The first time I cried while writing something for one of my own stories, I was utterly appalled. I couldn’t decide if it was a symptom of wild, raging egotism or if maybe it showed that I had finally allowed myself to write a scenario where not all of my precious characters come out the better. And since it is something that continues to happen on the rare occasion, it is something I find myself pondering whenever I’m moved to tears by my own brain.
Generally I’ve decided that it is a good thing, even if on some level it makes me think I might be more full of myself than I like to imagine. In my earliest stories, no one ever died or suffered or was ugly or didn’t get the girl at the end. The endings were tidily sewn up with marriages, long-lost-whoevers returning to concerned loved-ones, and battles with casualties only on the baddies’ side. I just couldn’t bear to hurt them. Thankfully I started growing out of this a few years ago when I began to examine my motivations closely. During this period, I realized that the origin of this bad habit could be easily traced back to my childhood.
When I was about five or six, watching some manner of family-friendly fantasy adventure, my sister noticed that I was getting rather too shaken up by the various ups and downs of the plot line. Finally, after I started crying and wringing my hands over the fact that the hero appeared to be dying in the middle of the movie, she tried to reason with me.
“You know he can’t die, right? He’s the main character.” I stared at her. “Without him, there isn’t a story.”
My mind was blown. I remember doing a quick canvas of all of my favorite movies in my head, and decided she was right. I cannot even describe to you the feeling of calm that replaced the worry I felt over the character’s well-being. And for a while, I was able to enjoy the story aspect of movies and books to a much fuller extent since I didn’t have to worry so much.
Granted, by the time I was introduced to movies like Braveheart and Gladiator a few years later, I realized that the safety of a main character is really only guaranteed in children’s stories. And then my brain exploded again, this time accompanied by more crying and hand-wringing. To this day, I still become overwhelmed with concern for characters to the point that I sometimes cannot sit through a movie or book that plays with my emotions too much, which is one reason that I’m only passingly familiar with some of the most influential stories of the past decade, including the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.
So those of you reading this post: do your characters or scenarios ever fill you with woe? If so, how do you manage to remain relentless in your treatment of them?