The Art of Mirriam Neal

//the problem of pain

In our writing circle, my friend Arielle and I are known Givers of Pain. Our readers frequently rail at us for emotionally destroying them [cue diabolical chuckle] but something I’ve noticed is that the idea of writing pain is frequently misconstrued and misused. I’m not saying I’m a professional at writing pain – but I’ve been doing it for a long time, and there are some things I would like to say on the subject.

PAIN SHOULD NEVER BE MEANINGLESS

This is my main issue – and one of my biggest issues with Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin. His books are filled with barbarity, violence, pain, death, and atrocity – but most if it has no meaning. It simply happens. It’s a continual shock factor, sure, but ‘shock factor’ is fleeting and relatively pointless. If you want to write about pain, it has to have meaning. A couple years ago, a good friend wrote and asked me how I was able to write characters who were basically huge jerks – and have them remain lovable. She said she was trying to do that, but it wasn’t working. I told her the character needs a reason for why he behaves the way he does. Simply acting like a horrible person isn’t forgivable or understandable – there needs to be reasoning and logic behind the behavior. The same goes for pain in novels. Inflicting pain just to inflict pain is irresponsible and eventually pointless.

PAIN NEEDS TO RUN DEEP

There’s a difference between getting a paper cut and witnessing the death of a loved one, but frequently they’re treated the same way by authors. The pain needs to be understandable and relatable. We haven’t all witnessed a horrible murder, for instance, but all of us have been through some kind of emotional wreckage, and that’s what we can relate to. I’m currently introducing my mother to the world of KDramas, and I frequently say KDramas taught me how to write. How?

THE KDRAMA FORMULA

The basic KDrama formula is ‘create lovable characters, then make them suffer.’ It sounds pretty simple and sadistic, but these are the stories that make me feel the most, that stay with me more than the rest. They leave deep marks. They know how to write pain. The pain has reasoning, consequences, and results. When characters die, it’s for something. When a character feels emotional pain, we feel it with them, because we understand it. So really, the KDrama formula is ‘create lovable characters, then make them suffer for reasons that will resonate with the viewer.’ I can’t stand flippant pain, or authors who think it’s all right to throw meaningless tragedy after meaningless tragedy at the reader. Example: In my JuNoWriMo, This Curious Madness, Alice is locked up in the Red Queen’s dungeon along with the White Rabbit. The Red Queen is in possession of the Hatter’s heart, rendering her able to control him despite his own wishes – and while he has treated Alice as kindly as he can up until this point, the Red Queen forces him to beat Alice unconscious. This all sounds awful, but it isn’t pointless. For Alice, it’s a major point of character growth. She has become strong enough to forgive the Hatter and to understand it isn’t his fault, and for the Hatter, it’s almost a breaking point. It’s where we see who he truly is, and the things he’s forced to do. Pain needs to have meaning.

BALANCE

It’s all very well and good to have pain and tragedy, but that shouldn’t be all a book is. I like many tragic things, but I can’t stand tragedy if it doesn’t have something to lighten it up. Nobody wants to finish a novel, show, or movie and feel depressed, bleak, or hopeless. There needs to be something to lighten the mood – humor, kindness, something to juxtapose against the pain.

IN SHORT

There must be meaning to the pain, and there must be a light in the darkness. To write pain, being ‘heartless’ is overrated – the more heart you have, the better you can write, understand, and portray pain. Have a heart.

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