Monday, February 23, 2009

Shackles and blog chains: How do you torture your character?

"Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of
your tunnel, is just a freight train comin' your way."
Leah threw me into a tizzy by coming up with this blog-chain topic: What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters?
Sandra wrote before me. Christine gets to follow.

I thought of the line above from Metallica's song "No Leaf Clover" when I read this blog chain topic because it really illustrates how I torture my characters. Whenever they think they see a way out of a problem, the problem turns out to be something so much bigger.

As a reporter, it took a long time for me to grasp this concept because I was used to delivering the who, what, when, where, why and how of the story as efficiently as possible. Thankfully, when JC Lamont gave me an honest critique of "Long Road," she beat the mission of a fiction writer into my head.

"...whatever your scene goal is, it must be thwarted."
I mean, think of it in terms of a writer writing about his/her plight to be published. (I know, booorrrriiinggg.) The first goal is to find an agent. Each query letter sent is like a scene and each rejection is that scene goal being thwarted.

Is there a greater torture than that? For writers, probably not. But there are many kinds of torture, many different kinds of voodoo pins.

There are rolling pins -- physical limitations that keep characters from accomplishing their goals. Maybe they're handicapped. Maybe they're trapped in a burning house. Maybe someone is holding them down. Whatever the physical limitation of a character, it hinders each new step toward his/her goal.

There are safety pins -- spiritual limitations, characters bound by their ethics or beliefs. Regardless of the conflict, the character cannot step outside their self-imposed or God-imposed limitations and it hinders the accomplishment of their goals.

And then there's my personal favorite -- stick pins, emotional torture.

When I set out to write "Long Road," I never intended to pursue publication. I had one goal in mind: I wanted to make people cry. I wanted to write something so powerful that the reader would be wringing her tissue and sobbing right along with my MC. In order to do that, I had to keep making the light at the end of Heather's tunnel a freight train.

Using emotional torture and spiritual limitations, I made Heather her own worst enemy. Her goal is to forget what happened on her eighteenth birthday. First she runs away, but when that no longer works, she turns to another form of running away. When she darn-near destroys herself, she realizes that in order to get what she wants she has to give up what she believes.

If you really think about it, those pins writers use on their characters is a lot like the trials people face in real life: The more intense the adversity, the stronger the character.

Have a great week everyone!


celticqueen said...

excellent post!! I love your different varieties of pins, and the quote is going on my wall for sure! Whatever the scene goal is, thwart it - just tell your characters no! I am picking up so many helpful tips from this chain!

And yes, querying is the ultimate torture for writers...until you get the agent and move on to editor submissions I'm guessing :)

(p.s. your post just before this one? Silent of my all time favorite songs!! It's one of those that I can listen to over and over that just makes me want to WRITE) :)

Anonymous said...

"The more intesnse the adversity, the stronger the character."

AMEN. Great post. So true, so true!!

Crimogenic said...

I like to think that I don't torture my MC, she pursues things that cause torture and unhappiness. I'm soo pushing the blame on her :)

Sandra said...

I also like the different types of pins.

I like to think of fiction as a model of life, so characters can show readers how to handle the pins we all get jabbed with every day.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this post. I particularly like the idea of emotional torture (straight pins)...I think you and I are very similiar in our treatment of our MCs - making them face their own destruction as they figure out who they are.

Nicely done.

ElanaJ said...

Excellent post, Kat! I love the pin metaphor cuz I'm a metaphor freak. I also like to make my characters face things inside themselves they don't want to face. Do I do that in my real life? Um, probably not, but I sure like making my characters do it. :)

T. Anne said...

Wow! You just enriched my writing!

gzusfreek said...

Great post!
"I made Heather her own worst enemy."
Sounds like I might relate to her too!

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Oooh the different types of pins is just too clever - I especially love the rolling pin!

Also, I just love this: "In order to do that, I had to keep making the light at the end of Heather's tunnel a freight train."

Great post!

T. Anne said...

Kat, hope you don't mind, I referenced you on my blog today! That's how awesome I found your post.

JC Lamont said...

Too cool Kat -- you quoted me and a fav line from Metallica all in one post. It doesn't get much better than that!

I'm pretty full of stick pins and safety pins right now...but for the Christian, atleast eventually the light at the end of the tunnel will be the hope and the future that God has planned for us (Jer 29:11).

JC Lamont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TerriRainer said...

You are spot on in about just-when-you-think-it's-better-it's-so-not.

How many movies do you see like that? The first one that came to mind is Friday the 13th (the original of course):

All is calm on the water. The girl has survived, while all of her friends died at the hands of Jason. Cue the soft piano music...breath a sigh of relief...and the BAM!!!! Out of the water jumps Jason.

Only he used a machete instead of the small pins that a writer might use.

Great post Kat!

:) Terri

Mary Lindsey said...

Great post, Kat. Glad you joined the blog chain gang! My favorite line is this: "...whatever your scene goal is, it must be thwarted."

Jessica Verday said...

Love this post! And now I want to read your book so that I can cry right along with your MC!!

Archetype said...

Brava! Also my favorite line: "whatever your scene goal is, it must be thwarted." And of course I must echo the cleverness of the different sorts of pins!