Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Don't Be Cruel... Well, Not THAT Cruel.

Haven't got a lot of time for a real post today, so I thought I'd open up for some discussion of a topic that I've been giving a lot of thought during this revision.

How cruel is too cruel? I mean, we're not supposed to make it easy on our characters, and tension and conflict are what make stories memorable. But is there a point-- if the situation in question has no influence on the plot, only the character-- where doing bad things to your characters stops building character and becomes cruel and unusual? Or needless and gratuitous?

Or is simply the fact that the characters must react to this stimulus, no matter how horrible, enough to warrant such cruelty?

Any thoughts, or examples? I'd love to hear them.


L.T. Elliot said...

IMO, I think that nothing should happen to your character that doesn't have bearing on the plot or character growth. Everything needs to tie in. Stuff happens in real life that isn't fair and doesn't make sense but in the world of novels, I think nothing should happen without a purpose. =] That's my take anyhow. What's yours?

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks for adding your two cents, L.T.!

I tend to agree-- that every cruelty you lavish on your characters must have a purpose. So that's why I've been waffling. It's harder for me to judge what is necessary to character development than plot. Is there a justifiable reason for this to happen? Is the character's reaction necessary for what happens later?

I'm thinking if I did do the horrid thing I'm thinking of, I wouldn't be happy with it until I tied it into the plot somehow. Thanks again!

Abby Annis said...

You're so mean! :)

I agree with L.T. If it's not central to the plot or character development, I don't think it should be included.

I'm going to have to think some more about this. It seems like there's an example in my brain somewhere, I just can't think of it right now. Totally brain dead today. :) Good thoughts, though. I'll let you know if I come up with something.

Dawn Simon said...

I agree with what has already been said: it has to push the plot forward or further the character's development. I just rewrote my book's climax and was asking myself similar questions.

Corey Schwartz said...

Funny you should mention this now because I am still shell-shocked about the season finale of Dexter! Dexter made some very bad choices throughout the season, but he had to pay the ultimate price, and I wonder if maybe it was too much? The writers made an incredibly bold choice, but will it ruin next season? I don't see how his character can get past what happened. Okay, sorry.. this will make no sense if you haven't seen the show.

Susan R. Mills said...

During my rewrites, I've found myself putting my characters through a lot more bad stuff than I did in the original version. It's all adding to the plot line though. I'm not sure when cruely becomes gratuitous, but you've definitely given me something to think about.

Tere Kirkland said...

Abby, Dawn, I'm with you. But I get a little confused when I think about character development outside of the context of the plot. Is there such a thing, or are the two inextricably connected?

Corey! Ack! I'm still fuming over the end of Dexter. That's actually in part what inspired this post. I've been thinking long and hard about the finale and how it will change what happens next season. Which in turn has led me to question my choices in my writing. Like, am I being too nice?

Susan, glad I could give you something to think about. It's been during my rewrite that I'm finding myself in the same position.

Thanks, everyone, for such a thought provoking discussion!