Monday, September 3, 2012

Guest Post: Author J. Bennett

We Hurt Them Because We Love Them
Why Making Characters Suffer Is A Good Thing

Thank you to Pamela for hosting me and for supporting so many talented authors.

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I would hazard to guess that most authors love their characters, even the bad guys. And yet, we put them through hell. We kill off their parents, drop high school bullies in their path, break their hearts, betray them, occasionally even kidnap, torture and kill them.

It’s an odd way to show love, but here’s the reason why: a happy protagonist is a boring protagonist.

There are only two real places in a novel where a protagonist is allowed to be happy – in the beginning when their world has yet to rocked by the coming storm and at the end when they’ve overcome whatever it is they had to overcome. Sure, the protagonist might experience a few instances of fleeting joy throughout the story, but in most cases, that happiness is planted by the author for the express purpose of snatching it away.

There are always exceptions. I’m sure there are books where characters are happy the entire way through. Kudos to the author who can write an active, enjoyable story without a lot of suffering along the way.

For the rest of us, however, suffering not only makes our characters interesting, it’s a great motivator. In order for a story to exist, a protagonist must go on a journey. This journey often combines spiritual, physical and emotional components. The best kick start to a journey is a traumatizing event that forces the protagonist to react.

My debut novel, Falling – Girl With Broken Wings, is no exception. The beginning of the novel features Maya, a college sophomore who has finally established a comfortable routine. She has a doting boyfriend, loves her classes, and is starting to break out of her shell.

Well, well, this can’t last at all, can it?

The trauma that throws Maya into a major tailspin comes in the form of a stranger with glowing hands. He uses those hands to murder Maya’s boyfriend, kidnap her, and to begin changing her into something other than human. A timely rescue from two vigilante half-brothers she never knew she had saves Maya’s life but not her humanity.

See? Suffering. It’s interesting, and in Maya’s case, very motivating indeed. As she begins to come to terms with her new abilities and the murderous hunger that fuels them, she’s got vengeance on her mind in a big way.

I can’t speak for other authors, but for myself, I have to admit I have conflicting feelings when it comes to making my characters suffer. I feel a very close bond with Maya and her brothers. A part of me wants nothing more than to swaddle them in allergen-free, organic cotton blankets and hug them all day long. But then there’s that other part of me that takes a perverse pleasure in pushing each character to their physical and emotional limit. I like seeing how much they can take and – just as they start to crack – throwing a big monster in their path or revealing another dark secret.

Suffering isn’t only interesting; it can lead to incredible character growth. Tragedy holds many lessons, and from it characters can choose a path toward healing and redemption (though they don’t always take it).

We authors make our characters suffer, but we do it out of love, so they’ll grow, so they’ll learn to fight, so that when they finally achieve happiness, it will be a well-earned reward.

For Maya and her brothers, their journey is just beginning. Falling is book one in the Girl With Broken Wings series. My poor protagonist has many burdens yet to bear, but with each she overcomes, she grows stronger and wiser.

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Falling is J Bennett’s debut novel and the first book in the Girl With Broken Wings series. It is currently available as an ebook for $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Learn more and read a free sample at www.GirlWithBrokenWings.com. J Bennett is a professional copywriter and copyeditor. She also writes the blog www.ShyWriter.com. Her Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/jbennettwrites.

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