Frea Interprets Vonnegut — Rule #6

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.

Part: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8


  1. Anonymous14.3.12

    All very true and all very good points. Question: Isn't the ending a good time to stop being cruel to your characters and wrap it all up into a nice, tidy package? The reason I'm asking is that so many shows and stories seem to not do an "And they lived happily ever after" ending. Instead, they leave you hanging there. And in case anyone is wondering, I'm not just talking about the ending to "Chuck." So many other shows seem to do that too. So why not stop the cruelty to your characters at the end?

    1. Are we entitled to a happy ending?

    2. hell no some of the best stories of all time have been Downer or at best Bittersweet.

      you only need to look at the influence Writers such as Poe and Lovecraft have had on the writers that follow them to show that happy endings are not required. Everyone just seems to expect them because it's apparently the done thing of late.

      you should always look at the story your telling and end it appropriately wether that ending is Happy, sad, Bittersweet or full on downer and dont compromise your vision just because someone else thinks it ought to turn out differently. Nothing worse in my opinion than a story that ends incorrectly and out of place with the rest of the story.

  2. Henry14.3.12

    I don't think that you are a sadist - well, not too much, at least...
    OK, sometimes you make your characters suffer because "it's funny", but you are not really cruel for the sake of it, IMO. That's why, for instance, and I always say that, I love Fates' Sarah, because she is troubled (I don't know if this is the correct word), she does things she doesn't like, but it's because she has no other choice (or so she thinks), not because she likes it, and so does Fates' Chuck. But if in the end they learn something from these troubles, you are not a sadist, you make them grow.
    That's also why I liked the ending of Chuck: the magical kiss, Sarah having her memories magically back, might have been satisfying, but this way, we know that the path of the last 5 years changed her (and him, too), and this is an happy ending, for me.
    Or maybe I am wrong, you will kill Sarah before they ever have sex, and you will dislocate your jaw by too much grinning while you're writing it... :)

  3. I'm watching deathly hollows right now and it reminds me of JKR comment about killing Serius. As I .recall she cried for a long time, but it was necessary.
    After reading Dresden I have never thought you were a sadist. What that man has done to Murphy....

    1. Anonymous14.3.12

      But then JKR also killed Dobby, Hedwig, Fred, Lupin, Tonks, and even Colin Creevey. Maybe she had a character mortality quota.

  4. LOTR has one of the finest, saddest, and uplifting endings in fiction.

    The best triumphs come at a cost.

    With the continuing passing of time, the FarScape series arcs for the characters and ending keeps rising in stature for me as to how well they were done.

  5. Interesting take on the rule.
    You say that "without the lows, the highs mean nothing" and I completely agree with you. You need lows so you could appreciate and enjoy the highs. But on the other hand, if you have nothing but lows [like Chuck does on Fates... I don't think he had a high and happy moment since Bryce & Sarah visited him in his bunker in 2005] then when you finally get a high you wont appreciate and enjoy it. You'll just keep waiting for something bad to happen so your life would get to it's "normal" miserable self making that high completely meaningless. So like with pretty much everything else, you need to find balance between the two.

    By the way, that scene in Chapter 36... wasn't funny to me. I found it to be extremely cruel and sadistic from Sarah to do that.

    1. I don't think he had a high and happy moment since Bryce & Sarah visited him in his bunker in 2005.

      Um, what?!

      How was Bryce and Sarah visiting Chuck in the bunker a higher point than, say, the 40s?

      Back then, Chuck was glad to be back in Burbank after DC and the Heartbrake Hotel debacle. He was doing way better with his agoraphobia after only four months. He was dating Sarah Walker. His sister (who he could see in person everyday, as opposed to secretly checking up on her via satellites from the other side of the world) was going to get engaged like she should have during the time he was missing. He could see Morgan on a regular basis. And he wasn't even sure he wanted the Intersect out of his head, because he somewhat liked the status quo he was in regarding his situation with the government.

      It sounded like he was having happy moments to me.

    2. Yeah, Ripe, I'm going to have to go with Crumby on this one. Sorry. I also don't think Sarah was being sadistic when she punched Chuck (I think *I* was being sadistic, but not Sarah, which is why I laugh). Chuck's always going to have issues in Fates, but that doesn't preclude all chances of happiness. Highs don't always have to mean singing and dancing in the rain; to me, a high for Chuck might be enjoying the Shawerma on the train in Fortune Favors Fools, or picking up the Sandworm costume in chapter 17 of Fates, or his entire date (until the government intruded) in 39.

      But yeah, your mileage, as they say, may vary.


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