On the Dangers of Character Torture

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Photo by Eugene Triguba on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts on torturing characters in stories, which can be found here. (The second part, specifically on killing characters, can be found here.) I was going to include these thoughts in with that first post, but I thought they might be long enough to warrant their own post, and here we are.

Torturing characters can be fun. I for one have a bad tendency of grinning like an evil genius (or the Grinch) when I think of something especially horrible to do to one of my characters. I have spent literal hours talking with writing friends, laughing about what I and they plan on doing to our respective characters. We have a generally good time plotting plans and evil schemes for our characters to fall into. So I certainly don’t think torturing characters is inherently bad, or something that should be avoided if possible.

But I do think too much of it can create some dangers and pitfalls that writers should at least be aware of. Because you can’t protect yourself from things, if you aren’t even aware of them.

It can numb a writer to pain, and can hurt their ability to effectively relate to others. Immersing yourself in anything can cause a sort of immunity to that thing to develop. I believe the same holds true for when you torture characters. This likely is more of a danger for character first writers over plot writers, as they tend to feel like their characters are actually real people, instead of just players in some sort of plot. But it can be true regardless. Constantly being surrounded by death, pain and suffering, even if it’s fictional, can create bubbles and barriers around writers which can in turn make it harder not only for them to relate to people in the real world, but also to truly empathize and share the hurts of others.

And if the writer writes things that are very bad, there could also be a risk of thinking things like “oh, you’re not so bad, things can be worse.” Which is helpful maybe a tiny percentage of the time, but most of the time it isn’t. People need empathy, not to be told how worse it could get and to suck it up.

Now before anyone who knows me thinks that I’m pointing fingers at them, I’m not. All the writers I know are beautiful, very caring people who don’t seem to have hurt themselves by writing horrible tragic things about their characters. I’m only speaking from a level of personal experience, and some traps I have noticed I could be falling into in the past.

Now, I know it can do the opposite too. Being too deep into the suffering and torture inflicted on characters can cause a writer to feel too deeply the pain around them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being aware of the pain of others, and of feeling empathy for people beyond yourself. I think this world needs more of it. What I’m talking about is the chance that, in experiencing the suffering of one’s own characters, it could cause a writer to begin to feel too much the pain that people they may not even know are going through, and in the end only hurting themselves. Most writers feel what their characters are going through, at least to a certain extent, so going through things with the characters can lend itself to a writer having even greater empathy to the plights of others. This is a very good thing. What I don’t think is a good thing, is a writer, or even any other person, feeling the weight of the world’s suffering on their shoulders and having to carry that around when there is nothing they can do about it and it does not even help the person going through the pain. Empathy creates change, but unnecessary and self imposed torment only hurts people.

What about you? Are there any pitfalls you have seen to writing suffering that writers should be aware of? Do you disagree with anything I said? Let us know your thoughts.

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On Killing Characters

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Photo by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

A few weeks ago I wrote a post with some miscellaneous thoughts on torturing characters, which you can find here: On Tormenting Characters. I mostly talked in general terms about doing bad things to characters, but as I was thinking it through I wanted to go a little deeper into one specific aspect of torturous writing: killing off characters.

Some writers do lots of it. Some don’t do any. Some kill their characters only to have them revived again by magic or science later.

No matter what kind of writer you are, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering whether or not to kill off a character, and they’re things I’ve come to feel strongly about over my (almost) decades of reading and loving stories.

Don’t do it just because you can. This relates back to what I said in the other article. Don’t do something just for shock value. That doesn’t mean that can’t be part of the reason. But it needs to be more than just “yes, I get to be evil, mwahaha.” And the reason can be as simple as “I need this to show just how bad this character is, or how far they’ve fallen.” That’s still much deeper than “heehee, I get to kill.”

Let the other characters react. It doesn’t have to be immediately. If the characters are running for their lives, or caught up in the middle of other imminent danger of some sort, they may not be able to respond to the impact of the death right away. But don’t take that as a free pass for them to never deal with it. Once they get to a place of at least minimal rest, the reality of the death should start to, in the very least, begin creeping in. Each character will react differently, and should. Just how deeply they react depends a lot on how well they knew the character who died, how they died, and to an extent the character’s personality. But even witnessing the peaceful death of someone a person doesn’t know can effect them to some degree. We as humans don’t often like to be faced with our own mortality, and your characters just have been. Let them deal with that.

Show the impact. This goes along with the previous point, but it goes further, and usually regards more specifically characters that had a personal relationship with the dead character. Of course, each person is going to react differently to deaths, taking into account factors of personality, manner of death, closeness of relationship and so on. But there are some baselines of grief that all the characters who knew the one that died should pass through, and some will feel it even if they didn’t personally know the deceased character. And in most cases the death should inspire the character or characters toward something, usually a revitalized effort toward defeating the villain, or finishing the mission, or so on. But it can also cause the characters to reevaluate what they’re doing, and think through whether or not their goal is actually worth the cost. It might be, and it might not be, but either way, it doesn’t hurt to show the thought process.

Consider the reality of the situation. If you’re sending your heroes into an epic fantasy war that will last a long time, it’s highly unlikely the main characters will all escape without losing at least one person they knew on some surface level. I’m not saying you should kill a main character, but I’m also not saying you shouldn’t. It should at least feel like a possibility, and there should be good reasons for all of them to have survived. If you send a completely incompetent character into a battle with no one watching their back, I’m not going to believe they escaped without at least a scratch. Of course, this doesn’t mean you always have to kill characters either, just try to be realistic about numbers, skills, and odds, and make it believable all your named characters could have escaped, if they all do.

Don’t overuse death fakeouts. It’s okay to have one. It does happen. But don’t use too many of them, and be aware that after you’ve done it once, it’s going to take even more work to convince readers that other characters are actually dead later.

Basically it all boils down to letting there be a reaction to the death. The more prominent the character, the more time you should give your other characters, and therefore the readers, time to grieve. They just lost someone important, and we did too. Give everyone some time to process what just happened, and show it being processed realistically, in keeping with the other characters’ way of dealing with things. Research grief and the grieving process, and don’t be afraid to show it. It will help us as readers believe that death meant something.

Bonus thought:

Parents don’t always have to die. Neither do mentor figures. It’s a common trope, especially in some genres in particular, and one that I am certainly guilty of. But I would love to see more stories with living parents and teacher figures. And not just living ones, but loving, caring, non-abusive parents who genuinely care about their children and want to be there for them. There are a multitude of different ways to force a main character away from home, or the parents away from them, without killing those parents off, and I think the world needs more stories like this.

 

What are some tips you can think of for making a character’s death mean the most in a story?

On Tormenting Characters

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Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash

Recently a writing friend of mine, who asked me to call him Vailyon for the sake of this, posted some very interesting thoughts he titled “Pain, Writing, and the Author.” Unfortunately, his post is on a private forum, so I can’t link it here, but it did get me thinking, and I think I have a few of my own thoughts on the subject.

The very rudimentary gist of Vailyon’s post was that authors need to be careful about writing pain, specifically, why we’re adding that pain into the story. Pain can be a very useful tool, but it needs to have a purpose.

While most of us like to grin and cackle evilly when talking about the horrors we have in store for our characters, the truth is, this isn’t always a good thing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being proud of being able to create emotions in readers. Without emotion, stories would be powerless, or at least would not hold the power they do in our lives. Maybe they’d be about as useful as a math problem, which is to say useful, but not very engaging on an emotional level.

But if that is all we try to do, create emotion with no end purpose, just to elicit a reaction in the reader and get them to love our stories by hating what we do to our characters, they become nothing more than just painful stories.

The world is broken. No matter what worldview, it isn’t hard to see that something isn’t right in this world, and that something needs to be fixed. This is where the pain in stories is useful, and what the ultimate purpose is. The pain has a reason, it’s not just for torture, and in the end, pain isn’t the ultimate, or the final ending. There is hope.

This doesn’t mean stories need to have a happy ending. One of my favorite books ends with the main character going to prison, and more specifically a Siberian work camp, for wrongs he committed early on in the story. Since he likely would only be classified as a torn antihero, if even referred to that strongly, I doubt many people would call the end of this story a “happy” one. But there is hope. The story ends with one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever read, and it gives hope that the main character can and is changing. And that’s really all that particular story needs. Just an indication that things can change, and that wrongs can be made right.

In contrast to this, stories that just seem to pile on pain for the sake of hurting the characters and therefore the readers, don’t really have any purpose and from what I have seen, only serve to alienate the readers from the story, and from any message it may have tried to have. It still doesn’t mean the main character can’t end the story in a bad spot. It just means the reader needs to see the hope, and see the reason for the badness in the story.

Stories inherently are meaning. And as such, the pain included in them needs meaning too.

It can even seem purposeless within the story world. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing something terribly wrong to a character, for the sake of showing the evil of the villain, or for giving realities of the world. It helps create realism, which helps keep readers reading. But this in and of itself is a purpose. And it shouldn’t last forever.

Just don’t get lost in the pain. And don’t keep doing it just because it’s fun.

 

Bonus thought: A few days ago, another friend of mine sent me something on Pinterest, the gist of which was “you can always tell which character is the author’s favorite, by which character nothing happens to.” We had a good laugh about that. In most cases, this is completely not true. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. If nothing happens to a character, it usually means the author doesn’t like them and thought they were boring. Writers I know tend to do the worst things to the characters they love the most. For some reason.

What about you? What reasons for pain do you use in your stories?

Website Review: gpacalculator.io

 

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Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

School is starting up again for many students, or if you’re like me, you’re up to three weeks through your first 2019 semester. Which means new headaches, added stress, and a lot of potential confusion as new classes, teachers and systems have to be figured out.

But there are handy tools out there that can help lessen some of the hassle. Recently I was given the opportunity to review a student GPA calculator, and it is quickly becoming one of my new favorite tools.

What is it?

Well, just that. A simple, easy to use GPA calculator.

GPA is one of those annoyingly weird numbers that some parts of society, in this case education, seem to be defined by. As a graduated homeschooler, I never really could understand what GPA was, or why it was important. When my transcript was being put together after graduation, my dad figured out the GPA part, and I just sort of ignored it. After exploring above site, I’m finally understanding what GPA is, and how it works. Not only is it a calculator, but the site also includes many helpful, well written articles about GPA, what it is, why it matters, and how to raise it.

Features:

A GPA calculator for college semesters, with instructional videos underneath on how to use it, as well as written step by step instructions, as well as a basic rundown of how the numbers are calculated.

There’s also a GPA calculator for high schoolers, with many similar functions, and a focus on a few extra ones for different type of high school courses. Like the college version, the high school calculator includes detailed, easy to follow instructions, and an overview of how everything is put together.

Both calculators allow the user to add extra classes and additional semesters, so an entire academic career can be input into the algorithm and tabulated in one fell swoop.

Finally there’s a total GPA calculator, which seems to be very similar to the other two, with little differentiation other than a running list at the top of GPA and total credit hours earned in the classes logged into the calculator.

My personal favorite though, is the class grade calculator. In addition to formulas for both high school and college GPA averaging, the site offers a calculator for figuring out what a specific classes GPA will turn out to be. Rather than having to sit down for thirty minutes with numbers and a regular calculator trying to figure out how it all needs to get put in, it’s nice to be able to just plug in numbers that are easy to find, and let the system figure the rest out for me. It saves time too. I even started plugging in grades for projects I haven’t even turned in yet, in order to see what grade ranges might yield target GPAs with what I’ve already completed.

In every calculator on the site, inputs and totals are automatically saved, so when a user goes back to the site on the same computer, everything they had put in is still there ready for them.

What I liked:

The simple, easy to navigate layout, step by step guides for use, and several articles on GPA FAQs. I also appreciate the effort the programmers went to, to include both a college as well as a high school oriented calculator, even though much of the information and formulas for calculation are similar. The attention to detail and functionality for all students in need of GPA information, no matter what level, showed an apparent attitude of mindfulness that some online sites I have seen before don’t appear to have.

And of course, not only having a regular GPA formula, but calculators for multiple grade functionalities was very nice to have

What I wasn’t a fan of:

While for me personally the automatic saving of what I input into the calculators wasn’t a huge deal, I can see how it could cause issues, or be just plain annoying, especially in situations where a person may be on a shared or public computer and not wish to let others see their grades/GPA. And option to choose to save the GPAs for next time would fix the issue, and could make for a smoother process all around.

The only other warning I would have is, at least personally, playing with the numbers and formulas got addictive, and I spent more time than I should have sticking random numbers into some of the calculators, just because I was curious what would happen. But maybe that’s just me.

What about you? What are some of your favorite student tools out there on the web?

2019 Goals and Plans

Originally December was going to have a post about writing during the busy holidays, and thoughts on that. But time got away from me, and nothing got done, so obviously anything I would have had to say on that wouldn’t have been valid anyway. :P. So instead, I’m doing a post that’s kind of more for me, but I always enjoy seeing what other people are planning and striving for, so maybe someone else out there will enjoy this too.

My writing goals for 2019.

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Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash

1. Spam out a messy first draft of Two. In 2018 I got through the first draft of One. I don’t think I’m quite ready yet to start editing that, but I would like to keep making progress with the Numbers series, so Two it is. This draft is likely to be the messiest first of any of the books, mainly because I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing with it. All three of the others have a little bit clearer path, and I like the characters better, so Two is going to be rough. But hopefully, worth it.

2. Get at least half a first draft of DoER. The Disappearance of Elizabeth Rixton is not only a genre I’m not entirely comfortable with, but is also definitely my roughest story to get through. It deals with some very dark themes and ideas, and includes some content that isn’t necessarily kosher. But I’ve been working through the story for close to four years now, and with a lot of development put in to most of the main characters (and a few of the side ones, oops) I think as long as I’m prepared to face the darkness, it’s time to get this story out. But to keep myself okay, I will likely be taking a lot of breaks, to recover and also figure out what the heck needs to happen next, it may take me a while, and I’m okay with that.

3.  Ronan’s story rewrite. This story was a complete mess. Still is really. But I do still believe in some of it, mostly the characters and theme, so after three years or more, it’s time I take another look at it, and try to beat it into some decent shape.

4. D&S. Likely this will just be in the form of drabbles, and some random scenes with no distinct place or purpose. As much as I love the shape of this story, I’m not sure I’m ready, or mentally in a place to handle, a suicidal POV character yet. But as I get ideas, I certainly will write them out. Maybe I’ll at least get a better idea of where the tale should wander.

5. Write at least one short story. There’s at least one short story contest I know about that I would like to enter, so that is a main goal for me to get a story draft done sooner than later. None of the other goals have a deadline, but this one does, so I need to make sure I remember and focus on this one before crunch time comes.

Bonus goal:

Read 26 books. Ideally this wouldn’t include books for school, but let’s not get crazy here. I’m finally getting back into reading I think, and I did manage to read more than that this year, but I’m also trying to be realistic. Two and a fraction books a month isn’t really too much to ask for.

Next December, if I remember, I’ll look back on this post, with an update of what actually happened, and what ended up falling by the wayside. Make that a goal for 2019 too. :P. It should be fun.

What about you? What are some of your writing goals for 2019? 

On Writing and Gratitude

Several days after Thanksgiving, and now I’m finally writing a Thanksgiving-ish post.

But maybe that’s okay.

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

This year has been an interesting one as far as writing goes. And not just writing itself, but also in remembering and thinking about past writing.

My earliest writing was bad. Really, really bad. I’m sorry for those who read the things I wrote back then. Even a lot of my less old stuff hasn’t been great. I recently apologized to several people who read the first novel I actually finished, three years ago. And I’m the first to admit my second novel was even worse than that.

It’s tempting to be ashamed of past writing, to want to bury it deep, delete all those files and pretend it never happened.

But I don’t.

Because really, as painful and terrible as that writing is, I’m grateful for it.

It’s an old cliche, but it’s true. You really can’t get better without practice. And that old writing was very much practice.

So I’m grateful for that younger me, who kept writing and writing because I had fallen in love with it. I’m grateful for the imagination that allowed me to create those worlds, and write what was, quite honestly, a lot of self insertion fanfics. I’m grateful for the practice those stories gave me, in plotting, character development, prose and worldbuilding, and the foundation that laid for my writing now. I’m grateful for the fact that I’m still growing, and maybe in another eleven years I’ll look back on my writing now with similar feelings.

I’m grateful for God’s perfect timing, and how He has been showing me that more and more these past several months.

And I’m grateful for all the people who have read my writing over the years, my parents, my teachers, old friends I will likely never see again. I’m grateful for their words of encouragement even as I subjected them to less than lovely work. I’m grateful for all the tough love, the joy, and the pain. I’m grateful for all they have taught me, and all I have yet to learn from this past.

To my past self, I say thank you. And to my future self, I say with the utmost humility, you’re welcome. Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey.

Welcome!

Stories and yarn. And somehow getting hopelessly tangled in both.

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Photo by Nick Casale on Unsplash

Welcome to my cozy corner of the internet. I’ve staked it out, it’s mine now. Here you can find the rambles of my brain, and whatever writing or yarning tips I may have to offer. I can’t guarantee anything, but I can say it may be fun to watch me flail around trying to figure out life.

Strap yourselves in. This could be a bumpy ride.