“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” – Rumi
I came across this quote a few weeks ago and not only did it pierce my heart, personally, but it got me thinking about writing and opened my eyes to the value of letting my characters become wounded.
I tend to mother my characters a little too much, wanting to protect them from problems, mistakes, and bad decisions. While these tendencies are very natural and motherly, they don’t make for the best writing.
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I placed the Rumi quote on my desk as a reminder, not to be afraid of the hard things in life (and in fiction.) If I can remember that ultimate good often comes from uncomfortable, even painful circumstances, I can stop pampering my characters, let them live on the page, give them problems that might trip them up, but will make them (and the story) better in the end. And if I want them to learn and grow and become real to readers, then I'll have to allow them to become wounded.
|Photo courtesy of Free Artistic Photos|
Do you over-mother your characters?
I try not to overmother my characters. I figure that if I overshelter my characters, then nothing significant would happen to them, and it might keep the story from moving along. But I totally understand what you mean. =)ReplyDelete
I know you're right, Cynthia. But I really have to work at it.Delete
Oh, Ruth. How right you are.ReplyDelete
The first chapter-book I ever wrote, which is entirely un-publishable, (but I still love, BTW) had a MC who went from good to gooder to goodest. :] Life was just one lovely stroll in green meadows.
One Beta-reader called it charming, but cautioned me that even young readers need to experience despair before their questions are answered and everything falls into place. I was most certainly being a grandmother, not a mother. You know- grandma spoils, Ma corrects and even scolds.
And a story-teller is a compassionate observer, not a parent or grandparent.
I'm glad to hear I'm not alone. At least *we* realize what we're doing and can work on it.Delete
I'm the opposite. I torture my poor characters. Oh, my poor MCs. They must hate me.ReplyDelete
Kelly, you're heartless ;) But I'm sure your stories are full of drama.Delete
I throw my characters into vicious storms. I do feel guilty towards them, but I know somehow they'll be stronger than I believe and will steer their shaky hearts home safe. I love Rumi, Ruth. That particular quote also reminds me of the Leonard Cohen lines "There is a crack in everything.ReplyDelete
That's how the light gets in.” :)
Storms is a good way of thinking of it, because storms naturally pass in due time. I like that.Delete
Are you kidding? I over-mother everyone! I am the queen of over-mothering. I over-mother my kids, my husband, my dogs, my friends, strangers, . . . I tell the trash collector to button his top button so he won't catch a chill, I make my daughters' friends eat their vegetables when they have dinner at my house, and I once tied the UPS guy's shoelace because his hands were full of packages and I didn't want him to trip!ReplyDelete
I try not to over-mother my characters. I try to let them make their own mistakes and learn from them. But, I also try to make those mistakes funny so they aren't quite as painful. Or at least if they are still as painful, they can laugh at them later. A lot later. Like maybe with their grandchildren.
Judy, you're hysterical. Thanks for the laugh =DDelete
I'm not sure if I do. Something to think about. It reminds me of a Stephen King quote: "I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose."ReplyDelete
He definitely doesn't mother (or father) his characters!
You would probably know it if you did, Coleen. You would have lots of "quiet" stories. And your story arcs would look like tiny little blips instead of great mountains.Delete
Since I'm not exactly a writer and more a reader, I'll try to tackle your question from reader's POV, Ruth! :) I hate main characters that keep making mistakes. I mean, how come you do that over and over? That makes me want to shake some senses into the character! I like characters that even though she/he makes mistakes, they have strong reasons why they are wrong. I always love it when a character learns from a mistake, it makes them seem so real and much more relatable! :)ReplyDelete
A character that never makes mistakes is cool... or sometimes just plain annoying LOL. We readers are very hard to please LOL! x) I think you should write a character with flaws from the beginning, maybe it will help you writing problems that will happen to the character. :)
I don't know,I think maybe I don't mother mine enough. My MC in The Freedom Thief, which I"m revising according to the publisher's request, goes through a lot in his quest, and doesn't get much of a "soft place to fall." That gets me to thinking about my other MCs, too...hmm, good post and question, Ruth!ReplyDelete
Glad I got you thinking, Mikki. And thanks for stopping by.Delete
*I am Queen of Mothering, at least in the first draft! I have to make an effort to cause them pain in the edits. It just doesn't come naturally to me.ReplyDelete
I agree, Dawn. It's easier to introduce troubles gradually over multiple edits. So far anyway. Maybe one day I will become ruthless and be able to throw more troubles into the first draft. I'm working at it.Delete
Great quote. I agree - not mothering our characters makes them so much more interesting. Plus, they are able to grow and learn in ways that they normally wouldn't. Good reminder. I needed this. :)ReplyDelete
Glad you liked the quote.Delete
Yes. I like to feed them (That's because of my Italian genes.), then I like to let them get lots of rest and exercise and good grades, of course.ReplyDelete
Now I must go and throw some rocks at those characters or they'll think life is all about happiness.
Lol. Can't have them thinking that, now can we ;)Delete
Guilty... I want my characters to have idyllic lives, but that would probably be pretty boring.ReplyDelete
I agree, Bish, I want them to have those idyllic lives too. Must keep reminding myself how boring that would be.Delete
If my characters were children I would have the CPS on my doorstep!ReplyDelete
Too funny, Sarah ;)Delete
My characters are pretty messed up, and then I throw loads of hassle at them. I definitely don't mother mine!ReplyDelete
Sounds like I could learn a thing or two from you, Annalisa. I'm really working at it.Delete
I'm another one who's guilty of the opposite extreme. I relish seeing how my characters react to uncomfortable or dangerous situations. There must be an ideal middle ground somewhere!ReplyDelete
It's always that elusive middle ground that's so hard to find, isn't it?!Delete
Yeah, you don't want to kill them or hurt them but you have to make them experience life as we all do. Don't worry.ReplyDelete
A nice reminder for us writers. Thank you.
Hi Peaches, thanks for stopping by.Delete
Ruth, I have studied Rumi for years. I love the quote and how you thought about how you want to protect your characters. I like fiesty characters who have major lessons to learn. I guess the lesson/pain is the wound and only then are we vulnerable to let the light enter.ReplyDelete
I don't know much about Rumi, but after finding this quote, I started to investigate.Delete
My favorite interpretations are written by Andrew Harvey. Have studied with him. A friend of mind set some of Rumi's poetry to music and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra devoted an entire concert to the music. Rumi is very deep spiritually. Hope you check him out.Delete
I always mother my characters way too much! i don't want anything bad to happen to them. I don't even like arguing! Makes it hard to write gripping fiction :)ReplyDelete
You're so right, Susanna. I love how you put it: "gripping fiction." I need to remind myself of that goal as I write.Delete
Totally... so hard not too when you get so close to them. Sometimes making them hurt is so hard...heheReplyDelete
Hi, TF, thanks for stopping by.Delete
I don't know what it says about me, but I don't mother my characters (or father them, for that matter). I'm totally fine with putting them in deadly situations and not letting them survive. Perhaps I should care more?ReplyDelete
Also, I responded to your comment yesterday, but didn't have an email address to send it to you, so it's just up on the post in the comment stream. Thanks for coming by!
Hey Joshua, I'm sure your stories are better for that lack of fathering. No worries.Delete
Bad, naughty blogger... losing my comment... again! Sorry - third time lucky!ReplyDelete
Yes - I hugely over mothered my characters in my first draft and then wondered why it was so dull to read. Now I'm a horrible mother to them!
Sounds like you are a fast learner. I am getting better, the more I remind myself of the issue.Delete
Good question! No I dont over mother my characters. I think I am the opposite side of the spectum. I tend to torture them. I need to find a middle ground, me thinks.ReplyDelete
Torture?! I'll bet your books are very gripping!Delete
Wounded characters are the most interesting to read and writing wounded characters can call attention to our own wounds. Even if the circumstances are different, we have all felt every emotion, and our ability to call upon those emotions makes us better writers.ReplyDelete
Well said, Celesta!Delete
On another note, I have tagged you for the Lucky 7 meme, if you have a WIP floating around.
Wonderful post. It's hard to beat up characters, but as writers, we must. I really like the spin you put on this though--growth comes from hard times. So true. If I keep this in mind, maybe it won't be as tough to be hard on my characters. : )ReplyDelete
Thanks, Cynthia. Maybe that's why I'm stuck on my current WIP this week. It's time to beat up my characters, and I'm resisting!ReplyDelete
Thank you for following my blog! I was really surprised when I realized that you are Mrs. Ruth Schiffmann! You see, I have admired your freelance writing website from afar :). I like looking at the magazines that you have been published by and I have submitted to some of them myself!ReplyDelete
I just read a story of yours that was written in dialogue alone. It was interesting! I know that I tend to write too much dialogue and not enough description in my writing...when I was younger, I used to write almost-all-dialogue stories by accident...it's something I have had to work on :). I can also relate to not wanting my characters to suffer too much. Or I make them get into a tough spot and then rescue them too quickly.
It's nice to "meet" you and your blog! I am a new follower :).
Hi Alyssa, thank you so much for your kind words. You made me smile this morning =) I'm so glad that you've enjoyed reading my stories. I had a lot of fun with the all-dialogue piece. Dialogue has always been a bit of a struggle for me, so I need to continually stretch that muscle. It's great that you are so comfortable writing dialogue. It can make for easy flow in a story.Delete
Thanks for following!
I write humorous mysteries, so I have to put my characters through the wringer whether I like it or not! It's never easy though, I have to tell you. :-) One thing I have trouble doing, is killing characters - even the bad guys. In fact, I have a tendency to transform bad guys into good guys. I'm a hopeless optimist I guess. Nice blog! I loved the topic and question!ReplyDelete
I love that, Karen - redemption instead of revenge. I'm an optimist as well!Delete
That's a really cool quote. I don't usually over-mother my characters anymore. It really does make the story better to trip them up and throw more monkey wrenches at them! Although in my YA WIP, there's one awful situation that I couldn't let my MC suffer through. It almost happened, but letting her suffer that would take the story in the wrong direction, so it is what it is. Sometimes these things are difficult decisions, aren't they?ReplyDelete
I like the way you put it, Lynn "tripping them up" and "throwing monkey wrenches at them." A good reminder that we need to give them little stumbling blocks as well as major obstacles.Delete
You know, I've asked myself that, and I'm not entirely sure of the answer. I think I lean in that direction, without progressing to total smothering. :)ReplyDelete
That's great, Marcia. Sounds like you've found that elusive "middle ground."ReplyDelete
I used to over-protect my characters. Then I realized how much I love writing those scenes that are so chock-full of emotion, and those scenes only come when I let things happen that I'd really rather protect them from.ReplyDelete
Hi Ruth, tagged you for the Lucky 7 Meme Award - I don't know if you had received before.ReplyDelete
I don't think I over-protect my characters, but I think this post is certainly going to make me reevaluate my writing. Thanks for sharing!ReplyDelete
I've gotten to the point where I realize that making characters suffer isn't a bad thing in fiction, no matter how badly it makes me feel. That's why I mostly go for happy endings.
Yes, I do mother my characters. I think I'll copy the quote and post it as you have.ReplyDelete
Nope. I make 'em suffer. (But, in the end I kiss the booboo and make it all better.)ReplyDelete
Hi Ruth, I have not written enough to know this for sure, but in my WIP I think over-mothering would fit what I was doing. My main character is too nice, her best friend almost fell but saw the light, her boyfriend is a super nice guy... and on it goes! Can you say B - o - r - i - n - g ! Yes, I have to stop that! :)ReplyDelete