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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Writing About: Your Character’s Toughest Moment

Throughout my (unpublished) supernatural-thriller series, my protagonist goes through many difficult trials and experiences devastating events. I don’t want to give away any major details about what it is she goes through, but I will say some of the things she suffers is real (many women are scared of the same things) and some of them are surreal.


Here are 4 tips to help you write about your character’s toughest moments:

1.    What would you do?

When I first created my blog, I published this post to remind writers to put themselves in their character’s shoes, as it is the only way to create a relatable and convincing story. What would you do if you were faced with the same situation? Search deep for your answers and be honest! Readers like it when authors write honestly and when the situations in books are believable. 
2.    Write vividly!

When you are writing the scene that is your character’s toughest moment, write as vividly as you can, or as vividly as your story will allow you to be. I say that because some writers don’t write as detailed as others (and that is fine). You can keep to your style while also adding in a sprinkle more prose when it is needed, and it is needed for these moments.

You will want to SHOW your readers what is happening to your character, not tell them. What’s the difference, you ask? The difference is in the detail. When you create a clear image in the reader’s mind of what is happening, you are showing. When you use statements, you are telling. 

Example: She was devastated. Okay, you are telling us she’s devastated but we want to see how she is devastated.

Describe everything your character does, feels and thinks. And include all of their senses if possible. What does your character see, hear, smell, taste and feel? 


3.    Always, always, always use emotion!

We are so full of emotions that they sometimes burst out of us. A character’s emotions should be exploding off the page when you write about a tragic time in their life. Reveal their emotions about what they went through and don’t hold back. Even if you think people would cringe (ex: if your character’s thoughts are suicidal), write it anyway. When it comes to our emotions, nothing is farfetched!

How do they feel? That question can have many answers and they may not be simple. If your character is in grief, here are the five stages of grief he/she can experience: 

1.    Denial and Isolation
2.    Anger
3.    Bargaining (If only I...)
4.    Depression
5.    Acceptance

4.    Help your character.

Whatever your character’s toughest moment is, you can’t merely write about it. You also have to help your character through it. Help him/her through the stages of grief to acceptance.
Questions to answer: 
1. What does your character learn?
2. How does it change him/her? 


 SHARE: Your tips for writing about your character’s toughest moment(s).


 QUESTION: What is the hardest thing you ever put a character through?

 My Answer: The hardest thing I put one of my characters through was rape. It was not  an easy decision to make, and it was extremely hard to write. I know many readers don't like  scenes like this in books, but I felt it was important for my story and I stand by that decision.




40 comments:

  1. My MC isn't usually bothered by ANYTHING, but about halfway through the book he more or less gets cheated on, and then two days later gets beaten up by one of his friends. So yeah, I kinda put him through the ringer. I think it works because it's one of the few times where he shows some vulnerability.

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    1. Your MC must be very tough, but I like it that you were able to show his vulnerability.

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  2. The farthest I've gone is attempted rape, but got stopped in the end. I put them all through the ringer though, even the quirky side characters

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    1. I think it's our job as the writers to put our characters through the ringer, because in real life we go through the ringer a lot. Our characters should, too.

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  3. Never put them through anything that horrific. Death of a loved one has been the toughest so far.

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    1. If you had asked me before I wrote that scene if I would ever write a rape scene, I probably would've told you "no". I had no idea it was going to happen until the moment came.

      Death of a loved one is very hard. I've put my characters through that, too.

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  4. This is awesome. It is tough to create these characters and make life miserable for them, but these tips will definitely help.

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    1. I'm glad my tips help! It is hard to put our character through something traumatic; they're like our kids! But I feel it's our duty as writers.

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  5. Awesome tips, Chrys. I will put these to work in my novel. The hardest thing my character will go through in my novel is abuse but I'm not sure I'll take it to actual rape. Also, in one of my short stories there will be a domestic violence scene. The story being about her decision to leave and how she does it. I'm kind of having a hard time approaching that one but I think it's important to be gut wrenching. The reader wants to root for the character and if they overcome an ordeal it makes them heroic in a way. your tips are perfect timing for me Chrys and will help me write that scene.

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    1. I have a WIP with a woman who deals with domestic violence. I hope to finish it someday soon because domestic violence awareness is a cause I really believe in and support. I'm happy that your writing a story about it, too. You're right that being gut-wrenching is important.

      I'm glad I posted this in time for you to use the tips, Lisa! :)

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  6. Great tips,, Chrys! Because I write mysteries, my heroines and her friends are accused of murder, put in physical danger, and sometimes betrayed by people they trust. All in a day's work. (grin)

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  7. Wonderful tips, Chrys! And we have to put our characters through what is necessary to make them grow.

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  8. The hardest stuff my character deals with is still unpublished. He spends several years being tortured... Though I've written it, I don't know if it'll ever see the light of day, or if it'll just get glossed over by the time I'm done.

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    1. The hardest thing I mentioned one of my characters went through is also unpublished. I hope your story does see the light of day and doesn't get glossed over.

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  9. "What would you do" is a tough one if you're writing characters with traits or abilities or attitudes vastly different from your own. It takes an extra mental leap to imagine what would you do if you were that character.

    The hardest thing my character had to do was kill her own brother, because it was the only kind thing to do in an impossible situation. 'Nuff said, don't want to give everything away :)

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    1. I agree it's tough if the characters aren't like us, but just answering that question can help you to figure out what your character would, or in this case, would not do. It does take a lot to put yourself in your character's place, but we create them and we are write their story, so we should be able to put ourselves in their shoes even if its only a toe. lol

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  10. Stepping in their shoes is surely a great way to guide their journey, especially during the toughest parts.

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    1. It sure is. And it helps us to relate to them even more. I never went through any of the things my character did in my unpublished series, but when I stepped in her shoes I was able to get her through it all.

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  11. The hardest thing I put my character through? Death!

    It's important to provide detailed information (which is telling in my opinion, being that we are story "tellers" and readers will make up their own mind in what they see), but during action, I personally keep it timely and short. If someone's being chased by a monster that's ripping cars apart in passing, that someone will be dead before they get through all of their five senses. :)

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    1. I haven't thought of that but death would definitely be the hardest . . . and I have killed off a beloved character in the past.

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  12. I've put a lot of my characters through some pretty awful, dark stuff (though that's kind of a given for my Shoah characters in particular). Even my secondary characters have had to go through difficult things. It can be emotionally grueling to write some of these scenes and chapters, like the polio chapter in my WIP. The secondary character who has two of her children sickened by polio has already lost her first two children to diphtheria and suffered a miscarriage and stillbirth, to say nothing of the experience of the two young girls themselves. It's fun to research things like Iranian history and the 1920s; it's not very fun to read firsthand accounts of polio and watch videos of iron lungs.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean by it being grueling to write these scenes. It's hard imagining the pain both physical and emotional our character's feel, but we have to feel it(even just a little) to be able to write it.

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  13. YES. Great advice. I've pretty much memorized the grief cycle--thank you writing. I blogged about torturing characters today, so we must be riding the same brain wave. =)

    I am insanely cruel to my characters. Seriously. I wish I could be nicer, but I can't. And I won't spoil why I'm so mean here because the book is coming out in just a couple months. I do believe that you should take away everything, absolutely everything a character holds dear if you really want them to grow. =)

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    1. HAHA! I blogged about torture scenes last year. I actually had fun with the torture scene, which says how cruel I am. lol I believe that, too.

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  14. Great post, Chrys. We do tend to be tough on our characters, don't we? But I agree with what Crystal said in her comment, we almost have to if we want them to grow. I'd never really thought about what I put my characters through until your post. Death of a loved one, attempted rape, kidnapped family member are a few in my past projects.

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    1. Yes, we tend to be tough, but it's important that we are. I also agree with Crystal's comment.

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  15. Since my writing is pretty dark, my characters have been through almost everything you could think of: gang rape, murder, slavery, being burned alive, possession, being raped by a ghost, attempted murder by a parent, neglect, and all kinds of abuse.

    It's never gratuitous, and like you said, it's only there if it's necessary for telling the story. After writing the gang rape scene, I threw up. A lot of the times, I cry. My characters seem like real people to me, and I have a ton of empathy for them.

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    1. Oh gosh! While I was reading that list I would cringe more and more. It sounds like you really do put yourself in your character's shoes to have those kinds of reactions.

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  16. I put my character through the wringer. Her adventure starts with finding a dead body and it all goes downhill from there. Sometimes I feel bad about torturing her, but no one likes reading about the easy stuff. :-)

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    1. You're right! No one likes to read the easy stuff.

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  17. Great tips, Jaclyn! Each of these 4 is really important, and I constantly have to remind myself to "show" not "tell." Thanks for posting.

    As far as the toughest spot for my main character, that would have to be at the end of my story. By then, she has lost her entire family, lives with the suicidal guilt of having chosen not to save the love of her life, and has seen a societal movement she supported gradually get co-opted into something she doesn't believe in. I guess I'm kind of mean to her. But she handles it all with hope and persistance. Basically, I wrote her response to all the events into what I wish I would be able to do in her case.

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    1. You're welcome for the tips, Matt. I'm pretty mean to my characters, too. We have to be. But you did it right by giving her responses that you wish you would have in her case.

      Thank you for stopping by. :)

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  18. I love, love, love this Chrys! Great advice, especially numbers one and two. I ALWAYS put myself in my character's shoes which is why I'm often finding myself experiencing all of the emotions the reader would expect to feel. And being vivid is a MUST. The more details and less telling, the better your craft will be. The reader wants to be inside your story and the more descriptive you are, the more likely he/she will be able to envision everything more clearly.
    I don't want to say what the hardest thing I had to put one of my characters in just yet because it was pretty dark. I even cried when I re-read my words just to make sure I was still the same person writing them! It's amazing how we can still surprise ourselves sometimes when our mind is so entrapped by our plot.

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    1. I do the same thing! I love it when I read my work over again and I react like I hope my readers will. It tells me I did it right. I surprise mysefl all the time! :D

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  19. When it's on the brink of a breakdown, I have my characters 'do' things to show how torn up they are first then let the emotions run. Your second rule is what I always tell my students: Don't tell me he's scared. Show me how he's scared. Show me the trembles shooting through his back. These may be our characters' toughest moment, but they are usually our best moments in writing, too.

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    1. Your last sentence sums it up perfectly, Claudine!

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  20. I have a rape scene in my series, too. I never meant it to be there, but it ended up being THE turning point of the story; everything else hinged on that moment.

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    1. Exactly! We're do much a like, because I didn't intend it to be there, but it was also the turning point for my story and even my series.

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