I recently read a very interesting post by Mara over at Writing Blues, in which she expresses her distress at having to ‘torture’ her main protagonist, as that’s “what you need to do: be mean to your MC (main character)”. I found this quite fascinating, and have been pondering this issue.
Obviously enough, something has to happen, otherwise there is no story, and I’ve heard that the secret to writing a great book is to have your character face personal challenges, and overcome them. Apparently people want to see some sort of personal development – to see how events change the character.
I suspect that people also like to read about pain in a nice safe environment, where they are free of it. I heard PD James, that fantastic crime author, express the view that murder mysteries are more popular during times of hardship (like during and immediately post-war), because although someone gets killed, justice is served in the end. The same cannot always be said of real life.
But is it really necessary to make them suffer? Would any story written without suffering be, well, insufferable? Would the saccharine nature of it make us sick? I spotted a great quote which may express it:
"without the shadow, how would we know the light?"
There are plenty of people out there who think it is necessary to torture characters. A few opinions are expressed at the following websites:
A few thoughts occur to me on this topic:
1) That the definition of ‘suffering’ is pretty broad, and could extend all the way from dismemberment through heartbreak to mere dissatisfaction. There is also, of course, pure empathetic pain in seeing someone else suffer.
2) The story could be a real ‘fluffy bunny’ of a children’s book, where everyone has a spiffy time taking tea with Miss. Pibble the dormouse. With blackberries she picked herself.
3) That the only other way I can see to tell a story without the characters feeling some sort of pain is to make them a psychopath. Which could be quite interesting in itself (and I did have a go at writing a story from that viewpoint, here).
4) Perhaps travel writing is somewhere that suffering-free storytelling can occur. The tale of a journey and the people encountered along the way does not seem to me to necessarily involve suffering, although I suppose it often does in one form or another.
I may however, be being short-sighted about this. I’d love to hear if you think it’s possible to write a story without any suffering, and still make it compelling. It would be nice to think that it is possible. 🙂