Home » Uncategorized » Why You Are Too Kind to Your Characters and Need to Abuse Them

Why You Are Too Kind to Your Characters and Need to Abuse Them

Art by Shad0w_GFX

Art by Shad0w_GFX

The gun was smoking with sinister wisps of grey smoke. Young Bruce turned to see the robber. The smile on the man’s face was almost demonic and curled with malicious intent. The crimson pool that flowed from his parents screamed for revenge. That was the day that changed Bruce Wayne’s life forever” – E.J. Apostrophe

Bruce Wayne.

If you don’t know who he is then you have lived under a proverbial rock or need to see the magnum opus movie “Batman Begins.”

This horrific day changed Bruce forever because instead of crawling under a rock to deal with his parents’ death, he decided to embrace his pain and allow his pain to fuel him to become more.  Out of the ashes of his experience, the Dark Knight – Batman was born.

Batman by Chris Gabrish

Batman by Chris Gabrish

Since I became sick last week, I had to change my writing habits.  I wasn’t too pleased with this yet God helped me to see this as a way to regroup and check about how I was growing as a writer.  I was entering the Writing.com Writer’s Cramp contest everyday to improve as a writer.

So I ended up scaling back from the contest and switching to reviewing mode.  I would check other writers’ works (Ha!  A hack writer like me reviewing?   Comedy to ensue!).  This would still help me to grow as a writer because I would be reading daily (a habit successful writers do), seeing what works in a piece (to help me to take note), and to write reviews (to continue the habit of writing daily).

And off I went on my white steed to battle…er…review other writers.

During my brief run as a reviewer, I have noticed something.  The stories that I read fell under two categories for me: cap gun or proton cannon.

The cap gun stories were stories that did little to go off with a bang.  They reminded me of Proton cannon stories were stories that blasted the reader off their feet.

How can you as a writer make your stories more like a proton cannon than a cap gun?  Here is the underlying difference.

Image by Cam G

Image by Cam G

The cap gun stories are by writers who are too attached to their characters and do not want to see them challenged in any way.  The creators have dined with them.  They have played Xbox 360 Kinnect with them.  They have gone to the movies with them.  They love them too much to place them in any harm.  They generally like them and wouldn’t want to see them in pain.

Proton Cannon by Tenkamuteki

Proton Cannon by Tenkamuteki

The proton cannon stories are by writers who were willing to risk with their characters and place them in hardest situations they can. The writers would then let the character writhe in this situation and be amazed at how the character becomes stronger because of the challenge.

This is cap gun vs. proton cannon.  A knife vs. a tank shell.  A bullet vs. a laser beam.

Going back to Bruce Wayne, do you honestly think he could have become the world’s greatest detective if the only thing he faced was girlfriend breakup or bills to pay?

The creator of Batman figured that something earth shattering had to define Bruce Wayne to the core.  An event that would be the catalyst to change.  The linchpin to make him…no, force him to become Batman.  The result?  Go to Box Office Mojo and look at the last box office receipts of The Dark Knight to see how this turned out (Made a little chump change).

What is the takeaway here?  Place your characters in near impossible troubles and watch how they respond.  Let them go and watch how they respond.  Love them enough not to protect them but to let them go through the crucible of fire.  You will not only bring depth and juicy conflict to your story…you will also knock the socks off of your readers.

What about you?

Do you think the greater the conflict the greater the protagonist will become?

What are some stories you have seen amazing conflicts make a character even better?

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7 thoughts on “Why You Are Too Kind to Your Characters and Need to Abuse Them

  1. How the character responds to the worst of situations is what defines them. Great conflict = great hero. The more impossible the conflict is to defeat = the more epic the story. This is why I’ve always enjoyed taking the weakest character in a story as the main character. They’ve got the most room to grow.

    • Aye, Theresa. The greater the conflict, the greater the hero. What is even more satisfying is seeing the weakest character fail time and time again in order to become great.

  2. I think, for sure, that great conflicts push protagonists to their limits, though these conflicts don’t necessarily have to bring out the best in the protagonist. Perhaps it does the exact opposite, if that’s what the story is about. (Though, most people would admittedly prefer to root for an essentially good character than to cringe as they watch them burn or morph into something ugly.)

    I understand your fascination with superhero stories, so let me use an example that is completely different.

    In the movie Black Swan there are great conflicts in the form of ballet dancing, encounters with unsavory and risqué characters and the protagonist’s own personal (psychological) issues. In the end, she rises to greatness (perfection, even) as a ballerina, though at what cost? By then she has become something quite horrific, compromising a better part of herself in order to attain “greatness.” Her ending is tragic but also heroic. It’s an unusual combination of both.

    Of course, I think the kind of ending you give your characters really depends on what kind of story you want to tell. In the case of Bruce Wayne, yes: Greater conflict = greater (better) character; his heroism overshadows his flaws. In the case of Nina Sayers…well, not so much. I feel that both stories, however, have an undeniable punch to them. They just go about them in different ways.

    • Spectacular commentary, Yoyo. Yes, I am biased toward superhero fiction (blame Richard Donner’s Superman). I can see the case for Nina Sayers in such heroes like Wolverine who struggles to control his blood lust and rage yet has a heroic urge plus moral compass to side on the realm of goodness (even if his tactics could be considered within the gray area). The challenge for us as writers is to analyze characters like Bruce and Nina then say to ourselves, “What defines them? What motivates them? How is this believable?”

  3. Oh yeah, you’ve got to torture your characters. The worse things get, the better your story will do. Because how can anyone see how strong and amazing and clever our protagonists are if we don’t throw them to the wolves first?

    And I don’t think that’s true of just the beginnings of stories, either. Batman doesn’t suddenly have an easy time of things after his parents die, yanno? But you’re right, you can probably get a sense pretty early on of whether or not a writer has what it takes to really push his characters.

    • Hi Kristan,

      Thanks for visiting. Yes, although we as writers may been seen as sadistic because we want to place our characters into a crucible. This is where the transformation can occur. Besides, no conflict – no story, right?

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