Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Are You a Sadist?

Sadistic Knife BlockI had lunch with a good friend yesterday and she asked me about my novel WIP. I was going to give her my elevator pitch until I remembered she has a Masters in Literature.

So I started telling her about my protagonist who is upstanding, moral, and ethical – and who lives by a set of personal rules of honor that isolate him from others: he lacks a core group of friends and also lives apart from the main community.

He’s flawed of course, and much of the making of his rules stems from a troubled history. I won’t bore you with the details.

After I explained my protagonist, I told my friend all the things I did to him:

  • made him honor-bound to escort a group of women he abhors back to their home through dangerous territory
  • had him kill one of those women as he tries to help them
  • required him to obtain a drug that has been declared illegal (and didn’t tell him it’s illegal)
  • made him fight the militia – who inform him the drug is illegal – in order to escape and maintain possession of the drug
  • tricked him into promising to help a thief, who helps him flee the militia
  • had him declared an outlaw and put a price on his head

And this is only in the first three chapters!

As I sat there ticking off the ordeals I put him through, I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Creative Writing 101” rules, number six of which is:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

My main character holds himself apart from everyone else, and tends to think in black in white. By putting all these obstacles in his path — and making him do things he clearly doesn’t want to do — he learns that there are many shades of gray. He’s got to learn to loosen up his personal rules before he snaps.

It’s this learning process which makes the book interesting. And it’s the obstacles that make it so exciting – and so fun to write, too!

Is your story suffering from a lack of excitement? Is your character staid or boring? Be a sadist! Put your characters in interesting and dangerous situations. Make him work. Take away the easy: make all of his desires difficult to obtain.

All you writers out there: how have you been a sadist? What kinds of things have you made your characters do?

In case you’re interested, here is more information on Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules.

10 comments to Are You a Sadist?

  • Hi Kelly:
    Love your post. I love putting obstacles in my hero’s path… especially if the heroine is an obstacle in herself. Right now, Michael is about to go face to face with a demon from hell…. That’s about as sadistic as I could get. Everything seemed to be getting better until he made love to his wife – not knowing she was his wife, and her not realizing he didn’t know who she was.

    • Hi Mary. Glad you liked the post.

      Coming face to face with a demon from hell sounds pretty sadistic to me. Makes for a better story, don’tcha think? Of course, I’m betting the fallout from making love to your spouse – and not realizing it’s your spouse – can be pretty hairy, too!

      Thanks for dropping in.

  • Diane Scott Lewis

    Kelly, loved the post. I put so many dangers around my heroine in The False Light, the editor asked me to remove some before publication.

  • Not sure if I am one but in one of my last stories in my mini series The Pleasure of Our Company, ends with one of the main characters not only indulging in certain pleasures as a submissive to a rather strong dominant who focuses on her clients’ fears as well as their pleasures. She pushes the envelope. I tend to put them in tenuous at best situations that even I may wonder how they will fare at the end.

    Collette Thomas
    The Pleasure of Our Company Mini Series available at
    Todd Hollow Series available at Damnation Books

    • Hi Collette! It sounds like you may be using the term literally, as well as figuratively in your story. What kind of troubles do you force on your characters before they get together at the end?

  • Hi Kelly, and all of you, I loved this post so wanted to join in. At first I had a really hard time harming characters I’d gotten attached too, but then…well in my sequel to my first southern paranormal I started tentativley killing them off, and then I killed more off and pretty soon I had this incredibly high body count, after awhile I was really struggling with new ways to kill them, finally I used rats, they’re disgusting and there are various ways to go with them lol. Anyway, this is a great blog and I look forward to talking to you guys.

    • Hi Kathleen! Killing has got to be the pinnacle of sadism towards your characters! I applaud you. I’ve been toying with killing off a main character in my sequel, because I feel it will lend some credibility to the story. In a way, that’s a little sadistic toward my audience, too: first I want them to resonate with these characters, and then I want to kill one off. How bad is that? [I’m going check out your books, btw. I want to see how you kill folks off with rats…]

  • margaret west

    Loved the post kelly. I made one of my characters die in my last book. Most unexpected. But a reader said it made her cry lol I’m a sick sick writer!!

  • Hi Margaret! The fact that your reader cried tells me you did something wonderful. Yes, you killed off a character, but you wrote so compellingly that the reader equated that character with something real. What an awesome achievement!

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