Torturing Characters

The incomparable Charlie Jane Anders has posted another useful series of writing tips on, which is currently one of my favourite sites on the web – it’s got a great mix of science, science fiction and general cool geekiness. My sort of people!

Many writers, myself included, have a natural habit of turning away from making bad things happen to people they like (their characters). But who wants to read a book where nobody is in peril? So it’s a constant process of reminding yourself as you write to up the stakes, to complicate things, to take every opportunity when a decision is made to make it either be the wrong one, or one that complicates life.

In a recent chapter of a work in progress, I realized that one of the main characters would realize her parents would potentially be in danger if they came to visit her. So immediately I started writing the scene where she convinces them not to come. And then I reminded myself of what I was doing. My own parents: sure I’d want to convince them to stay away from danger. But fictional parents have to insist on coming, complicating the character’s already complicated circumstances.

It’s a habit to learn. Charlie’s tips are good ones. I especially like number 3: “People should suffer for their mistakes, but also their good deeds.”