Why I hurt my characters

It’s been a over a week since my last update, so I guess I’ll fill you in. Last week I decided to take a quick break from actual writing to create an outline for the first part of the book because I’m already running into some organizational problems. So far the outlining process has been extremely successful in helping figure out little plot holes I’ve been struggling with. So far, so good! I’m feeling less frustrated about the undertaking of writing a novel and more optimistic, so hopefully that feeling remains for the rest of the summer. I get excited when I open up my manuscript, which is the best sign I could ask for.

This afternoon, I was touching up and expanding upon a scene in the fourth chapter of Boot Hill in which my main character, Linds(ey), endures a lot of physical pain. Long story short, he ends up on the brink of heatstroke; falling down a cactus-ridden ravine; and getting shot in the arm. Now, I’ve always shared some laughs with my fellow writer friends over the idea of putting our characters through pain. We all do it, and I’ve always joked that it’s the sadistic part of me that likes to see my characters going through trials and tribulations. But the truth is that characters need to experience pain, adversity, and trials, oftentimes early on in a story.

I subscribe to “poor” treatment of characters because doing so helps establish character motives and resolve right off the bat. Do they crumble under pressures that are thrown their way or do they face them head-on? Do their goals change when the stakes are raised? When characters are pushed to their limits, readers are given a better idea as to who they are. Furthermore, the whole point of a novel is to explore conflict. Who wants to read about characters who aren’t struggling to meet their goals? Put your babies through hell, take away what they want most, and maybe, just maybe, something worthwhile will come out of it.

With that in mind, here is a little snippet of the pain Lindsey is going through. Maybe the sadistic part of you will enjoy it. ;)

I manage to keep my feet until my boot heel catches on a rock halfway from the bottom. I pitch forward and land on my already bruised thigh, unable to stop my ill-advised descent. Sand spatters into my eyes and mouth as I roll down the ravine. Cactus barbs rip into my skin, and despite pulling my head so tightly against my chest and gritting my teeth, I can’t help but cry out. I hit the drainage hard and fast. The wind is knocked from my lungs and I’m heaving, gasping for air. I curl up in pain, a breathless sob forcing its way from my mouth.

The hot sand pressing against my cheek reminds me of where I am. Snapping my mouth shut, I listen for sounds of pursuit over gunshots and chaos echoing above me across the canyon walls. I spit the dirt from my mouth and crawl onto my stomach, lifting my head to make sure I haven’t been followed; nothing but kicked-up dust settles in my wake. No one would be stupid enough to tail a two-bit outlaw with a death wish. Somewhat relieved but with panic still gripping me, I pull myself up but fall back down to the ground, my shaking arms and injured leg giving out beneath me. Long cactus spines pinprick my skin and press in deeper as I struggle to stand. I drag myself onto my elbows and knees, and then finally into a sitting position. My body tenses as I pluck out long thorns sticking into my elbow clear through my coat sleeve as fast as I can. Grazing my hand over my leg, I feel dozens more needling into my thighs and  calves, but I don’t have the time.

I force myself to stand, and begin to run.


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4 thoughts on “Why I hurt my characters

  1. Kylie Byrd on said:

    Poor Linds! I’m with you, though. No one wants to read about someone who floats through life in a golden bubble and never has to endure any hardship whatsoever. I’m pretty sure we all know someone in real life who appears to have it that way, and I’m pretty sure we all hate that person. And not in the I-love-to-hate-you kind of way that we feel about flawed characters like Holden Caulfield, but in the I DEMAND SOME CONFLICT OR I AM CLOSING THIS BOOK kind of way.

    Good post and great writing. :) I can’t wait to read more.

    • Thanks, Ky! <3 It's true, there are people in life who seem to be encircled by a "golden bubble" as you refer to it (and quite like that turn of phrase), but they're definitely not the kind of people I want to write about. And yes, maybe I too have a little bit of resentment for those people, but on the other hand I'm also grateful for my personal struggles because I don't think I could write my characters as authentically as I do without that firsthand experience, you know?

      Ahhh! I love Holden Caulfield! If I recall correctly, you're a Phoebe lover. Totally understandable; Holden is an asshat, but I love the son of a bitch. Calling out phonies since 1951. :)

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