Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Hm...I’m going to be honest for a minute here: I get the feeling that this might be the rule everybody has been waiting to see me interpret. “Yay! Finally! The sadist rule! The one Frea has completely taken to heart! If there’s anybody that knows how to be sadistic to characters, it’s Frea O’Scanlin!”
Which, okay, point. But seriously, I hate being mean to my characters.
There’s two types of cruelty to characters. There’s the cruelty where the author throws the characters into awful situations in order to create what’s probably become the working definition of “angst” these days: despair. The author, for example, gets off on killing a romantic partner and seeing the other character disintegrate into nothingness because it’s funny to watch silly humans fall to pieces. It’s a kind of catharsis.
The other type of cruelty is more of a “cruel to be kind.” These are the authors who dump one bad thing after the next on their characters, placing obstacles, trials, and tribulations in the characters’ paths. They don’t do it out of sadism: they do it out of love. They want to see those characters succeed and sometimes fail, showing the deep-seated strengths and weaknesses that were present all along. They want to take apart a character to his or her core level to show you the beauty or the ugliness within.
Without struggle, happiness would mean nothing. I can’t read 95% of what constitutes as fluff in the Chuck fandom because without the lows, the highs mean nothing to me, and that is something I always believe in writing.
I am a self-confessed sadist. Sometimes I giggle gleefully as I navigate my characters in and out of humiliation and sometimes even pain (Chuck getting punched twice in the same spot by Sarah in Chapter 36 of Fates? Never not funny to me). When it’s not something serious, it’s funny. I laugh. Sometimes it’s laughter mixed with “aww,” but I am laughing.
When it is something serious...for example, (SPOILER ALERT for those of you not caught up on Fates), when Sarah has to tell Chuck that she did use a Lincoln phrase on him, justified or not, this is how I felt writing that scene:
The phrase that goes around the internet is “Kill your darlings,” and it’s truth. Characters that you write become your babies. You hold conversations with them, you think about them constantly, you want the best for them. And you know that sometimes the best is that they have to stumble and fall. And you have to let them stumble and fall and sometimes die because that’s what the story demands. It hurts as a writer, and hopefully it’ll hurt as readers, but that’s okay because that means you’re doing your job. You’re connecting, emotionally, with your audience. And that, my friend, is one of the most important things you can do as a writer.
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