Writers, what are the stakes when you torture your characters?

Karalee’s Post #39

Silk posed the question “Why do we torture our heroes?”

Everyone in our group wrote a manuscript that did just that, but some were much better than others. Myself, I tortured poor Karla until she appeared a victim. Other 5Writers tortured their characters with moral dilemmas, and other characters went on quests with an extraordinary amount of adventure that demanded that they rise to challenges at such an extent that there was no time for the reader to breathe in the middle. We all went to the extreme, exposing our inner writer’s mind to our group to see what worked and what didn’t.

Over the last week I’ve reflected on the input from my fellow 5Writers. I purposely set out to have my main protagonist have a history of fears, experiences, and a cultural background that would effect her reactions in her job as a detective and challenge her to rise above them. Alas, I failed.


1. I had the villain so smart that I didn’t have my detective working the way she should have to reveal her fears and flaws that would demand her to make difficult decisions. Ultimately these decisions would have made her grow and change.

2. I didn’t make my protagonist’s personal stakes clear. I need to choose one or two challenges for my protagonist and have her work through these and not address everything in her life in one book! In other words, I can make my life as a writer easier by being less complicated. The KISS principle would serve me well.

My mind has been busy while I’ve weeded my garden and looked after the family. I’ve asked myself, what are the stakes writers challenge their characters with? To me there are three kinds:

  • Physical: life and death, get from A to B before C happens, perform an seemingly insurmountable feat, or even hold back doing something that he/she would normally do
  • Emotional:  overcoming fear, weaknesses, prejudices, pain, anxieties
  • Moral issues: never do harm to others, stealing, trust issues, honesty issues, society beliefs, religious/spiritual beliefs

That said, I need to start my rewrite by immersing myself both in my villain’s and my protagonist’s heads again (read bios thoroughly and make changes) and choose the stakes that are best reflected in my story. And ideally, the decisions my protagonist and antagonist make would also reflect the story theme.

Then back to the outline and rework the story.

I do remember in a previous post that I said that I enjoy revisions. It’s a good thing since this rewrite demands plot and character changes.

Beyond a doubt I have great faith that my characters will rise to their challenges.

Happy rewrites.

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