Mean Writers

Earlier this week, I finished NaNoWriMo. In my last post, I alluded to some of the experiences that came with this draft. Really, I was thinking of one in particular that affected me more deeply than I was expecting.

I have a tendency to become very emotionally invested in characters. While this isn’t limited to my own characters by any means, there’s a special connection with them. So whenever they go through hard times, it gets to me. I do it because it’s necessary for a good story, but, especially in the first draft, it’s not an easy thing to do.

Though this is the first time I’ve met the protagonist of the side story that took up 30,000 words of my novel, I have a deep connection with her. Unlike most of my other characters, she started as a picture that I found on Pinterest. A redheaded teenager with a spritely smile and just the right clothes. I’ve spent a couple of years wondering who she was and how she tied in. Then when the idea for the side story came about, I knew it was her.

She’s young and her world starts off fine, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. Things get dark. There’s a strange mixture of fear and pleasure that comes with that. Pleasure because the story falls together and creates the tension that makes a story great. But fear because it’s never easy to watch characters suffer the way that they have to in a great story. Especially when you care about them.

As with any story, it became darker and more difficult as time went on. But when it hit its worst point, I found myself reacting differently than I normally do. I felt truly awful. I felt like a terrible human being for what I just put her through. For the way I destroyed her life. I wrote the worst of it in one sitting, before school, and after leaving the computer, I couldn’t shake the heaviness in my chest.

I couldn’t shake it for most of the day. At school, I told my mom and my story-loving students. Anyone who I thought would appreciate the feelings I was going through. Part of me didn’t understand why this affected me so much, but part of me did. I’d written some pretty terrible things before, but I always knew how it would be okay, so I could console myself with that. Yes, the character is suffering now, but I already know the victory that’s about to come.

Her story didn’t have that. I can’t say more without spoilers, but suffice to say, the story ended more as a defeat. I know that’s how reality is sometimes, but that’s not normally what I write. Or even what I typically read. Usually, there is a bright side, a redemption, a victory. Life is hard and sad enough sometimes, and I like to use fiction as an escape and an encouragement.

It was an eye-opening experience to be sure. It will be interesting to see how I feel on the next draft, now that I know how her story ultimately ends.

Have you ever done something to characters that emotionally affected you? What kinds of endings do you prefer?

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7 responses to “Mean Writers

  • homedreamer07

    I have made decisions for my character that affected me, but, I have yet to create a protagonist I’m emotionally invested in enough with an ending sufficient to make me feel horrible about it. That does sound hard, because life isn’t always fair, and we don’t always see justice done in this life, but knowing that doesn’t lessen the sting we feel when we see it (or make it). The woes of a writer’s life, I guess, huh?

  • C.B. Wentworth

    I tortured one of my characters in my last novel. I didn’t feel bad because so much of it was because of what he brought upon himself. My characters are very chatty and I simply listen to them – his own admissions brought him to a painful conclusion.

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    You can’t control what happens to them (the characters), not completely, because you can’t really control what they do. So, sometimes things go badly for my characters, and sometimes they impress the hell out of me. Probably similar in some ways to having children.

    I don’t think I’ve been affected the way you describe, but I’ve been writing for a long time and I may have forgotten.

    I like halfway endings, in the sense that some things get answered, but some never do. If everything gets answered, it’s like old-fashioned sitcoms where everything was always resolved in 22 minutes, no matter what it was. If nothing gets answered, where’s the satisfaction? Where’s the reason to come back for more?

    • S.B. Roberts

      That’s very true. I would imagine that it’s very much like children.

      I like those sorts of endings too. Give me enough to satisfy me, but everything doesn’t have to be explained. My husband and I were actually talking about something along the same lines last night. Some stories/tv shows/movies do it well. Other ones, not so much.

  • When Stories Won’t Cooperate | The Everyday Epic

    […] During NaNoWriMo this year, I thought I struck gold. A side story blossomed to life and took me by surprise. It was deeper and more challenging than I was expecting. And its ending… well, it left me feeling like a horrible human being because it was both heartbreaking and beautiful. It was just the ending the story needed. (See my lament when I wrote it here.) […]

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