Saturday, December 01, 2007

Fictional Guilt

by Tory Butterworth

It happened with my first manuscript. I had completed the story, was showing it to an MD friend of mine to check the medical veracity of the plot. He said, "Boy, I wouldn't like to be a character in one of your novels!"

I do seem to have this penchant for creating protagonists who suffer major physical trauma. In that one, my heroine was a teenager who broke many bones in a major ski accident.

After my friend's comment, I considered my obsession in a new way. Should I feel guilty for brutalizing my character? Was I a sadist for subjecting my creations to pain and injury?

During the day I'm a therapist and trainer. I help people, listening sympathetically to their problems, suggesting ways out. Is writing my other life, the Mr. Hyde to my Dr. Jeckyl?

But, that's what we do as writers, isn't it? If we're doing our jobs, we try to figure out more and more difficult binds to put our characters in. It's through demonstrating their skill in thwarting adversity that they prove their mettle. But, at what point does it become inexcusable torture?

Have you ever felt guilty for the ways you treat your characters?

7 comments:

Gina said...

Yes, yes, yes.

I do horrendous things to my fictional characters -- or rather, I let them do horrendous things to one another. And I did feel extraordinarily guilty the first time one of them was killed -- my impulse was to rework the plot so he'd survive, even though I'd created that character specifically for the purpose of getting slaughtered!

In real life, I wouldn't even hurt a fly . . .

Annette said...

Hey, I'm a yoga teacher who tries to get her students to relax and de-stress and yet I write murder mysteries where I'm always trying to build tension.

Maybe we're all a little like Clark Kent/Superman. Or maybe it's more like Clark Kent/Dr. Kavorkian.

Anyhow, I don't feel guilty. I just take out all my frustrations on my characters.

Tory said...

I'm not sure about the Dr. Kevorkian analogy. As much as I'm not a fan (he seemed . . . well, the scientific term is "weird") he only killed people who WANTED to be killed. Not much fun in a murder mystery!

Annette said...

I never meant to imply that I was a fan of the strange Dr. K, but I think there are plot possibilities there. Patient/victim changes his mind at the last minute, but the "doctor" presses on anyway. Or the patient/victim has been drugged or brainwashed by a family member into THINKING he wants assisted suicide when the family member stands to inherit the estate...

Okay, I admit I need help. And maybe another cup of coffee.

Tory said...

Annette: definite plot possibilities there! Possible short story material?

Annette said...

You never know...

Cathy said...

My characters learn and grow through their experiences. But I must admit, I tend to take it easy on them and focus more on mystery than murder. Maybe I need to rough them up more and develop some healthy guilt over it.

Thanks for all your wonderful blogs, Tory. I've learned a lot.