Writing Tips

Haven’t My Characters Suffered Enough?

The best writing advice I’ve received so far was the answer to this question:

No, they haven’t.

I’ve always found it fairly easy to give my characters inner conflict. At least, that’s what I thought before I started working with an editor. I gave my characters a few issues to overcome during the course of the book and I thought that that would be enough. I was convinced that this, along with whatever external conflict they were dealing with, would sustain the 50 000 words of my romance novel.

And it could, I suppose, but the question then became, did I really only want to give my reader enough?

Generally, I gave my hero and heroine a major issue like losing a loved one or being cheated on. Then, I would develop this into related issues like a fear of loving or trusting another person again. These were obviously obstacles to my characters’ happiness and I was satisfied with the challenges that they had to go through because of them. In my naïve opinion, they were suffering enough, so I had no reason to give them any more issues or to develop these issues any further.

I was wrong.

The first time I realised this was when my editor told me that my characters weren’t supposed to have the kind of relationship that I wanted in real life. Characters should have baggage and demons. They should be avoiding their issues – or at least, barely dealing with them – until someone forces them to face it. While there may be only one major issue, the related issues are where you make your characters suffer.

If my hero’s lost a loved one, for example, there should be a fear of loving again, yes. But would that mean? Maybe my hero hasn’t committed to anyone. Or, to be really mean (and by now, we know that we have to be), he has committed to someone, and it didn’t work out. Now, we have an initial fear that has been reinforced by another event. So my hero decides that he’s not interested in finding love, and instead, becomes a bit of a playboy, or a workaholic (or both), creating yet another obstacle to him finding love.

Now we start the book with an external conflict that plays to one of these issues.

If he’s a workaholic, you threaten his job. Or the only family he has left. The heroine is the only one who can help him save the thing that means so much to him. Of course, she has her own issues which motivate her choosing to help him. Issues that make it just as difficult for her to fall in love…

I love my characters, so I often find myself asking “haven’t they suffered enough”? It’s one of my biggest challenges as a writer, and what I’ve shared today is what I’ve learned about it so far. I hope it helps!

Do you have any advice about making your characters suffer? Share them in this post or get in touch with me on Twitter @ThereseBeharrie or on Facebook at Therese Beharrie, Author!