I remember one of the very first articles I read about writing craft was about making your characters bleed. Making them hurt. Sometimes this can bring you pain as well-or make you uncomfortable. And I think I truly 'became' a writer when I squirmed in my seat before writing a few scenes that a few years ago I wouldn't have been able to write. It was scary to dig deep and truly inflict real pain. But I also think that's part of the reason that book resonated with my agent and editor (let's hope readers too!).
In the third book I sold to Entangled, Indulgence coming out sometime 2013, my heroine has faced some pretty hard self-image/esteem issues. Growing up in our society, I think this is something that any woman could identify with on some level. I started that book with a general idea of her pain and issues. And then as I became wrapped up in the characters, certain pieces of her past became clearer to me. And I squirmed. I thought, can I really do that to her? Could I actually humiliate her that much-and then have her tell the hero? I really didn't want to. I thought maybe we could just slip it past him, and no one would be the wiser. And that's when I knew-I would be leaving out key pieces of her past and her personality. The essence of who she was and how she became the grown woman she was in the book. The reader wouldn't root for her as much, without that knowledge. So, I did it. I wrote the mortifying scene and I had her tell the hero. And I winced as I wrote it-I had to look at it with one eye open. And I hope that means that the reader will also feel the emotion as they read that scene.
I had also made things pretty bad for the hero in that book. I gave him a past that no one in his family knew about. One that he was ashamed of-and one that kept him away from believing he and the heroine could ever be together. When I finally had him confess everything to the heroine, I was again, fighting tears and feeling really sorry for him (I may have reached for a glass of wine as well). And I was quick to end that scene, because it was too difficult to deal with. I went in and out as quickly as I could. When I spoke with my agent, she mentioned that scene and that she found it was very powerful. It was on my final edit of that book, before it was pitched to my editor, that I expanded on that scene. I knew I had to do it. I knew I had been a wimp in not carrying that scene further. So I added in the thoughts and images I had of my hero as a young boy, and put them into words, onto the page. And yeah, it was difficult. But I think it's much stronger now.
What I'm hoping is that all of this translates into a book that's packed with high-stakes, intense emotion and true-to-life characters.
Here are some of the things I've learned along the way to ensure that I've injected enough emotion and 'pain' into my characters:
1) Have I gone too far? I think this sometimes-and I'm always wrong. No, I haven't gone too far-I'm a wimp! Which means I should be going kilometres passed what I deem 'too' far. Push the limits, stretch your boundaries.
2) Do I get uncomfortable when I'm reading or writing an important scene? I think for me this is pivotal. If I'm not biting my lip, reaching for wine, or thinking up excuses as to why I should stop writing for the day, then I know I haven't infused that scene with enough emotion. You shouldn't be able to read/write a very dark moment for your character without feeling something yourself.
3) Do you feel 'sorry' for your hero/heroine? Okay, now I know that sounds a little wacky, but seriously, if at some point during the writing of that book, you don't feel bad for all the 'mean' things you caused that poor person, you haven't done your job. I'm not saying you have to torture them, or that all characters need to come from truly horrible backgrounds-not at all-but at some point they have to hurt. And you have to make them hurt.
Hopefully, some of this helps you along the way. I'm amazed by how much I learn every day, with every new scene, with every new book. It's an endless journey, but one that I'm so thrilled to be on.
What about you? Do you struggle with injecting emotion onto the page for your characters? Does it come easily for you-or are you a tad on the wimpy side, like me? ;-)