I also have a problem making my characters suffer and that's what I want to talk about today. Part of it, I think, comes from what I read book for. I'm looking for escape and for the happy endings (or at least deserved endings) that elude us in the modern day. I want good thing to happen to good people and bad things to happen to bad people. Simplistic, yes, but it pleases me. But I don't like boring stories and stories where nothing ever irreversibly goes wrong for the main character is deathly dull to me.
It has been mentioned on Kay Kenyon's blog recently (and echoed elsewhere...is something in the writing water that is bubbling this topic up?) how important it is that your main character suffers. They need to suffer defeat at the hands of their opponent. They need to suffer emotionally so we bond to them. They need to suffer physically and know pain, doubt and fear.
This is all well and good, it makes for fine drama. It is also bloody hard to do, for me. I suspect there is a sadistic side to great writers. They have to be willing to not just kill their 'darlings' but be willing to torture them, maim them, humiliate them. The theory is that when your main character then rises to victory at the end, you will feel all that much more catharsis after all they've been through.
That's sound psychology. I'll buy that and I'll try to write to that. But there is another side to that. There is a tradition of defeat as well as a tradition of victory. If your story constantly has the good guys being gutted, betrayed and shown to be fools, I almost wonder if that is the point the author is trying to make. There has to be a reason for all the suffering. There has to be a higher purpose the main character is in service to. It has to be worthwhile and it has to pay off.
I'm reading A Dance with Dragons and again I'm wondering if we will get that catharsis at the end of the series. (Don't get me wrong, I'm still loving the series but it does get me thinking) As I posted on Friday, GRRM is coming to Amazon to speak and I was wondering what I should ask him. The question that came to mind is one that's been asked for thousands of years: Why do bad things happen to good people and evil people prosper? I'd add the prefix 'in your books' to that question but that is essentially it. I'd ask the same thing of Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erickson and K.J. Parker. "In your books, why do bad things happen to good people and evil people prosper?"
In the real world, that is what seems to happen. Not all the time, there is a force for good in the world as well as one for evil, but... Tyrants die peacefully in their sleep, drug dealers live well, politicians steal, lie, cheat and the better they are at doing that, the more they personally benefit. I don't like that. I don't like reading that either, especially since we can have control over what happens when we write.
Someday, maybe next year or the year after, I want to write an unironic fairy tale. I want to write a novel where virtue is rewarded, evil is punished, the nice guy gets the nice girl and she ends up being hotter and better in bed than the bad girl. Ok, went off on a tangent there at the end, but you get my point. See, if I'm going to make my character suffer, I want it to be worth it in the end.