*Nonfiction* and *Fiction*

You’re halfway done with your draft! Congratulations on making it this far!

This week’s topic, like last week’s, falls into the fiction category, so nonfiction writers can skip it. For fiction writers, let’s dive in.

So I’m fairly certain that if my story characters came to life, they’d team up and plot to murder me.

Why? Because I’m horribly, horribly mean to them.

Think about it. As the author, you have total control over your characters’ lives. You decide if they live or die, if they have a happy ending or a sad one, if their journey is easy or hard. And to make a compelling story, more often than not that journey has to be very hard indeed.

But how much character suffering is too much? How much does it take before your protagonist wants to step off the page and strangle you? And can that be a good thing?

Yes. It can. Part of the appeal of reading about characters going through tough times is that we get to see how they learn to cope with it, and how they change as a result. Sure, the characters may not like it, but that’s part of what makes them interesting. They have to suffer in order to be proper reflections of real people.

So here’s the first lesson in this: Don’t shield your characters from realistic consequences. If they make a mistake, let them feel the aftermath of that mistake. Let it play out so that they learn something. That’s what would happen to you or me, so it should happen to them as well. Let your characters experience failure. It’s a huge part of what makes them human.

However (there’s always a “however”), don’t abuse your characters for the sake of abusing your characters. Tragic backstories and scenes of angst need purpose. If they’re only there to make your character look pitiful or tragic, they will quickly lose effectiveness as your readers run out of sympathy and start feeling annoyed. Use pain and suffering to reveal things about your character, to make them change and grow. (The growth doesn’t have to be positive. A character who breaks or becomes evil because of suffering can be just as compelling as one who rises above it.)

This is super important if you’re dealing with a type of suffering that is common among real-life people or is particularly traumatic. You can’t treat it lightly, as something to give your character a reason to feel moody sometimes. It must serve a purpose in the overall story.

In summary, it’s good to put your characters through the wringer. That’s what makes them interesting people. But don’t abuse them just to create angst.

Where have you seen character suffering used well? Where have you seen it abused? Do your characters want to kill you? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

*This Week’s Word Count*
Nonfiction: 25,200
Your book is as long as: Half of your finished manuscript!
Fiction: 40,000
Your book is as long as: Half of your finished manuscript!


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