I get emails almost weekly–often multiple times a week–and the question invariably goes something like this. “How could you do that to him/her?” In other words, “How could you torture that character like that?” So, I thought I’d give you a bit of insight into why I do the torturous things I do. I even made fun of myself in HearthLand when Ralph says,
“I feel like a puppet—just a character in some author’s hands—as if he read something about making sure his character never gets what he wants, so every time I get close, the writer rips it away again.”
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So, here we go! Why I torture characters.
It’s fiction. Let’s face it, most of us have pretty average lives. If I wrote about life as it really is, it would bore you to tears. I wrote Aggie as a response to the question I got (back when I only had eight children) almost every week.
How do you do it all? I can hardly manage with the one (or two) that I have!”
I always said,
I didn’t manage with one or two either, and I’m still learning eight. You don’t get them all at once. They come one at a time (or for some people, possibly two) and you have an adjustment period before the next arrives.”
But, that’s what rekindled my desire to write. I wondered what would happen if you did get them all at once. Then I wondered what would happen if you were young, unmarried, with no young child experience. I added a mother-in-law that wasn’t even hers and named her Aggie. She’s a favorite with my readers.
Because I tortured an average girl and made her interesting. So, sometimes I just take an average person and give them a not-so-average problem or situation.
Can you blame me?
It’s inspiring. It is! Extraordinary behavior takes the mundane and makes it fascinating. Mac did this in Not a Word.
Let’s face it. Christians expect other Christians to do what is right, to behave in a Christ-like manner. Well, I wanted to explore the very real fact that sometimes the world behaves more like a Christian than we do. They show compassion where we offer condemnation and forgive where we judge (not rebuke in love–judge). Mac does exactly that. In a very tiny way, he shows what Jesus did for us. We reject His love and He forgives, is steadfast, is constant. I didn’t do that deliberately–most of those parallels show up without thought and shock me when I see them.
So, sometimes I take an ordinary person and have him behave in an extraordinary way–but only after I make his life miserable first.
Because it’s boring if it just happens without conflict. Trust me.
It’s an escape! Fiction is a chance to suspend reality. Sure, it has to feel plausible (except when working with fantasy/sci-fi) but exploring the “what if” gives characters chances to do what we never could.
The Agency Files series does exactly that. I mean c’mon, a private agency that provides protection with the kind of government blinders that they have? Using tranq guns on people? Kidnapping people to save them from unknown threats? It’s completely unrealistic. And that is what makes it so exciting!
So, sometimes I suspend reality to torture a character and create conflict. And it’s fun. So very fun.