On Writing: The Name of the Game is “Hurt the Hero.”

I like my characters and don’t enjoy hurting them so my novels tend to focus on unraveling the mystery of the situation, because one thing I do understand is that at the heart of all books is a discovery. In a mystery, the discovery is the killer. In a romance, the discovery is love. In a character driven novel, the discovery is the nature of the character himself.

For the first time, though, I understand why the hero needs to be hurt. If the hero doesn’t hurt, why should we care? And if he doesn’t hurt, how would we ever discover his emotional core, what it is that he really cares about? When we discover what the character cares about, we care about him, and want to read to see how he reacts to the hurt and to find out what he is going to do to make it stop.

True character is revealed in the choices a person makes under pressure or when he is hurting or both. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation will be and the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature. Pressure is necessary. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little.

In Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, David Gerrold wrote: “You need to ask yourself these questions in every situation. Asking these questions brings each scene to life: Why is the moment important? Where is the pain? Why does it hurt? And most important — what will make it worse?”

In life, experiences often become meaningful with reflection and time. In retrospect, a horrendous experience takes on an aura of excitement or even happiness because we remember being fully alive. In art, experiences are meaningful now, at the moment they are happening on the screen or in the novel. We can see instantly that the character is hurting, but we can also feel the excitement of the moment, the adrenaline rush. It all happens at once, the reflection and the experience, which explains why movies and books sometimes seem more real than life itself. Without the character hurting, however, the experience becomes muted, less real.

So: hurt the hero. I guess I’ll just have to learn to like it. Or at least learn how to do it well.

2 Responses to “On Writing: The Name of the Game is “Hurt the Hero.””

  1. mauthor Says:

    That’s is so true, it’s important to hurt the character in order for the reader to care for him/her.

  2. elizaw Says:

    Mmm. I loved that book– David Gerrold really caught my attention when he wrote, ‘chase the hero up a tree and throw rocks at him’. It’s a great point.

    I’ve had a hard time sacrificing my protagonists lately: a broken arm on my heroine that’s not going to heal in time for the climax, for instance, which I didn’t factor into my outline, among other things.


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