Hurting Our Characters

Well, it’s Finals Week™, so we all know what that means: I get to start writing again! At the end of every quarter as assignments trickle to a halt and I’m left with more free time, all those little nuggets of inspiration that came to me earlier (but I couldn’t encourage because I had to be in school-mode) are now free to take over. What does this mean, Worderella? What are you trying to tell us?

It means that I’ve written another couple of thousand words over the last few days, which is a cause for celebration. Assuming I keep my overall goal of approximately 85 000 words (the range for a full-length novel is anywhere from 80 000 to 100 000+), then I can safely say I am 39.5% complete with this draft.

But I’ve hit a slight roadblock. Attempting to be a diligent creator of characters and plot, I have just re-introduced a man from my main character’s past who hurt her, and is about to do it again. For the first time in my writing life, I don’t want to hurt my main character anymore. I kind of feel like she’s gone through a lot as is, and I like her. Why would I continue to want to hurt her?

Well, because that’s what you’re supposed to do in order to make the character grow and change. And because if you didn’t throw everything and the bath tub at her, your story is going to be boring and you’ll get tired of writing it. And because it will help you, as a writer, and perhaps even a person, to learn that conflict is a necessary evil.

This is often a topic of discussion between and me. I’m usually on the side of “Throw more at them! Make them squirm!”, because I love to see how a character can change. And now I find myself completely understanding ‘s dilemma. I suppose I’ve never had a character that I liked this much, so it hurts to hurt her. Maybe it’s because the situation I’m about to put her in is exceedingly uncomfortable, and forces me to deal with my own feelings on the same thing that happened to me. Perhaps I relate to the main character too much, so, rather than experiencing it through her perspective, I’m reliving the experience myself. Logical theories, all.

The fact of the matter is that I have to hurt my main character. I have to hurt all my characters, in some form or another, but most especially the main one. I have to bring her so low that she feels like she can’t go on, that there is nothing she can do to improve her situation…and then, because she is at the very bottom, have her realize that she can only go up from there. It’s the only way. I’m sure I’ll get past this, and will eventually shatter her (but oh! she’s already fragmented to begin with!).

Have you ever been in this situation where you feel like you have to do something awful to your character, but you can’t bring yourself to do it? What do you do about it? How does one get past this?