Don’t Love Your Characters Too Much

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Jacqueline Vick is the author of over twenty published short stories, novelettes and mystery novels. Her April 2010 article for Fido Friendly Magazine, “Calling Canine Clairvoyants”, led to the first Frankie Chandler Pet Psychic mystery, Barking Mad About Murder. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.jacquelinevick.com.

 

 

I was working on the next Harlow Brothers mystery.  During a scene where older brother Edward gets arrested, I noticed that I was leaving him with his dignity.

What?!

I had a perfect opportunity to make a screamingly funny scene, and I was letting it go because I didn’t want to embarrass Edward.

Like many authors, I love my characters. We spend a lot of time with them, so this is understandable. However, there has to be a line between caring about what happens to them and getting in the way of the story.

I should tell you up front that I will walk away from a movie or TV show if a situation gets too embarrassing. I have a chronic case of empathy, and the character’s humiliation is just too much to bear.  Still, if I want to write the best scene possible, I’ll have to find a way to get past this.

Maybe if I thought of them as little masochists who reveled in embarrassment and shame. The more I pile it on, the happier they are. No, that’s too creepy for me and would lead to a completely different kind of book.

What if I told them to trust me? That no matter how bad it gets, I will pull them out of the mire, clean them up and set them back on their pedestals.

I just don’t know.  Have you ever had this problem? How would you get past this dilemma?  Leave your suggestion in the comments below.

12 thoughts on “Don’t Love Your Characters Too Much”

  1. Oh yes, I DO know what you mean! Recently at a PSWA Conference I attended, and one of the topics was knowing, loving, etc. your characters. Including how real they are to you, and hopefully your readers! And as a reader, I love the Harlow brothers, so glad I’ll be visiting with them again, and so glad Edward has you looking out for him!

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  2. If they are miscellaneous characters, I will make them fit the part they are playing, but if they are one of my main characters, they tell me who they are and I just write it down. Every one of my protagonists have told me who they are in the stream of dialogue they send through my head. I basically take dictation. And there has been one fairly prominent character in one book that I was going to kill off, but he just wouldn’t let me do it. Hey! I’m just the writer. The characters speak for themselves.

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  3. My characters are real to me, too–especially my protagonists. I identify with them a lot so I don’t want to embarrass them, at least not much. They often tell me what they want to do, though not always. But if they do, I nearly always listen. I enjoyed the post!

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  4. I am a very soft-hearted writer. In my Missionary Kids stories, I have a hard time making bad things happen to my family of young protagonists. I usually do however let them get into SOME trouble of their own making, so that they can learn some (sometimes) hard lessons, which in turn makes them grow and change and be better sons/daughters and siblings.

    It’s interesting that in the 13 stories in the series, the two that my reader kids have said they liked best were the two where I got my protagonists into really bad trouble because of the way the acted or the things they said (lies, exaggerations, etc.). Go figure.

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  5. I understand what you mean. I’ve lived with my protagonist for nearly two decades, much longer than many of my friendships. I’ve put her through situations ranging from embarrassing to dangerous, but each time it’s made her stronger and wiser.

    I recently wrote a scene which threatened her. I got so agitated I had to have a glass of wine to calm down. I toned it down a bit and made sure she was alright before I turned off the computer.

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  6. I put my characters through the wringer because I’ve always been told you need to rough them up, give the reader some vicarious satisfaction. It’s not easy to dream up worst-case scenarios, but since those characters are usually a stand-in for me, it can be a relief to think, “Well, at least my (real) life isn’t that bad.”

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