Torture with a deliberate purpose (as posted on The Missing Comma Club blog)
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?
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.
UP THE THREAT FACTOR
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.
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.
WRITERS ARE HAPPILY SADISTIC
In closing, writers are unapologetic murders, kidnappers, arsonists, robbers, sadists, and tormentors. 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)
In Case of Huggers
“Who goes-a-calling before noon?” Maggie grumbled as she shuffled across the living room.
The grungy terrier tagging along at her heels let out a short yip as if in answer.
“You’re right, Mr. Dickens,” she said, acknowledging the dog. “It’s downright rude.” She stopped at the window beside the front door and pinched a corner of the curtain. She moved it a half an inch—just enough to see the offensive soul who thought it proper to knock so early. “Uck,” Maggie said, making a face. She let the curtain fall closed. “It’s a Hugger.”
Mr. Dickens growled, showing his black gums and what was left of his pocked, yellow teeth.
Maggie’s growl matched her dog’s. She hated the Huggers. Poor Mr. McNearson. Surely, he’d rolled over in his grave the day they moved into his former house, blasting their hippy music about sunshine and rainbows and waving at everyone who dared walk past. Surely, he’d sat up and waved a fist the day they had a group of muscle-bound workmen paint the abode a ghastly sunshiny yellow. To add insult to injury, the Huggers had Mr. McNearson’s practical concrete yard jackhammered out and a manicured lawn laid down as if it were carpet. Maggie hadn’t even known people could do that.
Maggie peeked out the window again. Standing on her unwelcome mat was the worst Hugger of all—the one who always smiled—the one who always waved—the one who always had to wrap her creepy, spindly arms around everyone she met—and she was holding a tin of cookies and a clipboard. Maggie had heard about this. The Huggers were pushing a petition for a Crypt Street beautification project—as if Crypt Street needed improvement.
“This won’t do,” Maggie said to Mr. Dickens who was gnawing at the bald spot on his tail. Maggie’s gaze drifted from the dog to the shadowy space beneath the sofa. A smile crept across her face as an idea took root in her brain. She bent down and pulled an aluminum baseball bat from under the sofa. The bat had always been a practical means to rid her doorstep of pests. The bothersome Huggers deserved no different.
Maggie placed a hand upon the doorknob and balanced the bat against a shoulder. “Forgive me if I’m wrong, Mr. Dickens,” she said as she plastered a smile on her face, ready to greet the Hugger in the other side of the door, “but, I do believe the only good Hugger, is a dead Hugger.”
As a felonious toothfairy, Miss Anug is serving hard time as a preschool teacher at Billy Bob’s, a Program for Gifted and Talented Preschoolers. She’s about to attempt an escape when the perfect set of chompers walks into her classroom.
My phone vibrated noisily against the desktop. I snatched it up as fast as I could, silenced it, and then glanced around the room. The sea of pastel blankets remained motionless. I exhaled in relief. Naptime at Billy Bob’s, a Program for Gifted and Talented Preschoolers was my time. That’s when the little rodents drifted off to la-la land and I was free to plot my escape.
I checked my phone.
I couldn’t help letting out a hoot of excitement as I read the text. That one word meant the world to me. It meant freedom. It meant the end of this horrible torture. It meant step one of my plan was going into action.
The sea of blankets began to undulate. My time of relief was over for now. Little, messy-haired heads began to pop up as the little creatures blinked back into consciousness. Sleeping dust only works for small amounts of time—never long enough in my opinion.
“Good morning, Miss Anug,” the little pigtailed one called. Its name was Jayden, or some other awful name the parents these days thought was a suitable name for their offspring.
As I always did, I smiled brightly in return, showing the little urchins what the perfect smile entails. “Put your blankets in the hamper and get ready for snack time,” I said, keeping my tone light. If you get too harsh with the little creatures they started blubbering. That’s the worst.
After the cockroaches were done stuffing their faces with graham crackers and apple juice, I sent them out to the playground to let the schoolyard aide deal with them for a while.
I strolled back to my desk and again read the text.
It wasn’t a customary text, but a self-reminder I’d set up exactly a year ago. It had been twelve years since I started tending to the drooling, lisping, potty-training little devils. There were eight more years left on my sentence, but I wasn’t about to stick around for those. As a toothfairy, I needed teeth, and the little three and four-year-old varmints weren’t losing theirs anytime soon. As of tonight, I would ditch my phone, slip into the woods, and go off the grid. They’d never find me in the mountains.
Why The Organization of Toothfairies and Hygienists (or TOOTH) thought twenty years as a preschool teacher of human ankle-biters was a justifiable sentence, who knows? Without a stable supply of lost teeth, it should have been placed under the category of cruel and unusual punishment. All I did was collect a couple gold caps and half a dozen silver filled teeth. I’d even left a bright, shiny nickel under their owners’ pillows, as any good toothfairy would. The TOOTH Board of Judgement had barely even listened to my defense, arguing that prying teeth from sleeping citizen’s heads was a first-degree offense.
I looked through the window just in time to see one of the little pests pitch forward off the slide and land on its face. A well of excitement flooded me as it came up bawling, snot and mulch stuck to its face. The excitement faded quickly when I noticed there was no blood, no chance it had knocked out a tooth.
The rest of the day dragged on slower than normal, but three o’ clock finally came. The little whipper snappers’ parental units started crowding the entranceway, collecting their little ones to go home.
“Goodbye, Miss Anug,” the pigtailed one called, waving. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Not likely,” I mumbled too low for her to hear, as I waved back and chucked my cell phone into the waste bin.
Then, he walked in. His dazzling smile seemed to light up the entire room. He was a dream with naturally straight teeth and bi-cuspids that dropped just a tad bit longer than the lateral incisors and first premolars beside them—vampire style. It was hard to tear my eyes away from his magnificent mouth but I did, just long enough to check for a wedding band. Nope. The blood in my veins tingled as I strolled across the classroom.
“Hello,” I said to him. He looked up from zipping his kid’s sweatshirt. “I don’t believe we’ve met,” I added, extending my hand.
“Oh, hi,” he said, flashing me a luminous smile and taking my hand in a quick greeting. “You must be Miss Anug. I’m Chris—Aidan’s dad.”
“Aidan?” I glanced down at the child by his side. The little snot-slinger had his dad’s dark eyes and hair, but his grin was full of spaces. Eck. “Oh, yes, that one.”
“Yeah, my sister has handled the drop-offs and pick-ups up ‘til now, but she got a job so it’ll be me from now on.” Chris’ bright-beamed smile brought my eyes back to his marvelous maw.
“Is that so?” My stomach did a flip-flop. This carnassial Adonis would be gracing the entrance of the classroom twice a day? Awesome!
“Yeah,” Chris said. “Well, it was nice to meet you, Miss Anug. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I look forward to it,” I replied.
I stood there in the middle of all the going-home chaos and watched him steer that Aidan child through the crowd and out the door, making my day a little dimmer for the loss. I ignored the goodbyes the other little heathens called out to me as I drifted back to my desk and sat down, thinking about Chris’s glorious set of chompers. It was dark outside when I finally finished making my decision. I fished my phone out of the waste bin and set another reminder for a year’s time.