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?