//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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


20 thoughts on “//the problem of pain”

  1. It’s a gross over-simplification but it also is true that in life when you are abused you either become a defender “I’ll never let anyone suffer what I did” or you become an abuser “This is how life works.” The same works for characters. And in fiction writers can give people what we don’t often see, as you said, the reason for the suffering.

    Often in life we can’t see the reason—people are murdered, children are abused, good people have everything taken away from them by selfish corporations, phenomenal people get cancer and die–and none of it makes sense to our INTERNAL JUSTICE GYROSCOPES.

    In fiction we can peel away the fourth wall, we can let the reader in on the reason why the suffering is happening through foreshadowing. We can make them hope that the characters find out the reason that they are suffering. And we can subtly share the fact that in life there is suffering, but none of it is without purpose. We just are caught in the middle of the story, and won’t have our AHA moment till the Author writes “the end” at the end of all things.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. A+, lady.

    You /do/ do well with making people (fictional + not) hurt meaningfully. And that’s something I really admire and love about your writing style. I love your dark, broody male characters especially because I’m guaranteed to find out that they are dark and broody for a reason other than fleeting drama.

    Thank you for this post. <3

    Liked by 1 person

  3. *gasp* The secrets of the Mighty Slayer of Feels have been revealed! XD In all seriousness, though, this was an amazing post. You helped me hone my own thoughts/methods on fictional pain a little more.
    And the gifs! LOVED them!


  4. this post was great! I highly agree that the pain and suffering a character goes through can’t be pointless, there has to be a reason behind it. The same goes with killing a character off…you shouldn’t just kill them just to do it. and your point about a “shock factor” is right…eventually it wears off unless there is meaning behind it. Also, LOVED your use of The Princess Bride gifs!!!


  5. THIS. This, this, this, this, thisss!

    THANK YOU, Mirri, for making this post. Meaningless pain in fiction is one of my pet peeves. I kind of can’t stand the whole “shock factor” thing. I feel like it’s just a cheap trick that’s often used in TV shows because the writers are too lazy to come up with a deeper meaning to the shocking parts. It’s getting old. I want deep, MEANINGFUL stories. I want stories that make me cringe, that make me cry, that make me THINK and FEEL because there’s a reason behind it all. But I also don’t want completely depressing stories. Because I believe there’s a glimmer of hope in even the darkest places. Basically I want everything you just said. You put something that’s been rolling around in the back of my mind for a while now right into clear words.

    Thank you for writing deep, meaningful stories, Mirri. The world needs more writers like you. <3

    (Also Princess Bride gifs FTW.)


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