I’m not a cruel person although I’m sure my children would disagree. But I adore nothing more than torturing my characters. I kick them when they are down. My heroine in my current WIP has been through hell. Her life is in shambles. So now its time to kick her in the ribs. And I smile as I do it.
Am I sadistic? Not really. But tough situations show off the mettle of a character. If your character can live through the difficulties you throw at them, then they are well-drawn.
Its a good test of your characterization. If you can put your character in an impossible situation and write them back out, the character is solid. I find writers tend to back off when the going is really bad and let off the suffering. I think it relates to a fear of what the character might do and how much it will change them. I just finished a book this morning where nothing really bad happened. At the end the heroine was kidnapped and nearly raped. Well, not really, because the hero’s brother was right there to rescue her. Would this situation do anything to disrupt the relationship? Nope. And at this point, the hero and heroine were already engaged. Would the heroine be so traumatized by her experience it would cause her to withdraw from her lover? Nah. Would the hero be so disheartened because he was unable to protect the heroine he would pull away? Of course not. After a lovey dovey scene, things were alright. How boring.
I like my characters to pull themselves out, to find wells of strength they never knew they had. Black moments are the best way to do it. These horrendous situations strengthen characters, add dimension and give the writer more to work with, making the story more compelling. I think sometimes writers don’t want to go down the path of cruelty for fear of what they may find within themselves. How can a person create such vicious and cruel situations and not be unscathed themselves? Or maybe the situation will make the character do something sinister to survive. I think sometimes writers shy away from scenes that may require their hero or heroine to do something wicked.
I finished another book where the hero is constantly thrown into horrible situations with no foreseeable way out. And yes, he does end up doing things which are not nice. And yes, it does change his character, but it makes him more compelling and more sympathetic.
Black moments both physical and emotional are chances for a writer to shine. They are tough, require focus but are, in the end, rewarding and add depth. Embrace the darkness. You’ll be happy you did.