It’s Kind to be Cruel (to your characters at least)

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).

A tease for the cruelty I'll inflict on my characters ... but only a tease

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.

About Kimberly Packard

Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction. She began visiting her spot on the shelves at libraries and bookstores at a young age, gazing between the Os and the Qs. Kimberly received a degree in journalism from the University of North Texas, and has worked in public relations and communications for nearly 20 years. When she isn’t writing, she can be found rollerblading, doing a poor imitation of yoga or curled up with a book. She resides in North Texas with her husband Colby, Oliver the cat and a 75-pound lap dog named Charlie. Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors.
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8 Responses to It’s Kind to be Cruel (to your characters at least)

  1. taureanw says:

    The special characters pop out and are as real as anyone you know. So sometimes it is hard to make them go through things that you know are going to be tough. Kind of makes you feel like a kid with a magnifying glass hovering above an ant hill. Yet as strange as it may sound once you throw that conflict out there and they are able to endure it, it’s easy to feel a since of pride. I’m pretty sure this sort of thing is a documented sickness 🙂

    • That is a great way to put it! I sometimes say I feel parental towards my characters, but I can’t think that way because that would indicate I would try to protect them from pain rather than inflict it upon them.

      And yeah, thank goodness we have writing as an outlet or else we’d all be locked up. 🙂

  2. you are right in saying that writing can sometimes be lonely but as soon as the readers start to appreciate what you do and responds to them in a more positive , personal way then you realize that you are not so alone anymore. great post. amazing writing. wish I have the same talent but as you said writing is an outlet of what’s in your head . And I got a lot of those after a stressful work day.thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, Island Traveler, for your kind words. And, thank you for reminding me that it’s only lonely until someone reads it. I appreciate you reading and leaving a comment!

  3. Frank Bishop says:

    Hemingway said it best, “Kill your darlings.” Granted I am twisting the intention a little, it still applies.
    If you want characters to be admired and loved, you have to throw them in the grinder. We measure greatness by the adversity we have to overcome. The greater the feat, the greater the respect. Look at Franklin D. Roosevelt, he had a war and depression to fight. Regardless of any personal political views, he had a mountain of adversity to fight and went swinging. Because of that he is regarded as one o the greatest presidents. It applies the same way to characters in a book, whether the problem be direct or indirect.

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