Monday, April 27, 2015

“While things that are uncomfortable…may make a good tale.”

Imprisoned GirlWriters are notoriously cruel to their characters. Our job description is practically, “Killing and torturing people for a living.” An embarrassing amount of hours in our days are spent thinking about how we can make our characters’ lives worse. And yet we turn around and claim they’re our “precious, adorable babies whom we love ever so much!” Because, ya know, they are. You may walk into a bookstore and pick up the mildest, sweetest looking book out of the thousands, the cover glittered in pink and flowers and a girl with every tooth showing in a wide grin, white ribbons flowing from her hair. “What a pleasant looking book,” you say. And you may be right, but don’t be entirely fooled! That girl with ribbons in her hair certainly won’t be holding that grin for every page. No. She may cry, become angry, get hurt, all of the above. “That poor girl! How could the author be so cruel?” you think, even while turning to the next page. What spurs on this incessant character torturing, and for goodness’ sake, why do we want to read it?

I was just discussing The Hunger Games with Deborah and saying I didn’t know WHY I love those books. They’re dark, depressing, icky even, and yet that’s one of my favorite book series of all time. WHY?

My favorite scenes to write are the dramatic ones, whether they’re sad or scary or just full of action—I look forward to getting to those parts of my novels every single time. WHY?

Sometimes I like to go back and read one of my old stories and when I do I almost every time choose one of the sadder scenes. WHY?

If a movie makes me cry there’s a 99.8% chance I’ll love it. I want movies to make me cry. WHY???

One of my favorite quotes of Tolkien’s is from chapter 3 of The Hobbit:

Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have
and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to;
while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale,
and take a deal of telling anyway.

In our fiction we get bored with all the happy bits. We want to read about the uncomfortable and gruesome. The struggles and hardships and fears.


Why would we ever want to read about people suffering? Or to write about the characters we love being tortured and torn down?

Many hours of my life have been spent pondering this very question. Shouldn’t I be disturbed about enjoying uncomfortable and gruesome stories? I’m a very sunshiny person. I love pink and glitter and unicorns and poodles. Why ever would I want to read and write about dark things?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but all my musings have come up with this answer:

Life isn’t fluffy.

It doesn’t matter who we are or where we come from, life isn’t always sunshine and peaches. We’ve all struggled. We’ve all had bad days and shed tears and grown angry and messed up and gone through hard times. That’s a part of life.

C.S. Lewis QuoteWe want our fiction to feel real, even if we don’t necessarily read realistic fiction. In The Hobbit they’re a company of dwarves and a wizard and a hobbit going off to slay a dragon inside a home made under a mountain. Not exactly the most realistic of plots, right? But a lot of us have “dragons” of our own that have tilted our world—health problems, a best friend moving away, a loved one dying.

Life isn’t an easy place, but when we read fiction and see the characters we love struggling as well, we can take their situations and mirror it with our own. We can get a new perspective of our hardships, we can sympathize with the characters and learn from them. Who wants to read about someone who has life handed to them on a silver platter and from birth to death they experience nothing but frolicking through fields of happiness? *gag* What kind of character would that be?

No, we want someone who doesn’t have it easy, who pushes and pushes past those struggles and grows with each step. In the Marvel movies Tony Stark AKA Iron Man starts out as nothing but a rich, bratty, spoiled guy who seeks nothing but to serve himself. But when his perfect little world flips on its head, he struggles and grows, and this man who has spent his days only ever thinking about HIM, is willing to sacrifice his very life to protect those he loves.

Iron Man

It is through the struggles that we grow. God allows hardships in our life to batter and shape us into His vessels. because He LOVES us and wants us to be the very best we can be. As writers, we throw curveballs at our characters for the very same reason—to form them into someone to look up to.

Life isn’t fluffy, sometimes it’s downright hard, but fiction helps us to understand our struggles, to mirror our lives with the characters’ and learn from them, to grow into the people God created us to be.

So yes, we writers torture our characters. But the moment that silver platter was snatched away from Tony Stark, he became loveable.

C.H. Spurgeon Quote


    That is so beautiful! I kinda have a thing for killing my characters, now I know why.

    1. Awww, I'm so glad it was helpful!

      Yes, so many people bash authors for killing characters, but death is a part of life. Besides, in most books the characters are put through extremely dangerous situations, much more so than real life, so chances are SOME are going to die. It's only logical. So carry on!

  2. Someone put it in words, I am the same way.I love pink and sunshine, but most of my favorite stories are dark and gruesome. Love that Tolkien quote, tis so true.

    1. Precisely! They just feel so much more REAL. I'm glad I'm not alone on this.

      Isn't it great? It sticks out to me every single time I read The Hobbit...which has been a lot. *cough*

  3. This post echoes so many of my own thoughts, Christine! I've pondered these things at length too, and come to the same conclusions. We all struggle in this life, and through a character's struggles, we see we're not alone, we watch how they learn and grow through it, and we find encouragement for our own lives. If fiction didn't go to the hard places, I think I'd shelve all my books and never read again. Because it wouldn't feel real or relevant at all.

    Of course I've never battled a dragon, but I've faced difficult circumstances or fiery attitudes in my own mind that certainly felt like a battle. So when the hero marches off to face the beast, I cheer, because in my own way, I've been there too. And I want to keep being that warrior princess who raises her sword, not the coward who hides from the dragon or pretends it isn't there.

    Ahh, thank you for this profound post! You put it into words so well. ^^

    1. Yes, yes, yes! That's EXACTLY what I was trying to get across. I've read books before where everything came too easily for the protagonist, there was no real struggle. Those bore me to tears. I just don't care unless the hero has battles and hardships and real difficult decisions to make. If it's too easy, then what's the point in caring?

      Precisely! I've gone through a lot of hardship myself, and it's so encouraging to me to learn from these heroes and see how they overcame their difficulties. The powerful stories remind my that I CAN face my dragons and conquer them, no matter how strong they may be.

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It's something that is constantly on my mind and putting it into words helps me understand it more myself.

  4. Yes! Thank you for putting this so much more eloquently than I ever could have. It reminds of a quote in Gail Carson Levine's book, Writing Magic.

    "Why do you keep reading a book? Usually to find out what happens. Why do you give up and stop reading it? There may be lots of reasons. But often the answer is you don't care what happens. So what makes the difference between caring and not caring? The author's cruelty. And the reader's sympathy ... it takes a mean author to write a good story."

    1. D'awww! I don't know if I put it very eloquently, but I sure am happy you enjoyed it.

      Oh wow! I've never seen that quote before. That's powerful right there. Thank you for sharing! I LOVE that!

  5. YES! Beautifully written!

    It's so interesting that you wrote this, because I've been thinking the past few days about the very same issue. While I do have my limits with exactly how depressing a story can be, I tend to gravitate towards ones that are frankly kinda sad. For example, in musicals, I like the tragic ones! *ducks head* (Of course, there is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, though...) The songs I tend to like are usually tinged with at least a little bit of bittersweet nostalgia. So I really appreciate this post; it helps to understand why we love the dramatic scenes, the hard scenes.

    Great job!:)

    1. Oh my, thank you so much!

      Really? What a coincidence! Well, I'm glad this came at a good time. ^_^ Yep, I'm the same way. The tragic can be beautiful after all. I want fiction to make me cry. Now, I do love lighthearted stories and I'm a sucker for a happily ever after, but I still prefer the tales that tug at the heartstrings.

      Thank you again! Your post made me smile.

  6. Very intriguing post! (And yay Hobbit quote! XD) Now, while I haven't READ the HG books, I will say that I very much enjoyed the first two movies, even THOUGH they're super dark and scary... (I'm just on the fence about the third one until it's completed. XD) But it's a sad truth that stories without "uncomfortable" things are rather boring. ;) I don't go in for characters dying though, and I actually think that--although stories need problems--I don't like there to be the sort of problems I encounter in real life... because if a book is exactly like real life, why read it?? I can get enough awful things in real life, and books are for escaping to someplace better... BUT with some problems because otherwise the story would be boring. ...Meh, I don't know. :-/ I guess I'm contradictory about this and probably not making any sense. :P Great topic! :)

    1. No, no, you're making PERFECT sense! I was literally tossing around the idea of doing a post completely contradicting this one with those exact same thoughts. I'm so contradictory. XD I love me some happy endings after all, and reading is totally an escapism from real life for me.

      The main point of this was exploring the reason why we enjoy those uncomfortable bits and why they're always in fiction. But still, I LOVE happily ever afters...and character deaths are hard, though I know they're often necessary. Basically I can make an argument either way. XD So I totally get you!

  7. Love this post! So agree! Hardships shape characters just like hardships shape us in real life.

    1. Thank you!!! ^_^
      Yes, exactly! I don't think we should ever give our characters the easy way out, how else would they grow? And how would WE grow if all our fiction portrayed life as ease and comfort?

      Being a writer is a big responsibility trying to portray the right kind of messages.


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