Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Make Your Hero Suffer

I forgot who said it and who s/he was quoting when s/he did so, but the quote goes like this:

"Every story should be set in Hell and end in Paradise."

The key notion is that Hell is more interesting than Paradise and the difficulties you subject your hero to in the course of the story should seem hellish to the reader.

However, after subjecting your protagonist to trials and tribulations like unto Job, you should show him or her overcoming hardship to win the day in some sense.

This means that the writer needs to set aside his/her humanity and become something demonic when s/he's writing. Writing is the opposite of life. The attitudes that make you a sane and well-adjusted person are not those of a writer. It's not that I hate the characters to whom I am inflicting pain and hardship. I put myself in the character's shoes and I try to think what's the worst thing that could happen to him or her. Then I see if I can make that happen.

Every character may or may not be happy in each scene, but the character should be experiencing negative circumstances. I wonder if you could believably show a character going through tough times and enjoying each movement.

When I visit evil upon my characters, I intend to make it up to them.

Of course, sometimes one must kill off a character. Not much chance to make it up to him or her. I like to hope the character in question is ready to explore the undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns. A few years ago I experimented with killing off the story's POV character then using his ghost to finish the narration. (I ended the story before I had to get into anything theological.)

I suppose you should make sure that either you give that character a good life insurance policy to take care of his family, OR have some specific plans to use the family's hardship in a later story. Or you could remember these are just fictional characters.

The last chapter is the one in which you sell your next novel. If your market likes sad or bleak endings, then by all means end on a downer. Since I prefer to leave all my heroes in a better place than at the beginning of the story, I hope that more people want things to work out happily ever after.

Or happily-until-sequel.


  1. I wrote a short story where the main character is involuntarily subjected to a lesson in sadism. It was hard to "be" the sadist.

  2. "Of course, sometimes one must kill off a character. Not much chance to make it up to him or her." Bahahahaha!!!! Sorry, I had to laugh or I would cry. I have such a hard time torturing any of my characters, but you are right. Unless I do, it won't be as effective. I know I wouldn't read it. So why the heck am I writing it? Great blog! Feel free to visit mine. Quirky humor, inspiration, and stuff on writing and reading.Have a great day!

    ~Laurie Kozlowski


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