. It is hard to hurt those we care about, even if they're just creations of our own mind. So much easier to hurt oneself.

Sidney said...

Very good point. I don't have children, but I suppose I mellowed some between the time I started writing and after I got married. Not long after I was married, I can remember writing a scene in a suspense novel with just a slightly softer touch than I might have earlier in my life.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I think writers have an easier time avoiding the most tragic experiences in their lives; however, that's exactly what they're the most talented at. What I'd do is pour it all out in the writing, then edit, edit, edit.

Steve said...

Man, I learn a lot reading your blog!

Great food for thought...

Danny Tagalog said...

Yes, Charles - keep this up. It's most educational to hear a writer's musings.

Cheers!

Michelle's Spell said...

I love your last name -- how cool! I think that there's probably nothing I wouldn't touch, but then again, I seldom write about children! As for hurting my characters, I see in what ways they hurt themselves and go from there. Those are usually the most painful and interesting to watch.