I have read a couple articles recently about needing to “kill your darlings” when you are writing. If you’re too close to your characters, it can be hard to make them fall and face (seemingly) insurmountable conflict that you need for your story.
When the time came for me, I didn’t just shove my main character off the cliff, I threw her. There were times when I was uncomfortable with some of the things she needed to do, but I would take a deep breath and tell myself, “You have to go there.” Sometimes I challenged myself to go even darker. It’s not easy and it can break your heart to write about some of the things your characters do. I still get emotional at the end of my story.
I used a friend as a beta reader for my novel and she came to see me yesterday to let me know she finished. I’m always excited to get feedback so I asked what she thought. She told me that she had an issue and wasn’t sure how to tell me because she didn’t want to offend me. A little surprised, I asked what it was. She explained that she had to put down the book part way through because she didn’t like what was happening to the main character.
I wasn’t offended at all. I’m always interested in the different reactions people have to my work and, if it’s sincere feedback, I want to hear it (positive or not). I was thrilled that she was so attached to the main character and that I was able to evoke such a strong emotional response. That was a major victory for me.
On the other hand, what if she hadn’t finished reading the book? You don’t want someone to put down your book with no intention of finishing it, especially when there will be more in that series. She did finish reading and was pleased with the outcome. She also asked when I would be finished writing the next book because she wants to read it as well (yay!).
Her comments have me wondering: Can you tear down your main characters too much?
In Shadowed Soul, the main character loses herself and changes dramatically, leaving the reader to wonder if she will find her way back. My friend didn’t like the person the main character became, so it wasn’t that the story was bad, she was just upset that the main character turned into someone she didn’t like very much.
She’s the first to have this reaction and I still have a couple more beta readers working through the book, so I’m going to wait for their remarks before I decide if I need to reel in the conflict or not.
It’s a very interesting issue, and one I hadn’t thought of until now.
Have you faced this issue before, either as a writer or reader, and how did you deal with it?