Friday, March 28, 2014


(I swear this isn't a post about my book by the same name... but my thoughts on this are exactly why I wrote that book).

I HATE reading a book where you know what's going to happen before you get to the end. Hate it. I don't mean know the ending like knowing that in a romance novel the characters will end up together. I mean when you see the big surprise coming from a mile away. The sudden twist at the end.

Not all books have twists, and that's fine. But you shouldn't be able to predict the whole plot of a book from the first few pages. I want to be surprised and amazed and confused.

I mean, obviously, my overwhelming intelligence (and oh so impressive modesty) makes this difficult. *snerk* But there are so many books out there where I have been surprised, or at least not seen the entire plot coming. So it's clearly possible.

It doesn't have to be a major twist, like revealing that the narrator is the murderer, a la Agatha Christie (um, spoiler?). I just feel like sometimes when teachers cover foreshadowing in grade school that future authors grab it and run with it and then fill their books with it to the point that it completely ruins any possible surprise that may be coming.

This is where misdirection comes into play. I mean, if you're going to drop hints about what's coming, drop some wrong hints too. Make the author think you're headed one way and then careen in a different direction. Shake things up a bit. Lay the groundwork for many possibilities and then let the reader scramble to try and figure out which way you're actually going.

Of course, like anything, this too can be overdone. If you try too hard to misdirect, your reader winds up never really know what's going on, with too many possibilities and dangling plot points. Tie things up neatly, people.

So, in short, please try to make your book interesting to me. That is all.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers

The Disaster That Has Befallen

Let me get right to the point.

Our highly beloved Julie Butcher, who brings you the Baby Evil Writers posts on a regular basis in addition to pretty much giving the shirt off her back to anybody in need, could use a hand just now.

Last Sunday her husband got on the wrong side of a chainsaw. What this means, for those of you unfamiliar with chainsaws, is that he's in the hospital with a leg that looks, I'm told, like it's been mauled by a grizzly. He's had two surgeries and will need another. He's also not likely to be working for quite awhile to come.

Here at the Evil League we believe in taking care of our own, and so we are putting together an extravaganza of a fundraiser to help Julie and family out with medical bills and expenses. The fundraiser will be run through a crowd funding site and will go live on April 1st.

How can you help?

Bless you, I knew that would be your first question. So let me count the ways.

1. Contribute goods and services. 

Between now and April 1st we are collecting items to offer up as perks and incentives. We are open to all sorts of objects such as handmade arts and crafts or copies of your books, as well as services like critiques, time with you at a convention, online chat time - whatever you have to offer that readers, writers, or the population at large might find of value.

2. Donate

When the fundraiser goes live, have a look around for perks that appeal to you and donate to the cause. You'll get something awesome in return for helping out a fellow writer in a tough spot. Win/Win all round.

3. Share the Love

Let everybody know. Share the word with your connections and ask them to pass it along. The more people  that know about this, the more money we can raise. Even if you're too busy or too broke to be able to pitch in with Contributing or Donating, if you can find a minute to retweet or repost you are definitely helping out the cause.

To make it easy for those of you who would like to contribute goods and/or services, here is a handy dandy form that will get your info directly to the Evil Goddesses who are running this show. Questions? Please ask. We will do our best to answer.

All the Things

It's apparently burn-out week here at the league. I'm not quite in the state Skyla had hit, but I realized when a multitude of "other things" came in yesterday that I'm damn close.
You see, this maddening, wonderful thing happens after you've published a few books. People want you…for everything. Do these panels at a convention? Sure! Heck, you want to lead the literary track for this other convention? OMG, yes! Donate something to this awesome cause? Of course! Do this, that, and the other thing? Why not?
It is very difficult for someone with my personality type to say no. I want to help people and I feel honored when I'm asked. So I end up saying yes far too much. I say yes until it gets to the point where I'm sitting at my computer, trying to write, and all the other things come to a head and I end up sitting there and crying instead.
And that doesn't even take my writing into account.
This is the first time I've publicly acknowledged why I'm not on social media as much as I used to be. I simply don't have time. I've volunteered myself into a corner I'm desperately trying to claw my way out of. (To make matters worse, since my divorce, I've been big on the standing on my own two feet thing, so I don't ask for help. From anyone. )
I'm using myself as an example not so everyone does the "Poor Seleste" thing. I'm using myself as a cautionary tale, because I can see all those other things pushing me to the point that I also hate the writing. (Without the writing, I wouldn't be in this situation.) I've set myself up in a whirlwind custom designed to promote burn-out.

Don't do that to yourself.

Seriously, learn to say no. And then say it early and often.
"No, I can't have all the neighborhood kids over to my house."
"No, I can't critique your manuscript."
"No, I can't come to that book signing."
"No, I can't do that conference."
"No, as much as I'd love to, I can't do one more charity anything."
"No, I cannot do all the things, no matter how hard I try."

Say yes too, of course, but say it with care. They add up and multiply before you realize it, and then you're buried in yeses and can't see your way out. Figure out your limits and then, for goodness sake, don't push them all the time.

Now, I need to get back to all the things. I'm counting the days until I'm out of this corner and can breathe again--and I thank my lucky stars there was a time limit on most of my yeses.

Monday, March 24, 2014

How Skyla Got Her Groove Back

Remember this post? Remember how utterly miserable I've been for well over a year, writing but hating it, wanting nothing more than to close up shop and sell artisan hummus instead?


Last month, I finished a really rough draft of a book I'd started last year, and I'm now 53K words into the next book. I should finish it within the next few weeks. And I am enjoying every goddamn second of it, even when I think it's terrible, or incoherent, or reads like a video game on paper. I wrote 400K last year, but this...this is different.

I wake up in the morning...thinking about The Story.

I go through my day itching, using all of my concentration to work on paying gigs...while thinking about The Story.

My gaze trails to the side mid-sentence when I'm talking, brain tuning everything out...because I'm thinking about The Story.

When I finally, finally get to write, I'm practically jumping out of my skin and stay up far past my bedtime, getting in up to 9K some days...playing with The Story.

And I drift off to sleep, playing upcoming scenes in my head. I dream...dream of The Story.

It's obsessive and probably not healthy, and my apartment is a mess, and I've eaten so many nachos I probably smell like jalapenos...but by god it is GLORIOUS.

How did it happen, when I didn't think I'd ever be at this place again? Because, really, last year I thought this was it for me as a writer. I was done. I panicked at the thought of trying to find something else to do with my time, some other career. I was miserable.

If you find yourself in this place, where your words are broken and you're burnt out and unhappy...these are the steps that worked for me.

First, a caveat: I'm talking to the workaholics and career writers in the crowd. If you're a dabbler looking for someone to reassure you Writer's Block Is A Real Thing, you won't find it here. STFU and go sit in the corner, I don't have time for you.

Second: major credit goes to Lilith Saintcrow, for reassuring me I was going through a normal thing and giving me strategies for dealing. Go buy her books.

Now, here are some basic steps, broken writers.

1. Acknowledge This Is A Thing.

If you are churning out thousands of words but you still hate the process of writing; if you've lost that burning need to tell the story; if you'd rather watch Psych reruns and knit than're burned out.

People are going to tell you that you're not broken, that your writing is fine, that it's all in your head. On one hand, yes, it's in your head. So are a lot of things.

It doesn't mean it's not real.

They're trying to be reassuring and mean well, but you don't need to be reassured right now; you need to be validated. So I'm telling you, this is an actual thing. You're not crazy, it's not just in your head. You are going through a real thing, and you can't recover until you acknowledge there's something you need to recover from.

2. Make Other Arrangements.

You're a professional writer? You have deadlines? Make other arrangements. Not always possible, I know, but you want the minimum amount of pressure right now. The self-imposed deadlines? Toss 'em. If you're writing to keep a roof over your head and you absolutely, 100% cannot set things aside, fine. But I'm going to go ahead and say it: if you can, get a part time job stocking shelves for a few months. Which sounds stupid and crazy, I know, but just do it.

And the reason for this is...

3. Stop Writing.

Just stop it.

Generally I tell people to never stop. Write through the suck. Write through the doubt. Write when it's hard and scary. Write through exhaustion.

You can't when you're burned out. Lili put me on a three month regime of exercise, refilling the well, and a limit of fifteen minutes of writing a day.

Of course, just when I was feeling it coming back, I lost my full time job and was thrown into a tailspin of panic and depression. I completely lost my focus--it was several months before I could buckle down and do things that required my brain, like reading and editing, etc. But the benefit there was that it forced even MORE months of rest onto me. Which was ultimately the best thing for me.

4. Let Go.

I tried to get back on the horse in January. And I hated it. Hated hated HATED it.

Then I said, fuck it.

Flipping that switch changed everything. I know it's cliche, but it's true: you have to let go ENTIRELY. Let go of the expectations. Let go of the pressure. Just say fuck this noise, I will write when I'm good and ready. Because the more you try to force it, the more damage you'll do to yourself, and the longer your recover will ultimately take.

Interestingly, also in January I had a particularly bad episode of dysphoric mania that *probably* should've hospitalized me if I wasn't so goddamn stubborn. It resulted in a week of being sedated in bed and, you know, it was probably the next best thing for me. Like a brain reset. Because I let go of absolutely everything, keeping a focus on getting better instead or worrying, and that somehow shuffled everything into place.

5. Be Aware.

I can't say how or when, but it'll click again.

If you have faith in nothing else, have faith in that. Just learn to pay attention and listen, and when you feel that tickling of the Story against your consciousness, listen to it. Follow it. Learn yourself, learn to know when you don't want to write because something's wrong with you versus when you're avoiding because you're a lazy bitch.

6. Take It Easy.

Writing after burnout--after a long absence--feels mentally like you've been in an accident and you're re-learning how to walk.

You can't push it. When I got started again in February, I was very careful--I knew trying for 5K days wasn't healthy. I started small, just 2K and 3K here and there. It was a month before I built up to long days.

It's scary. There's a constant feeling of doubt, of terror that the magic is suddenly going to slip away again. The need to second guess, to go back and edit, is stronger than ever. There's a shakiness, reworking muscles that haven't been in use, struggling to find the balance between stretching and not straining.

You can do more damage to yourself in these early stages. So don't push it. At the end of writing sessions, leave yourself wanting to do more than pushing so hard you're burned out again. If you have a particularly productive day, force a break the day after.

So there are my tips. That's how Skyla got her groove back.

Have you been through long-term burnout? What strategies would you offer others?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Baby Evil Writers 101: Don't Do This to Me Ever

Baby Evil Writers 101
Julie Butcher

So I've been doing a lot of reading for writers lately and some of the openings make me want to go and find the writer and smack them hard in the face.

Your opening is the very first time I get to meet your character and I really want to like them. I do. I’m quite sure that the lovely agents and editors want to love them. So let’s pretend that you are in a car and you've never met this person before. You’re going on a twelve hour drive with them. Just you and them. Now let’s pretend that you are telepathic and that you can read their mind.

Now go and read the first two pages of your manuscript. I’ll wait.
Did you have your character do or say or think any of the following things?

1.       I don’t want to be here.
2.       I hate her/him/it/them.
3.       I’m going to vomit/spit/pee/poop
4.       I need to use the bathroom.
5.       I’m bored.
6.       I’m tired.
7.       Life sucks.
8.       I wish I was dead.
9.       I wish you were dead.
10.   I want to kill them
11.   That anything or anyone is stupid. (Including themselves.)
12.   That anyone or anything is dumb, boring or gross.
13.   They want to have sex with something or someone.

Now I want you to pretend that this stranger character said all of the things that they thought and said directly to you. Do you want to be in the car with them for twelve hours? Because I probably won’t. 

What you’re asking the reader to do is to spend twelve hours with a virtual stranger. FOR THE SAKE OF ALL THAT IS EVIL AND WRONG IN THE WORLD do not do those things.

If you met someone at a cocktail party, and they threw up on your little black dress, would you stay around to get to know them?

I wouldn’t.

If they said any of the above things to you, a stranger, would you want to give them your precious time?


All-righty then. Go and delete those pages and introduce your character in a way that shows us who they are inside. Give us a glimpse of the very best part of their soul. Make us want to know them better before we learn their weird preferences and nasty quirks.

No bodily fluids.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sympathetic is Overrated

I was in a twitter chat the other day, and we started discussing villains. Since bad guys are some of my favorite people to write, I enjoy the enthusiasm everyone seems to have for them lately. The villain, in a lot of ways, is stepping into the spotlight. That works for me. I always liked him best anyway.

And I'm not going to disagree with the idea of a sympathetic villain...well, not completely. I understand what makes a sympathetic villain compelling, and I think all characters should have depth. Of course. But, a lot of the common thread in that villain conversation went along the lines of: a villain has to be sympathetic.

Well I've never liked absolutes.

In fact, personally, I'm getting a little sick of the sympathetic villain. Not a popular opinion, I know. When I said it in chat they looked at me (a nice trick on twitter) like I'd grown a second head. But I meant it. I don't think a sympathetic villain is wrong, I just wish EVERYONE would stop doing it. But I feel the same way about anti-heroes too, and tortured, badass heroines. So I may be the one with a screw loose here.

As to villains, sometimes, every now and then, I like one that is just plain, old fashioned, bad to the bone. For no good damn reason. I don't always want to know that they exploit the weak and terrorize the country because their father didn't love them, or their kitten was stolen or whatever the feck happened to them to "make them this way."

I miss a villain who exploits the weak because he can. I like a villain who takes from others because she wants to. Who seeks power because he's power hungry. Because maybe he's just a selfish asshole. Maybe he thinks his needs are more important than others, and maybe we want a sympathetic villain because we don't want to admit that that sort of person exists.

And that's where I think we might be deluding ourselves a little.

I like to think that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, and I usually am the first person to give it to them. Most people in this world have very good reasons for what they do, even if they aren't reasons we agree with. But I think it's pretty naive to say that ALL evil is done for a sympathetic 'reason.' Too many people have proved me wrong.

Bad people exist. They don't get a sympathetic excuse from me. Not always. Selfishness exists, corruption exists. Etc. I don't want to sympathize with everyone, because I don't want to be tempted to excuse their behavior.

Also, bad to the bone villains are fun. This is fiction, people. Mythological and archetypal models exist for completely, gloriously good heroes (They don't all have to be tortured, do they? Even if it's okay for some to be.) and wretchedly nasty villains. Fiction and myth is a safe place to let good be good and bad be bad and not get all judgey about it.

I miss that a little. And there are some great less-than-sympathetic villains out there. We never get to see Sauron's motivation, do we? Even Sauroman is, I'm sorry, just a power-hungry asshat. Baron Harkonen? Not a nice guy. Not even a good reason for being an ass. Not really, and I doubt anyone found him sympathetic in the least.

And I like a sympathetic villain too. I adored Vader until they cast him as a whiny teenager. I did. But sometimes when something is shiny, we do it to death. It's all good until we say, 'have to.' If we said all villains have to be sympathetic, or have some motivation that justifies (away) their evil acts, I think we'd lose a lot of good villains. I'm okay with keeping those that are sympathetic, I just want to keep my baddies-who-are-bad-because-they-love-to-be-bad too.

And with the trend the way it is, I'm kind of scared to see the movie, Maleficent. I love her in the spotlight, I do. She's my all time favorite. But I'm worried someone will want to explain her...and what made her so amazingly wicked, what made her (in my opinion) rise above all other Disney villains, was how bad she was. She was evil. Just for cuz.  And that's scary and awesome at the same time. If we find out why, I'm not sure it will be anymore.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The big reveal

Don't worry, I'm not getting naked, or anything. I'm talking about covers. I love cover reveal day on Twitter, when authors finally get to show off their shiny new covers to the world. It's like giving birth, except a whole lot less painful, I imagine.

And no, I'm not going to reveal a cover to you either. But I just got sent a draft cover and I was thinking about that moment. Even if you're not revealing it to the world, there's that moment of anticipation before you open the email... Am I going to love it? Hate it?

It's all personal preference really. I mean, some people like CGI people, others like cartoony covers. Some people even enjoy symbolism, for some reason. I kid. Symbolism is awesome, yo.

You never really know if you and your cover artist are going to mesh. Of course, with some publishers, as the author, you get to have input on what your ideas are for the cover, but unless you're an amazing graphics artist along with being an author (I hate you, Skyla), you don't get to see your vision appear on your book. Or maybe your cover artist is psychic. Who knows?

At any rate, I'm not super creative visually, so I have to try and explain, with words, to the cover artist what I think is relevant to the story and what the characters look like. Sometimes the artist gets me and my vision, and sometimes they don't.

On the cover of my first book, I had a naked lady holding a gun. I loved her and the rest of the cover, but it didn't seem like the greatest in gun safety ads for her to be running around naked with a gun. Fortunately, modern computer geewhizy stuff is awesome, so they gave her a dress and we called it good.

Artists are awesome - in the awe inspiring sense. I can't even imagine doing that - creating a picture based on words described by a (probably crazy) author. So impressed!

I guess the moral of the story here is consider your cover when writing your book... and maybe be an artist yourself  :)

- Skye

Thursday, March 13, 2014

On Being Stuck and Getting Unstuck

Sometimes writing moves along at warp speed. You sit down at the computer, start hitting keys and - whoosh! In what seems like five minutes you're in a whole different part of the galaxy.

Other times, it's more like the becalmed ship in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Not a wind of inspiration blows and you begin to feel "like a painted ship upon a painted ocean." All around you lie dead ideas and the rising stink of failure and...

Well, you've probably been there at some point. If not, great news - you probably will be sometime before you die.

But wait, there's truly good news - when you hit that dead spot you don't need to stay there. Since you're not a cursed mariner (you haven't killed any sea birds lately, have you?) you're not stuck on the ship and there are things to be done.

The next question is this: is the problem one of head or heart?

Maybe you're not stuck at all and what you need to do is just keep on slogging, one word at a stinking time until something breaks loose and you're on the move again. 

But if you're truly up against a brick wall and you keep stupidly beating your head against it, this is not helpful.

Bloody and victorious is a good thing.

Bloody and stupid is something else altogether.

Chances are good that if you are feeling this way about your writing you need a little help.  

1. Call in the reinforcements - beta readers, critique partners, writer friends - whoever is available and willing to listen. Bounce ideas off of people. Talk to yourself. The cat. The dog. Don't talk to the parrot, though, because this will come back to haunt you.

2. Journal. Write about the story. Try writing in character voices and let them talk to you.

3. Refill the well. Sometimes it's okay to take some time to do other things. Watch movies. Go for walks. Read a good book. Knit something. Give yourself permission to take a short vacation.

4. Take long walks. Do yoga. Hang upside down from the monkey bars in the park. Whatever it takes to get more oxygen to your brain.

5. Write something else. Sometimes writing is like a cat. If you choose to just step away and focus on something else it will climb your pant leg and settle itself into your lap and knead at you with its little sharp story claws until you start writing again.

And sometimes - well, there are times when a story idea is well and truly dead. And then you need to bury it with all due ceremony and mourning, and move on to writing something else.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ranty McRantypants: Book Adaptations

In Hollywood's quest to find a sure thing, they've been adapting all sorts of books for screens both big and small of late. The YA market in particular sees a lot of this, but for every Harry Potter, there's a Golden Compass that just doesn't quite hit the mark. We're starting to see this cross over into adult fiction as well. As a junkie for this type of thing, I've put far too much thought into where some go wrong while others can get away with murder (or avoiding murder as the case may be). 

When making an adaptation there are basically three options:
  1. Follow the book as closely as possible without bogging down the filming.
  2. Stick to the book for the most part but change things here and there to prove it won't be predictable. 
  3. Use the book as little more than a jumping off point for something different but with vaguely familiar characters. 
A fourth option, that tends not to sit well with book fans, is to start one way and then jump into a different option--particularly if you start with options 1 or 2. 

In particular right now, I'm thinking of Bitten. (Before I start into this, I want to make a point that I do not blame Kelley Armstrong for any of what went pear-shaped with this show. She sold the rights because fans kept pushing for it, and then the studio did what they do--they did their own thing. She's had to deal with a lot of fall-out and we fans are far more to blame than her.)

When the casting was announced, it raised a lot of eyebrows. Elena was too pretty. The guys weren't pretty enough. Jeremy wasn't even remotely Asian… Then again, we thought, how many skinny, leggy, plain blonde women can also act? And half-Asian men of the right age and character…okay, maybe casting was just really hard. So most of us decided to give it a chance--even after we found out Clay wasn't going to have a southern accent. (*cries* Really? Josh Holloway wasn't available?)

The first episode was watched with much brow furrowing. Clay, flirting with his students? Elena being not only beautiful but dressing like a model. Jeremy asking for things rather than acting alpha? 

We tried to argue growing pains since they seemed like they were more or less kind of going with option 1. Until a few more episodes in…when characters lived who were supposed to die. And characters died who were supposed to live. Others ignored the alpha because…girlfriend. 

Basically, they shifted to option 2, which fans might have been able to roll with, but then suddenly we hit a wall that took us to plan 3. And there isn't a damn thing left that's familiar other than character names. 

At this point, I think most fans of the books have walked away. We don't have the characters we love, nor did the writers manage to make us care much about the ones they created. Kelley's writing, which was brilliant and real was replaced with wooden dialogue and cliches. The few lines they kept from the book lacked punch because the felt out of place. 

But for me, the worst part is how little the people in charge of the show care about the werewolf aspect. It's a show about werewolves. First, put the money into decent CGI, or (novel idea) use animals as much as possible. But they're barely even using the CGI wolves at this point. We can watch humans fight on any show--that's not going to make people tune in to this. Also…pack. Kelley did brilliant research into wolves and pack mentality. That dynamic shines in the books and makes them believable. It's been completely tossed out on the show. 

It's not only that the characters have become unrecognizable but the entire idea of what makes them a family was lost in translation. Care. Putting care into any of this would have made the show so much better. 

Part of me wants to tell Hollywood to stay the hell away from books from here on out, but I know they are capable of doing great adaptations. I just really wish they could do them more consistently. 

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go re-read Bitten now. The book is brilliant and I sincerely hope people don't judge it based on the show. There's a reason people always say "the book was better"--because 99 times out of 100, is is. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

We've Got Your Back

I'm a big believer in having a safety net. This is most likely because I'm not anything like an adrenaline junkie. Also, I'm petrified of making an ass of myself in public.

Because of this, I'm a huge fan of having an editor. I feel like that partnership, the author and editor working together, is one of the most valuable things a book can have on its side. And though I've had great editors and mediocre editors, and editors that really didn't provide much assistance at all, I have never had an editor that actively sought to harm the book.

In fact, all of them have been pretty seriously invested in seeing it succeed.

Because I know this, it's always confused me to hear writers balk at the idea of an editor, or any corrections, revisions, feedback, critique or beta reads. And I do hear it, usually backed with a heavy dose of delusion about the superiority of the writer's prose, as is.

But I think that whole perspective is a little twisted. A writer can write in a vacuum, and let's be honest, we usually do. They cannot, however, ever ever ever be entirely objective about their words. We love our words, people. If we didn't think they were pretty special, we wouldn't be writing them down and expecting strangers to pay money for them. That love of our own voice is a roadblock to improving any manuscript. We can't see past it on our own. It's fairly invisible to our happy little self-absorbed brain.

And if we don't get outside help, we are short changing our manuscript and putting it out on display with it's figurative pants down.

So when I get a batch of edits (like I just did today) that make me really stretch, I don't feel that resentment, or even resistance. Not ever. Nine times out of ten the edits are completely spot on, and I am so glad that someone caught the goof, or the confusing bit, or the part that is just fine but could still be a little bit better. I'm glad because if they hadn't...the reader would have. The reviewer would have. The critic most definitely would have.

And every time I sit down to go through them, I know that book is going to come out the other side better. It's one more chance to make it better, to use that safety net, those fresh eyes, before sending my words out to the world. They're still my words, but they are better crafted and far, far closer to ready.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Recycled Post - Torture

Relax, it's character torture, not, you know...shut up!

Today's post is made of 100% recycled materials from 2011. Dr. Dina is out of the office, but she'll be back soon with more medical writing goodness. We have lots to cover this year - drowning, medications, fighting...there's lots we can talk about. For now, though, enjoy this blast from the past. - DJ

Originally posted somewhere (I honestly can't remember where) in April, 2011. Apparently we had a theme.

Character Torture

Continuing with our theme of Character Torture 101, I bring you "Make It Hurt."

I don't get why slapstick is funny. I never have. Sure, it's funny when someone who deserves a little comeuppance falls flat on their face, but general Three Stooges-type pratfalls and kicks in the balls and so on…? I just don't get that. Of course, I don't get why Will Farrell, Jim Carrey, or Ricky Gervais are funny either.

Eddie Izzard I get, but I digress.

Laughter is a documented response to pain. I should know – it's my own response. When something physically hurts, I laugh, so I suppose there's a correlation there between laughing at pain and laughing when we see someone get hurt (especially if they were doing something stupid just before the kick in the balls or board to the face). I used to think I was the only woman in the world who laughed during painful physical examinations and medical procedures and so on, because surely that's not normal. If something hurts, the natural response is to cry, right? Or yelp? Or protest with an "ouch!"

Something. Not laughing.

Pain can also be addictive. There's a fine line between pleasure and pain, and the chemicals/hormones that signal whether something is pleasurable or painful can often be deliberately confused. There's even certain medical conditions termed "aldegonics" in which pain is experienced as pleasure. 

What's all this have to do with torturing characters in writing?

Because it's fun. Pleasurable.

Or, to quote John Mellencamp, it hurts so good

It's not only fun putting characters in impossible situations – torturing them, essentially – but it's equally fun watching them get out of them. Seeing what they do. What they come up with to MacGyver their way out of whatever situation they're now faced with.

Yeah, that's awesome.

What's equally awesome is torturing a character you know your audience loves. This is the best part of the whole thing, and the most delicate.

See the part about pratfalls and slapstick. Sure you might get a laugh, but if your readers don't care about the torture you inflict on the character, you might as well just get out the pies.

People have to care about/connect with a character in order for the torture to mean anything. If no one cares about the torment that character is facing, then your scenario is pointless.

Here's an example. Say you have three beloved characters and they're all about to do something exciting. Then a fourth character comes in, and before he can say "hi, guys!" he's flattened by a semi.

The other three characters are horrified because they just saw a dude they might know get run over by a huge truck, but the readers aren't horrified at all because they didn't know the guy. Sure, it might be a shock because it was unexpected, but they didn't care about the character.

Now, if you do the same to one of the characters you've come to care about (I'm looking at you, George R. R. Martin….), your reader is going to feel that loss – that hurt/pain/torture – EVEN if there's no real affect on the characters involved.

Character torture is complicated and delicate. You can't simply torture for torture's sake (okay, yes you can, but where's the fun in that?). There has to be something at risk – whatever that might be is up to you as the writer. It could be something as simple as a treasured object to something as serious as that character's existence.

Making your characters cry and hurt is one thing. Making your readers scream and cry along with them is something else.

That's truly why we torture the characters, you know. Because really, we're torturing you

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