Ink-Stained Scribe

Characters that Cry

An Artist in Excruciating Pain
(Wisdom of the day: NEVER Tweet the word iPad. You will get spammed into next week, even if you delete the tweets.)

Writing characters that cry is a tricky process. Every time a character of mine starts to get choked up, I ask myself not whether I would cry in that situation (If I wouldn't, there's something wrong), but whether I would want to read about a character who would. Secondary characters can get a lot more leeway than main characters in this regard--just look at how often Hermione bursts into tears, as opposed to Harry, whose life is unquestionably more difficult (ignore the part where he's a boy and therefore biologically not as prone to tears). I know it's really important for a main character to retain the respect of the reader by showing what they're made of.

So why do my characters cry so much in rough drafts?

In The Mark of Flight (MoF), my main character Arianna is a fourteen-year-old princess, who struggles to get home before her kidnapping incites a war. In Hellhound (HH), my MC is Helena--a shape-shifter, who grew up enslaved in a gang-like style of living until she freed herself with magic and started working to stop her ex-master. These two characters have very little in common, even their worlds: Arianna's world is High Fantasy, while Helena is from a contemporary alternate version of the US. If there was one thing I discovered through writing both of them, it was that they sniffled their way to the finish-line.

Pampered Princess or Badass Shapeshifter--it doesn't matter. They both wibbled at every moment of intense feeling. By the time I got to the end of the first drafts, I knew the faucets were leaking enough to daunt even the Mario brothers. 

I thought I knew Arianna pretty well when I started MoF, but no matter how well you know your MC before you start, you always know them much better once you finish. At first I thought it was okay for her to cry, since she was a spoiled princess, but when I finished MoF, I went back and removed almost all of Arianna's tears. I had learned so much about her character that I decided her pride and determination wouldn't let her cry until one key point--when she discovers she has fleas in her hair. Trivial, yes, but it's that triviality in the midst of the seriousness that finally gives her an outlet. It serves at least two other purposes, as well.

Writing Helena was a totally different experience.

As some of my older readers will recall, I came up with HH the day before NaNoWriMo started, based on a scene I did as a writing exercise. I had a strong outline, which I wrote in a day using Holly Lisle's note-carding method, but learning about Helena was "pantsing" all the way. There wasn't time to get to know her before I started writing--I had to get to 50,000 words by December 1st. I knew she was running, she had a secret, and she had a goal. I knew she was out of place, but not why, or how she felt about any of it. As the story progressed, I filled in her background, I learned her reactions. I think I got her right in the last two or three chapters, but she had about 20 breaking points scattered throughout the story.

I've chosen which one I think is the most important, and I'm trashing the rest. For the character I had established by the end of the story, her level of vulnerability at the beginning and middle of the story was way too high. That's what I love about writing, though. I can fix my mistakes, and only my beta-readers will ever know.

And everyone who reads this blog. Dammit.

It can't be productive to write this way, but I wonder if this isn't part of my learning process--to write characters weaker in the first draft, so I can decide their limits, and then go back and revise. Maybe in the next book or five, I'll learn to be a little more conservative with the waterworks, so my main characters don't start reading like Cho Chang.

Are you bothered by characters who cry a lot? Do your characters cry too much in rough drafts, or not enough? What other kinds of rough-draft tendencies do you have?