Monday, May 2, 2016

Don’t Over-protect Your Characters

The title of this post is also a post-it I have over my computer. Reminder to self.

In my first chapter book story, written with the hope to publish, the main character dealt with such challenging issues as wondering how to make others hear him, how to accept less than perfect days, and how to accept a new sibling. All this he did while his loving and supportive family was both nurturing and helpful. The boy had the childhood we all wished we had, and wish with all our might we have the wisdom to give to our children.

I think I wanted to wrap him in a warm and fluffy blanket and keep him from harm. No wonder this story was a non-starter as far as the publishing world goes.

You think I might have been over-protective?

It took me a while to allow my characters, a.k.a. my fictional children, to get into deep trouble. The kind of trouble I would hope my real-life children never will.

And then, of course, the characters find a way out of the bind. It could be they defeat some evil, solve an urgent practical problem, or accept a difficult aspect of life internally. But they had to be in deep doodoo to begin with. It was hard.

I’m still working on it. I know I’ve made progress because one beta reader asked me recently why the antagonists in my story had to be so awful. Couldn’t they be, well, more reasonable? I explained that they could, but then there isn’t any story to tell.

Editors sometimes refer to this as “raising the stakes.” Don’t fear it, face it, and the readers will have a chance to do the same.


  1. LOL Mirka, when I wrote my first novel, I gave my MC a break when things got too rough. My mentor said to CUT that chapter. Vijaya

  2. I think I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum. Oh the things I put my poor character through! LOL One of the characters in the Touch of Death series died multiple times. The beauty of having a cast of necromancers. That poor character though!

  3. This is good writing advice to keep in mind. I find it somewhat therapeutic to metaphorically torture my characters...or in the case of one of my WIPs, my main character is actually tortured. That story definitely made my critique partners look at me in a whole new light!

  4. That's a good post-it reminder to have, Mirka. I was protective of my MC when I wrote my first picture book, too. Then when I went on to my novel, I got my MC into emotionally hurtful situations (and I felt very sorry for her) but it was necessary. Only then could I learn how tough she could be. :)

  5. Well put. I've had moments where I've been crying as I write a tough part of the story. Pathetic. :) But this was a good reminder that we sometimes need to let things happen.