Writing Character Torture

As a writer, one thing that helps me know my characters better is writing outtake scenes with them. These scenes help me check in with the characters at specific times in their lives. They let me explore backstory without bogging down my novel draft. I can learn when different traditions started. I can show their reaction to current events or pop culture. Most of these scenes belong to the cast of my Essential Guide to Supervillainy. Many feature Chance Mateer, my zombie-loving, prank-pulling band member. I created him learning that his mother was about to be proposed to as well as the mistletoe war he gets into with another character from supervillainy. I’ve placed him at his father’s grave and his first real moments with his half-sister after her birth. I created a very awkward scene in which Chance’s girlfriend Sadie mistakenly thinks of of Chance’s oldest summer friends is his girlfriend too. In one instance, I wrote a collaborative novel about his experiences at summer camp with my friend Kit.

In that book, I had no qualms about writing Chance into all sorts of difficult situations. To be blunt, I didn’t have any trouble torturing him with being bullied by an incompetent assistant camp director or ditching him in the kitchen with unearned punishment. There are injuries in the book, a kidnapping, etc. I didn’t spare him at all. That’s why it is confusing to me that I’m having such trouble on an outtake scene I started a few weeks ago. Chance finds out his camp friend Ali is missing. I’m up to where he’s heard the news and the scene just stops.

Maybe the problem is that the scene isn’t from his point of view. Maybe I’m overly hung up on determining where Chance runs to after finding out. Maybe it’s because it is a situation he can do nothing about because he’s in the Midwest and Ali was in Colorado. Maybe I’m reluctant to write something painful for him after putting him through the roller coaster that was the camp novel. I don’t know. I’m used to the shorts coming quickly and this one doesn’t want to do that. This comes after the events of Supervillainy and before the as of yet unwritten sequel ideas I have.

What gets you stuck as a writer? What character torture did you have trouble with?

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2 thoughts on “Writing Character Torture

  1. My trouble isn’t torturing characters, it is getting them to do the ‘wrong’ thing. I never want my characters to make mistakes, which would lead to not much conflict. Especially the characters I identify with strongly. Fortunately, I seem to be getting better about that.

    One poor character blames himself for the death of an unrequited love. He’s haunted by this for the entire length of a novel. Is that considered torture?

    Hmm. Outtake scenes. I may have to try this sometime. My outtakes are usually scenes removed from a novel. I’m not sure I’ve written any scenes that weren’t intended to be in the book/story. Though I once wrote a short story that ended up, after a rewrite, being the ‘unused’ back story instead of the actual story.

    • I can relate on having characters make mistakes. I think writing my camp novel helped with that. Chance made some choices and decisions that really made matters worse and had to deal with the consequences.

      In Supervillainy itself, a character’s choice laid the whole groundwork for what ended up being a chance for an identity thief.

      I would think your character blaming himself for the death of a love as character torture.

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