Someone call CPS–Character Protective Services

When I was in high school and working on my official first epic fantasy novel, I would go over to my friend’s house, another writer, and we would talk shop all day long.  Her mom used to give us weird looks whenever she walked by, saying if only we could hear ourselves the way others (non-writers) do.  It was probably due to our genre, but we beat up and injured our characters mercilessly.

“I had him take an arrow in the shoulder.  The left one, mind you.  He still needs the use of his sword arm.”

“Yeah, that’s important.  Should probably avoid leg injuries if we want them to get up and continue fighting.  A knife to the gut works.”

Why do we abuse our characters so?  Is it a cathartic experience?  Are we taking some of our own emotional or psychological pain and giving it a physical outlet?  Is it just another expression of overcoming immense odds?  Do we kill characters we love so that we may experience grief in a safe environment?  Does it help us root for the protagonist?  What are your thoughts?

(Hm, but if pieces of ourselves get put in our characters, does that make us sadists or masochists?)

And, if you want to share, what’s the worst you’ve done to a character?  Physically: kidnapped and tortured almost to the point of death might be the winner for me.  Psychologically: I sent a protag with severe arachnophobia to hunt down a nest of giant spiders.  (Yeah, that was definitely masochistic on my part.  Call it attempted therapy.)

10 comments on “Someone call CPS–Character Protective Services

  1. Susan A. says:

    You know, I haven’t ever tried to delve into why I put my characters through some difficult times. There probably is something psychological to it, but I’m not going to analyze it to closely, lol. In the one story I have finished writing, my character is kidnapped and tortured for some time. Because she is immortal, though, she can’t die. The kidnapper did wrap her in special chains so she couldn’t heal quickly or use her powers to get free. By the time she was rescued, she was in rather bad shape. The main point of that scene was to give the reader an emotional connection to the woman and to gain a deep hatred for the bad guy. That was the main reason I wrote it.

    • Yes, I agree it helps us root for the protagonist. If it were me, I’d probably want to curl up and die. But when the heroine gets back up, it makes smiting the bad guy all the more satisfying.

  2. I killed my favorite character once, and it made me physically sick for a week. But the story called for it – her death was the major inciting incident for the book’s plot. So at least I didn’t do it to be mean 🙂

    I do have a nasty habit of killing people I dislike in books. No one would ever know who they were from reading the book, so it’s just for me, and it’s always within the context of the story, but I just think of those people as I’m killing characters. Very cathartic. The best death so far was probably when the giant beaker of acid exploded all over a girl’s face and she died in the puddle it made on the floor and it ate her face away on that side. It was fun trying to figure out how to do that, because that beaker should not be able to explode that way (fun tidbit: it actually happened in the lab during the time that I was trying to figure out how to do it – and I had nothing to do with the explosion! But it helped me figure out how to make it happen in the book).

    • Goodness! I shall try never to get on your bad side so I don’t get put in one of your books! 😉

      Okay, acid sounds pretty bad. That tops mine. Hah, nice being able to draw from real life!

  3. Tim Greaton says:

    Hi, Angela. Great topic. I guess the worst thing I ever did to a character, a young child, was to viciously and ruthlessly murder him. I then had him return to consciousness, frightened, alone, and traumatized in a form of purgatory. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, I continued to mentally abuse him for decades. “Ripped From My Cold Young Fingers” might not be for the faint of heart 🙂

    • Susan A. says:

      Tim, for being such a nice guy, you do some disturbing things to your characters lol.

    • “’Ripped From My Cold Young Fingers’ might not be for the faint of heart.”–I should say not. I read Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, about a 15-year-old who has been living with the man who abducted her for the past five years, his abuses, and what happens when she starts to get too old for him.
      Was this kid your protagonist?

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Wow Becka, I never ever want on your bad side! LOL However, I will say that I do the very same thing. And it IS very cathartic. I just told my niece that today when she was complaining about someone. I advised her to write a story and kill them off in the most diabolical way she could conceive of. But I think your idea tops any I’ve had. 🙂

    So, Angela, I guess part of mine is therapy. The rest…the book or characters just call for it. I had one bad guy carjack a woman, telling her he wouldn’t hurt her of course. He takes her out in the boonies and tells her he’s going to leave her there so he has a head start. He then starts to walk away so she starts to hope and then he turns and shoots her.

    Writers are an interesting group of people. Lots of wicked thoughts. 🙂

    Great thought provoking post!

    • Haha, think she told her parents your “advice?” 😉

      That’s true, bad guys are bad and they just can’t help those acts of torture/murder. Ever watch Castle? I love the intro narrative from the first two seasons: “There are two kinds of folks who sit around all day thinking about how to kill people–psychopaths and mystery writers. I’m the kind that pays better.”

      I’m never going to live down the kinds of stuff I did in my fantasy stories. My old writing friends still call me the “most gruesome sadist of them all.” (sigh) Really, though, I haven’t killed anyone in my last two books–well, no one important anyway. 0:-)

  5. I absolutely love Castle! And that intro just says it all. Glad you didn’t kill off anyone “important”! 🙂

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