Necessary Torture

Torture with a deliberate purpose (as posted on The Missing Comma Club blog)

Main characters.

They steal the show. A ton of time and effort is spent finding them suitable names, the right appearances, and personalities that will turn these figments of the writer’s imagination into believable people. Once they are fleshed out and filled in, they are a writer’s pride and joy. Depending on the work—a short story, a book, a book series—a writer should expect to spend weeks, months, or even years with these characters. It’s a long-term relationship. Unfortunately, for the most part, it’s also an abusive relationship.

Physical, emotional, and psychological pain are all in a writer’s demented arsenal of torture weapons used against their very own creations. The ways in which writers inflict this torment would normally be considered illegal if used outside the realm of literacy. These may include actual injury, the killing of loved ones, mutations, consistent anxiety, or even the extinction of the entire human race. Writers are sick people, right?

Of course, what would a story be without a little suffering and angst?sorrow

Given, a writer has free reign on how to make their characters suffer. But, if a character suffers for the sake of suffering, it creates a certain numbness in the writing. Their pain must mean something and must be done with a deliberate purpose.


A character’s suffering must add to the plot. Characters don’t always want to go where the writer wants them to, so a simple nudge (or a violent shove) might be needed to get them heading in the right—or wrong—direction. This can be anything from burning down the character’s house, to making the character an orphan, to maiming said character. Tragedy is a very motivating factor but it must be used sparingly. Again, too much will deaden the emotional impact of the event.


Doling out physical harm to main characters is a good way to remind them they are not invincible. In the real world there are very few folks who fight in a battle and come out unscathed. Why should main characters be any different? Injuring main characters adds realism to the story. So, in this case, battle scars are a good thing.


Also, physical pain can add to a story’s threat factor. Who doesn’t like the heart racing moment when a main character trips and gets impaled in the leg as they are running from some man-eating beast? The sight of blood or the crack of bone makes the danger feel more real and will convey a sense of urgency into a scene.


Sadistic obstacles placed into the story to frustrate a character’s goals are fun. No story is complete without them. Perhaps the loss of a mentor, the pain associated with a car accident, or being at fault for the death of another will affect a character. Their personalities will determine if these obstacles will ultimately crush them or drive them forward. Although these setbacks can be incredibly painful for the characters, they are expected. How the characters handle them will add texture and dimension to not only the characters themselves, but to the story as well.

EMPATHYsad baby

Brutalizing the main characters of a story may also be used to create empathy. Everyone knows what it’s like to experience loss or pain. If written well, a reader’s heart will go out to them for what they are suffering. They’ll feel sorry for the pain the characters are feeling and become more attached.


A main character who stays the same during the course of a story is boring. Writers allow pain, sorrow, and suffering to shape and condition their main characters. Torment can make characters pliable—just right for reshaping and improvement. In the same way, the identical circumstances may cause the character to become angry, bitter, or jaded.  Either way, suffering brings ample opportunity for change.


In closing, writers are unapologetic murders, kidnappers, arsonists, robbers, sadists, and torturethemtormentors. They take joy in the suffering of their main characters. As long as all is done with deliberate purpose, it’s all good.

(Photos from Bing images license: free to share and use)

About J. Rae Moore

Writer of MG and YA fantasy. Author of nothing. Reader. Often confused.
This entry was posted in Character Development, Insperation, J. Rae Moore Original, Writers are, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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