Writers are a Cruel and Sometimes Heartless Breed


Writing can make us cruel, almost heartless at times, in the service of the story. We go about wrecking ruin on the characters we have created, bringing them to the limit of their endurance. We have the noblest intent. We seek their enlightenment. We mean for them to end the story as so much more than they began – they fight the good fight and find the treasure we have hidden for them. To treat that which you have brought into being with such intent is not for the faint of heart.

The other day I took a character I really like and brought him to the very brink – I put him in a situation that had the potential to ruin everything he had worked for. And I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. As Gustave Flaubert says, “One does not choose one’s subject matter; one submits to it.” I repeat, this is not for the faint of heart.

At other times, a writer’s work is more surprising than cruel. I have one character that went from having short, straight, black hair in her character sketch to being written with curly, blonde hair. Suffice to say, with blonde hair she will have to morph out of the ethnic background I had originally given her. Out of nowhere, a minor character got a name change. Pete didn’t sound like the name of a guy who would do what I was suggesting this guy would do. One character, whom I thought would make a big stink about something, decided to be completely supportive, while shifting the role of the heavy to another character entirely. To say nothing of the fact that I have left a young person in the hospital suffering for days now and can’t seem to return to that part of the story and write the poor kid out the other side. Oh, the trials and tribulations of a story in progress.

The day is brilliant with winter sunshine and the lake looks like a glittering mass of silver diamonds. I have been trying to pump out my 3000 words on The Light Never Lies but the last couple of days have been a real struggle. I produced about 1200 words yesterday and when I read them over this morning, I found only one line that seemed worth keeping. The rest read like crap. Things aren’t going much better today.

On another front, my work on the second round revisions for Disappearing in Plain Sight is done and the e-proofs are back in the hands of Friesen Press. I am glad that I only paid for two rounds of revision. I think I could probably tinker with the manuscript forever – changing a word here, re-thinking the use of a comma there. Enough, already, I am ready for this novel to be launched out into the world – warts and all.

As it has been at every stage of the process, I have no idea what will come after I approve the second round of revisions. But we must be coming close to publication. (If I’m being completely naïve here, please don’t tell me. Thanks in advance.)

Maybe my hard slogging over the keyboard the last two days has to do with reading Disappearing in Plain Sight for the 500th time. The writing is as smooth as my current state of ability could make it. When I go back and look at my first draft of The Light Never Lies, it’s bound to suffer by comparison. Or maybe it is just crap. Time will tell.

(The above photo was taken back in 2008 on the campus of the University of Toronto)

21 comments on “Writers are a Cruel and Sometimes Heartless Breed

  1. Editing, and re-re-re-rereading…I know the feeling. 😉 Keep pounding away at those words. -Luke

  2. LadyGrave says:

    Oh geez delete my previous comment please. My keyboard had a spasm. What I meant to say: Sometime I cry for my characters, and other times I worry I am not hurting them enough.

    Also, that’s awesome you’re so close to publication! I hope the rest of the process goes smoothly. 🙂

  3. Gwen says:

    I think cruel and heartless treatment of characters makes for a great story!

  4. mysticcooking says:

    So true – writing can be murder. 😉 Good luck with your second round of revisions!

  5. A book in the hands of a publisher…that is truly awesome. As for the rest of your post – well, I have to say I can completely relate and yes, writing is hardcore and writers, cutthroat! ;0)

  6. Christine Penhale says:

    The thought of writing 1200 words and only finding one line worth keeping fills me with tremendous anxiety. I do not know how you can face the amount of editing that you do and stay sane – an assumption, I know 😉 I do realize that it is all part of a process that you have to go through to work through character and plot development. But really? One line? You are so brave to tackle such a difficult process everyday. Do not be hard on yourself if there are some lulls in your production. I think that what you do is amazing!

    • I was definitely running into snags the last few days, but I think some of the issues are working themselves out. When the story is moving quite quickly it is easy to start down the wrong road and be a ways along before realizing it is the wrong road. Thanks for the empathy! I’ll keep slogging away at it, for sure.

  7. KH LeMoyne says:

    Your 3k a day goal is great. Especially if you are editing at the same time. Best of luck
    I found your great blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! Great to connect!

    • Pumping out that many words per day has its drawbacks – easy to get off track which happened to me this week for sure. Anyway – thanks for stopping by my blog. I have had a couple of visitors related to the World Literary Cafe – what a place!

  8. Your characters have undergone so many changes. What must you think of my main characters who, before the first draft was completed, underwent a gender swap with each other?
    I think I may have scarred them for the rest of the series and it’s possible that they are concerned I may do it again…

    • Wow – I feel their fear! What kind of a character can trust a creator who would do such a thing? I guess you keep your people on their toes or guarding their other body parts. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to make a comment.

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