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Appeasing the Angel of Death

Published on: Oct 24, 20123 comments

I am a worrier by nature and by intense decades of practice.

Each night I lay in bed worrying about a potential flood in the basement, a house fire caused by a clogged dryer vent, the abduction of my children from a stranger, and the death of my husband in a plane crash. I worry about bankruptcy, government collapse, the flu virus, a forgotten bill, and a new lump in my breast.

My philosophy on worrying:

If I worry about it, it is less likely to happen.

I sing myself to sleep with a litany of worries which I believe inoculates me from befalling their tragedy. The act of worrying is a preventative measure.

Sacrificial Characters

I have never understood the idea of creating characters in a book you are writing and then going easy on them. In classes and critique groups, I often hear from writer’s who like their characters too much to apply the proper force of conflict. They don’t want to inflict damage on the character they love so much (and who often is based on them.)

I do not have this problem.

I torture my characters. Everything they love is forcibly removed. They lose their dreams, their hopes, their dignity, and their purpose. They are buffered by waves of pain, loss, and betrayal. No one is safe. Even secondary characters are mortally wounded.

I do try to write hopeful stories. In the end, they are alive. Battered and bruised, but newly wise and looking toward the future. But I don’t minimize their pain. They have scars from traversing through my stories.

I think the people who can’t torture characters believe they are tempting fate when they do. My philosophy on worrying takes me in the opposite direction.

By inflicting all my worst fears on my literary characters, I am offering them up as a substitute sacrifice. If I sufficiently torment my protagonist, perhaps the angel of death will pass over my house. Their sacrificial blood marks my doorway.

3 thoughts on “Appeasing the Angel of Death

  1. Fascinating — just last night I posted that I, too, have no problem brutalizing my characters. 🙂

    I do it for a different reason, though, and it’s not just pure sadism. Battered characters get to show who they are. Lumber isn’t strong unless it can take stress; no one can be a hero if there isn’t a crisis and a challenge to overcome. Tormenting a character gives him, or someone around him, the chance to shine.

    A friend who does a fairly academic panel on hurt/comfort points out that this is a far cry from enjoying people’s pain in real life! We have fiction so we can experience these agonies, and triumphs, vicariously, artificially, and more safely.

    I do love the image of characters’ blood marking your doors, though!

  2. I meant to post the link to you on FB. I agree with your friend. Vicariously experiencing tragedy gives us fire drill practice. I don’t relish in torturing my characters but I don’t shy away from it either.

    My search engine requests have surely put me on some government watch list though. It is the side effect of writing serial killers, philanderers, liars, and abusive people. I am sure the librarian did a double take when I checked out books on committing murder and widowhood at the same time.

    Thanks for commenting! See you next month.

  3. I have a somewhat similar philosophy on worrying, although for me I see it as a way to rehearse for the inevitable. Maybe if I can just veer that short distance (okay, 180 degrees, from “will happen” to “won’t happen”) I’ll get better at fictional torture!

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