Torture Your Protagonist

One of the biggest problems in fiction is when a writer creates nice characters and then doesn’t want to hurt them. Today, let’s make it hurt!

The prompt

Torture your protagonist

Tips

  • This may come easily to some of you, so you don’t need to read any further. If you’re already good at torturing your protagonist. Just go and get writing!

  • For the rest of us, there’s a temptation to let our characters be funny and nice and lovable. We don’t want to make unsympathetic. However, if they’re too perfect, they’re not interesting.

  • Let’s think back to the earlier story, where I asked you to create a flawed protagonist. Wasn’t that fun? You can still have a sympathetic character by letting them be terrible at one thing, especially if they’re very, very good at a lot of other things.

  • You want the reader to root for your character and the won’t if she’s perfect.

  • Torturing your character doesn’t really mean doing terrible things to them. It just means separating them from their goals and desires.

  • Remember my story about the person who wants the chocolate cake? She’s witty and feisty and could be running around the world getting everything she wants, but the real story doesn’t start until she separated from her heart’s desire: the chocolate cake. I could write all day about my witty-and-feisty character and eventually you would stop reading, if I didn’t torture her little bit.

  • Think about your character’s desires their wants and needs. How can you separate them from the things they want, at least temporarily.

  • It can be their own internal demons that are keeping them from what they want. Or it can be an antagonistic force such as a natural disaster. Or it can be an antagonistic character such as an loving, but overbearing mother. Or it can be a straight-up villain.

Did you torture your character today? Leave a comment telling us what you did to your character and if it came naturally to you or if this is something new. If you are ignoring these prompts and writing your own stories, leave a comment and let us know how it’s going!

[Writing Prompt] Make It Even Worse

Yesterday we took your character’s dreams and dashed them in the middle of the story.

Today I want you to take your character, and their desire and cripple them not once, but twice. Of course you get to reward them with a little win in the middle.

The Prompt

Give your character a goal, frustrate them, let them make some progress but let it come at a  cost.

Darth Vader vs Obi-Wan Kenobi

Tips

  • Think about Star Wars, the great story-outliner’s tool: Luke wants to get off this boring little planet but his aim is frustrated by obligations and lack of opportunity. When his family is murdered he finally acts. His next aim is to find and rescue the sexy princess (spoiler alert: Ew!). Problem: she’s on the most heavily defended, most technologically advanced ship in the fleet of the all-powerful empire. Somehow he succeeds. Yay! BUT, oh no, they sacrifice Obi-Wan, his mentor, at the same time. Now Luke has a new mission: overthrow the empire. Fail, Strive, Succeed but at a cost, pursue next part of his ‘want’. [Check out this Narrative Map of the Hero’s Journey]
  • Put your character in an impossible situation. Let him dig his way out only to fall into a new pit. Only this time he knows a bit more about himself and what it’ll take to climb out. (Friends? A rope? Strong hands?) Let the character use what they learned in the first part of the middle, to achieve what they need to do next.
  • It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom or drama. If you’re writing humor you can still do this. Frustration is funny. Even throwing in a moment of tragedy is acceptable in comic writing. In fact, if you’re making your reader laugh until 2/3 of the way through the story, they won’t even notice the knife in your hand until you’re sliding it between their ribs. Bam! Will that pack an emotional punch?! (Sitcoms do this from time to time. Aren’t you surprised to find yourself suddenly sobbing during your favorite 30 minute comedy?)

Go!