February 26, 2013

Chrys’ Writing Rules: Bad Things Must Happen

The first rule I greatly believe in when I am writing is that you must let bad things happen to your characters, especially the protagonist.

Did you just start hyperventilating? Do you think I’m a cruel writer?

Take a slow, deep breath. I know how much you love your characters. They are a part of you. You ripped them from your subconscious, from the greater parts of your being. You want to cuddle them in your arms, as you would a new born baby, because sometimes creating a character feels equivalent to giving birth or siring a child. You want to protect them in your writing. You want to keep the big, bad antagonist away from them. You’ve read books where the author puts their characters through something terrible. You shake your head and think, “I could never do that!”

I get it! Believe me, I do! 

In our lives bad things happen to us. We would never choose to let these things happen if we had the choice, but sometimes we have no control over the things that happen, like a cancer diagnosis, a car accident that wasn’t our fault, or a job layoff. However, we do have control over what happens to our characters, and while we may want to shield them, make them happy, and only let good things happen to them that isn’t life. Does it sound like your life? Are you always happy? Do only good things happen to you? I would bet not!

It is crucial to make your book realistic to life, which means bad things must happen to your characters! This may be difficult at first, but once you ponder your story idea for a while, you’ll start to think of some not-so-happy situations that could happen in your book, and some bad things that could happen to your characters. But make sure it is authentic to the plot! You can't just throw in tragedy for the sake of tragedy. Everything you write has to play out thoroughly and come together perfectly to create a complete story.

The important thing is to know what you’re going to do to help the characters grow from the hardships, and how they can use them to conquer the antagonist or reach their goal.

Anne Lamott says, “You are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story.”

QUESTIONS: Do you agree or disagree with this writing rule? 

What is something bad that you will let/have let happen to one of your characters?


  1. Maybe I'm a cruel author too, but I find that my characters are far better able to show who they are when struck by dreadful events. I think it's crucial, however, that the "bad things" of your novel feel organic to the plot, and not merely efforts to randomly spice up the adventure or win sympathy for the character. As a reader, I often "buy in" to bad events in books if the author develops all of the implications and complications of a single situation, rather than creating a laundry list of separate events.

  2. I'm glad that I'm not the only cruel writer. ;) I wouldn't even be able to guess what my characters would be like in my book if I hadn't written tragedies and hardships that they had to overcome. They wouldn’t be like anyone I know that’s for sure! And absolutely! Everything has to have a purpose and come together in the grand scheme of the plot. That is another rule of mine. ;)