Last week I said that authors can’t be kind. In case you missed it, let me spell it out to you as clearly as I can:
Authors cannot be kind to their characters.
Authors, please be kind to anyone who is not your character.
Okay. Just wanted to get that out of the way. I don’t want any authors being jerks and blaming me. There is a difference between fiction and nonfiction, alright? Please keep it straight.
But you need to know this: Your cruelty must know when to end. Do not be kind to your protagonists. Set challenges before them. Beat them up emotionally. Physically, depending the genre you’re writing in. Mentally. Let them be brought to their breaking point and beyond.
But know what you’re writing. Very few people want to see the protagonist suffer needlessly. They want to see some sort of resolution. It doesn’t need to be happily ever after, but also probably shouldn’t be eternal suffering and only eternal suffering. Know your audience. They probably don’t want their protagonists to suffer needlessly. They want to see hope! Of course, this varies per genre, so again—know your audience! You need to find a good balance between cruelty and kindness.
So how do you find that balance? One method I’ve found useful is to use a secondary character to bring levity to a situation, and to give a happy ending to at least one secondary character.
For instance, Dragons of the Ashfall beats up Patty pretty badly. It’s also not kind to Senny, one of the major secondary characters. They are both changed forever by the events of the book, both emotionally and physically.
But then Patty meets Paul. Paul ended up being a very Alfred-like character, a man dedicated to serving another while equipped with a dry wit. He ends up sharing both wisdom and a reason to smile with Patty. He’s a spot of light in the middle of a very dark time. Paul faces his own hardship, but because he’s not the focus of the story, I’m not cruel to him.
It’s the same with Ten, another secondary character. She’s another orphan. She faces the same hardship all the other orphans face, but nothing specific to her. She’s not the focus of the story, so I’m not cruel to her.
It’s all about Patty and what she has to overcome. The story focuses on her. Why would I be cruel to someone in a way that doesn’t help Patty’s story?
Also, again, know your genre. Some genres revel in sad endings. I don’t aim for that. I don’t necessarily want “happily ever after” – that’s not my schtick – but I do like a resolution that doesn’t leave the reader wanting to tear their eyes out.
I’d encourage you to be kind in the resolution of your stories. Be cruel to your characters until the ending, and then show some kindness.
In other words, don’t be kind. Don’t be cruel. Find a balance.
And make sure your protagonists face challenges… and overcome them.
Dragons of the Ashfall is currently available in ebook and paper book from Amazon.