Saturday, February 10, 2007

What's the Worst Thing?

The total history of almost anyone would shock almost everyone. ~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Do you find it hard to give your protagonist a serious flaw? Something that can, at times, make them ugly or unlikeable? After all, as authors don't we want our H/H to be shining examples of humanity?

Oh, of course they can be impatient or obsessive compulsive or sloppy ... but a serious, heavy duty flaw? Man, that's tough.

What about making really awful things happen to them. I mean REALLY awful. Can you take their parents, their children and their dog? Can you basically do a Biblical Job on them where they lose everything, including their health?

I hated Danielle Steele novels. HATED them. Not because they were cheesy or over the top, but because she destroyed her characters before building them back up again. She was the master of -- what's the worst thing that could happen to your H/H?

They depressed me. Yeah, yeah, I know it always ended up okay, but I just couldn't take that trip with her and her characters because 98% of the book was so terribly sad. Then the last four pages were all about how wonderful life ended up after all that tragedy.

I have a hard time torturing my characters. Oh, bad things happen to them, sure. But I never kill their pets or their children. I frequently consider what the worst thing is that could happen to them, but I seldom write it. Sometimes I wonder if that makes me a weaker author than I could be or if it makes my stories less compelling.

But I can't write what I wouldn't read.

What about you? Can you torture your characters? And, do you like to read books where they're torn to pieces and struggle back to their feet?


Judy said...

Well, as you know from A God-given Husband I don't have the same problem... and Danielle Steel was one of my favorites, so I don't guess I have problems reading about it either. I like a book that makes me cry (sometimes... and the times I don't I read something else.) I'm babbling this morning. After the work week we've had, I was hoping to sleep in this morning... didn't happen. But, I am prepared to work on the prompt. We didn't have to use our OWN horoscope, right? Mine was lame. I did find two more, though, that I think I can get stories from.

MaryF said...

I have trouble with both - giving them a fatal flaw and torturing them. I've kind of overcome that in the last few stories, though. The balance between giving your characters a flaw and making them unlikable seems pretty precarious!

Tori Lennox said...

There is a reason I write light and fluffy stuff. I don't like torturing my characters any more than I absolutely have to. And to be honest, I don't enjoy reading about tortured characters all that much. I can get that from the nightly news.

My archaeologist heroine's worst flaw is being snarky and wanting to kill the villain before he kills her. Yes, she's a tad bloodthirsty. *g*

anno said...

I once read an interview with Alice Hoffman where someone asked her why she always put her characters in such awful situations -- a mother whose hemophiliac son conracts AIDs, for example,an abusive relationship, estranged families, divorce, etc. -- and basically, she said she wrote about these awful things as a kind of totem, a way , a hope of warding off any similar kind of evil in her own family. Made sense to me. A different way of "keeping the drama on the page"?

M. just came in, weeping, because he'd killed off one of his favorite secondary characters in a scene he's been thinking of for more than 10 years. I don't think it was an easy thing for him to do.

He really is a wonderful man.

I just wish he would go into the office more than one day a week.

Allie Boniface said...

Well, I've noticed that when I *don't* torture my characters, their lives and journeys are a lot less interesting. Do I like knocking them down? No. But when I do, keeping in mind where they'd going to end up (HEA), it does give the plot more adrenaline.