Sunday, May 25, 2008

Predicaments, Pickles, and Coitus Interruptus

By: Marie Force
Anaphylactic shock, broken bones, bombings, hideous bridesmaid dresses, comas, car accidents, and love triangles. These are just a few of the predicaments I've created for my characters since I began writing fiction. However, with every character predicament comes a writer predicament—I got myself into this, now how do I get out? The (often sick) twists and turns of the writer's mind make our stories compelling and—hopefully—fun to read.

Once I have a character firmly settled in a pickle, I feel guilty about leaving them stranded until I have time to tend to them. I'll wake up in the middle of the night, telling myself that I really MUST get character X out of the bushes she was blown into when her ex-husband bombed her car. Or character Y has to be getting a rash from that horrifying bridesmaid dress her cousin insisted she wear. But my all-time favorite predicament is one I refer to as coitus interruptus.

With a full-time day job and two kids, I rarely have the luxury of uninterrupted writing time. Most often, I fit it in around the crisis du jour that arises just about every evening in my house. Our kids are young enough that they still need our help with homework (and to light a fire under them to take showers) but old enough that they no longer go to bed at 7 p.m. I have to frequently walk away from the computer mid-scene, hell sometimes mid-sentence. A few times I've left my characters in, ahem, compromising positions for as long as twenty-four hours. As I go through my daily routine, I'll picture them in a sweaty clutch, hour after hour, praying I'll return to free them from the grip of passion. I can almost hear their sighs of relief when they are finally allowed to reach fulfillment and move on with their lives—and their story.

Once they are allowed to move on, so can I, with the knowledge that the happily ever after is coming but not until they encounter a few more bumps along the road. After I write "The End," a different kind of predicament sets in, one I (and my friends who know now to be on the lookout for it) call "The Funk." I've created these characters, nurtured them, tortured them, fallen in love with them, suffered with them, and now said goodbye to them. I miss them, I mourn them, and I never forget them.

Writers: How have you tortured your characters? And do you miss them when you complete their story? Readers: What are some of your favorite character predicaments? How would you like to see us torture our characters? Give us some ideas!

17 comments:

  1. It's so true, Marie! Torturing characters is what it's all about. I personally am a big fan of public embarrassment... those moments when you're stuck in the spotlight, everyone knows your business and you're doing your best to pretend it's all good, baby. Much like my life, now that I think of it...

    Thanks for the fun post.

    Kristan Higgins
    www.kristanhiggins.com

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  2. Ohhh, public embarrassment. Good one, Kristan (my RITA finalist pal). Love the idea of a publicly humiliated heroine. What does that say about me? About all of us? I repeat: sick and twisted. Ain't it FUN? Thanks for coming by!
    Marie

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  3. Hi Marie,

    Ah yes, I've often emailed friends that I absolutely had to go since I'd left my characters in compromising positions. And I don't even have many distractions. Sometimes I just need an ice water break. LOL.

    Often, by the time I get to the end of an ms. yes, I love my characters, but I can let them go. Often, I'm quite exhausted and can feel the tug of another story calling to me.

    The excitement of a fresh new adventure makes up for leaving the others to their HEA.

    Ash

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  4. Thanks for dropping in, Ash, our new New England Chapter president! You are so evolved in your process. I wish I could let them go and move on. I'll admit I am getting better at it, but I take "The End" hard every time--less so if I have something already going and ready to move on to. You write and learn!

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  5. Marie,
    This brings up some interesting food for thought for me - I have been spinning my wheels in revision hell for what feels like forever. Subconsciously I wonder if it's because I don't want to move on from this particular story and these particular people? Fictional though they may be, it's hard not to get attached to our characters . . . and I am just one who hates goodbyes!
    -Jessica

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  6. Very interesting point, Jessica. Sometimes it's probably easier to stay mired in the story you know and feel comfortable with rather than moving on and exposing yourself to all those raw emotion with a new cast of characters. We're probably all a little guilty of lingering longer than we should with these people we've grown to love. I like to think that I carry a part of every character I've ever created with me as I go forward. Sometimes I like to imagine what they'd be doing today with the HEA I gave them. Thanks for coming out to play!

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  7. LOL on the Coitus Interruptus, Marie!

    Love scenes are very difficult for me to write, so yes, sometimes my poor characters are left "unfulfilled" for days! Still, that's not as bad as some of the other things I do to them. Hey! I write romantic suspense so name it and I've probably done it to a character...shot, stabbed, kidnapped, raped... Yes, yer blood-thirsty ole Aunty goes for the blood, guts, and dead bodies (but not the good guys, usually).

    MWAHAHAHAHA! (that's my evil laugh)
    Cindy

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  8. You like that, huh, Aunty? I find the love scenes really hard to write, too. Usually it's because I'm surrounded by kids, which makes it hard to get myself in the proper "mood." I also find them easier to walk away from because they are so hard to write, which, of course, leads to the dreaded coitus interruptus.

    ;--))

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  9. I don't like torturing my characters; I like things to go as smoothly as possible--which doesn't always make for an interesting story. Can't say I've ever left them in a clinch, though. Maybe I should try it! :)

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  10. No torture, Cheryl? You are too nice to your people! My characters would enjoy a spin with you!
    Marie

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  11. Hey, Marie. I got a good chuckle out of this one because I can so identify with this. I have sometimes left characters in a romantic clinch, moved on to the next chapter, and not come back to let them "finish up" until I'm practically done writing the entire book. Imagine their confusion! My personal favorite torment to inflict on a character is to make them realize he or she has been dead wrong about something.
    Christina

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  12. Christina,
    I feel so honored to have made you, our resident funny girl, laugh!

    Finish the book and then finish them off? MEAN! How can you do that to them?? LOL! I do know what you mean about avoidance tactics when it comes to writing love scenes. Blah...so hard. Give me a good, grizzly murder over hot sex any day (in my writing, that is...)
    Marie

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  13. Great post, Marie!! And yes...always tortured by my characters. All of them. Every single one I've ever written. LOL! In fact, I've had a host of new characters in my head lately that I had to get out today. My hubby and I went and sat on Nantasket Beach for about two hours today. While he enjoyed the sun and surf, I wrote....cause I had to get these people out of my head. LOL!!

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  14. I LOVE writing at the beach, Marley! While my kids play in the surf, that's what I do on many a summer afternoon. It's actually the only place I ever write longhand. Glad you got to enjoy this great weather and thanks for coming by the blog.
    Marie

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  15. LOL! I don't know if your characters would like a spin with me or not, Marie. I'd just rip their clothes off! :-)
    I must make a confession here. I went back to work on Lover after reading your post and saying I'd never left anyone in a clinch, but I had!

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  16. Glad to be of service to your characters, Cheryl. They owe me a debt of gratitude! LOL. Have you learned to never say never??

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  17. Marie - being single without kids and living alone and still sometimes struggling to fit the writing time in every day I'm impressed with you (and all the fab ladies here I know are in the same situation) - Definitely walked away from your post inspired!

    I'll admit it - I love to torture them :)

    My reader just finished book 1 and said she can't possibly imagine what I could do to tear such a great pair apart in book two. Yes, I had an evil laugh moment. Oh, they WILL be torn apart.
    -B

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