Hurts So Good

I dislike holidays during this season of life. Fortunately, this isn’t about holidays. I’m not even sure how to write a writing post about holidays without half a dozen references to Life Day, or Crystal Dragon [deity of choice]. So I won’t.

Today, I want to discuss relationships. Relationships are central to any story of any worth (bring your exceptions. Kick ‘em around; have fun with that) and managing them well (which isn’t to say keeping them smooth, because drama is half of why people read) is vital to keeping a story interesting.

This came up with a text from a buddy, last night. Good writer, him, doing yeoman’s work on holidays. I have littles (which are my excuses for this tardiness), and a black dog with whom I must wrestle. Anyway, he wanted a little advice on the relationship between two of his characters.

The he is scarred from previous trauma, and reacts to a particular stimulus out of that. The she has a peculiar nature that limits her choices. Who makes the first move?

The answer, simply (hah!) is – as with most questions related to story – who is in the most pain? In my buddy’s story, the he could reasonably just step away, and experience only mild regret. While it would be unpleasant, it would be akin to familiar aches, rather than a raw, gaping emotional wound.

The she, on the other hand, is increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. As their relationship continues, she is becoming more aware of just how limited her options really are. Combine this with his inclination to not push anything (unprofessional, etc.), and it seems to me as though she’s far more likely to force his attention than the other way around.

The point though, is that people travel in the path of least resistance. Much like electricity. And like electricity, making a circuit through the heart is key to getting the most pain out of your characters. And more importantly, out of your readers.

While the pain inflicted by outside sources is important to move the story along, the pain characters inflict on themselves (and each other) is key to the ultimate resolution of relationships, at least to the reader’s satisfaction. Basically, the characters need to suffer before they can triumph. Which, while it has little apparently to do with the scenario my buddy is working out, is still going to be core to the story. Relationship have try-fail cycles, just like the greater plot.

So, gentle writer, whenever you reach a sticking point, be it in plot, or the relationships those wacky character inflict on themselves, see who you can most hurt. It’s cathartic, and you won’t face charges for helping fictional persons do to each other what they were going to do anyway.


  1. Heh. I’m working on an initial tidy-up of the next Cat novel, and thinking that readers are going to get a little nervous. An apparent relationship resolution happens, but there’s still 2/3 of the novel to go. That’s not a good sign for “and they all live happily ever after starting right now.”

  2. Start relationships between characters and OTHER people, going in other directions, to frustrate (hurt) your readers.

    Just hope they trust you enough to keep reading. And not so much that you can never fix it. But only you know that.

    It shouldn’t be too easy.

  3. Sometimes, if relationships don’t jell, you should listen to your Muse and realize it’s not going to happen, and that a better relationship is on the way.

    Or that titillation is going to go on for quite some time.

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