It is said time and time again that fiction is about being cruel to your characters. You must break them down, put them in the worst possible scenarios in order for them to grow and evolve.
I’m working on my second novel, a follow up to Phoenix. In Phoenix, I was very cruel to two of the main characters with an open ending (I tend to be anti-happy ending sometimes). What was originally intended to be a standalone novel now has a little sister on the way (and maybe a third sibling, don’t want to think about that yet before I give birth to the middle child … but maybe I should … I digress …). The characters weren’t done with me; they would wake me up in the middle of the night with a scene, or bug me while I’m at work like a little kid pulling on my skirt. So, I said, “Fine, show me what you want.”
As I approached the 20,000 word mark, I realized I had no clue where this novel was going. I’m not necessarily a “pantster” or a “plotter” when it comes to writing (fellow blogger Linda Cassidy Lewis has a great post about this – check it out), but I do want to know where I’m going with the story. So, I put my laptop aside, grabbed a journal and that’s when it hit me.
I won’t go into it too much, but the overarching theme is about forgiveness and how one can’t move forward until they forgive themselves and others. The ending also came to me – and it’s a doozy. As I journaled this out, my chest tightened and eyes burned – I felt exactly what my main character is going to feel when it happens to her. It’s cruel – crueler than I could ever be to someone – and it’s heartbreaking. I feel awful for even thinking about doing that to her and two other characters (not to mention that at least two characters are going to die in this one).
I questioned myself if I could even go there. How can I do that to people – yes, to me they are real, live people – I have grown to love over the last few years? Part of me is afraid to write it, maybe it’s my own fear of being totally alone (something the main character will have to face), but as I said before, writers do not have the luxury to look away.
I have no choice. Now that it’s in my head, this is the way it has to be. There is no other way to end it. So, when the time comes to write that final chapter, the one that will put my main character through hell and the realization that everything she’s worked for is gone, I’ll know it’s for her own good and maybe, hopefully, for the good of the readers.