Writers are not the Villains

Writers are not the Villains

Every now and then a post creeps across my tumblr dash in which readers express a desire to ‘steal’ their favourite novel characters from their respective author in order to ‘shield’ them. These posts usually involve keeping the writer at bay until they ‘learn how to properly take care of’ said characters. Subsequent replies discuss how terrible the writer is to their best characters and how awful they should feel about their actions.

Let’s have some straight talk for a minute here; it isn’t my fault bad things happen to my characters.

People have this idea that writers sit in front of their computers rubbing their hands together or stroking their sinister moustache as they plan the death scene for your favourite character. And while it’s true that one of the funnest parts of being a writer is to be evil on occasion (that’s a whole other blog post), chances are we feel the same as you about the our most gut-wrenching scenes.

We don’t want to kill our most beloved characters. We don’t want to make them suffer. We don’t want to torture them emotionally and/or physically.

But you might not love them as much if we didn’t.

A friend is particularly attached to one of my characters. Every time I mention something bad that happens in his story (and this particular character has endured a fair bit of darkness on his journey), said friend pouts and proceeds to tell me how mean I am. It’s all in good fun, of course, but I’m constantly reminding him that suffering is the essence of a story. We don’t love our favourite characters because they succeed; we love them because they fail, because they flounder, because they suffer. We love our favourite characters because they get up after they’ve been dragged through the mud. We don’t admire strength in a character who sails through every challenge with effortless ease (in fact we call those characters ‘Mary Sues’). But we do admire strength in those who struggle, who continue the journey when we might have abandoned hope, and thus we share in their triumphs.

As necessary as it is for our characters to struggle, that doesn’t mean we throw mountains in their path. Many writers describe writing as transcribing the thoughts and actions of our characters. Sometimes we can only try to type fast enough to keep up. Most stories take us to unexpected places, because we aren’t in the driver’s seat.

All those terrible things that happen to our most beloved characters? Those are the character’s idea.

My characters tell me a story, usually the same story you end up reading. If I’m lucky, they sit me down and warn me where they’re going before it happens. Otherwise I stare in horror while I frantically type the words. Sometimes I hesitate to write a scene if I know something bad is going to happen to a character I love, as if I can prevent the event by refusing to participate.

In the end, I’m a storyteller, and I have to tell the stories that come to me. Not only that, I have to do those stories justice, or I cheapen them. And telling those stories means letting all those mean, evil, terrible things happen to the characters I love most. I’m following them on their journey the same way you are. And I have to do justice to that journey, I have to do justice to that suffering, otherwise the story loses its meaning.

Be kind to the writer of your favourite characters. They aren’t mean or cruel; chances are, they cry over those tragedies as much as you do.

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