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Torturing the One You Love


Someone recently asked me — not what I write, but what I write about. I didn’t have a ready answer. I think I mumbled something about the abuse of power and people solving mysteries to save lives. But that really didn’t cut it. And upon reflection, it didn’t cover more than about 50% of my story-telling.

The question has been niggling at me for several days but I finally got the answer while I was making my morning coffee today. (Ah, Coffee, will your assistance never end?). Here’s my answer…

I write about

the way

the world/the universe/life

tortures/torments/dumps on/oppresses

individual human beings as well as members of other species

and about these individuals finding the strength/desperation/compulsion/honor to rise above it


This insight into my own motivation (which says a lot about the way I view the world/universe/life, I know)reminded me of something someone else said a few months ago. (Sorry, all you someones). They said that writing good fiction necessitates torturing your main character. Trent Jamieson actually wrote on his Facebook status a couple of days ago: I’m never happier than when I am beating the shit out of one of my characters. (I can’t believe I’m quoting Facebook statuses now!).

It’s a sad but true reality of spec fiction, action and thriller writers that we create these characters we love and make their lives absolutely miserable. We bankrupt them. We kill their lovers and sons and parents. We get them fired. We send hordes of demonic lizards to eat their grandmother and torch their village. We make them reach for solutions that cost them dearly, only to find those solutions don’t work. These heroes finally find their Answer … and the Answer has catastrophic consequences.

We afflict them with boils. We have a criminal shoot their parents dead outside the opera. We overrun their world with zombies. We get their wife held hostage with orders not to tell the FBI but the FBI find out anyway and stick their dirty noses in. We put a bomb on their bus that will detonate if the speed drops below 50 mph…then we put roadworks in their way. We give them the choice between being a superhero and having the woman they love.

Because if we don’t do these things, our writing is boring as bat guano.

If your own project is lacking pace or tension or pizzaz, maybe you need to turn up the heat on your main characters, or on someone they care for.

Returning to the central theme of Pete Aldin’s writing — sure, it’s not original, but the pain of my characters and the lengths to which they’ll go to push through it and be/create/find something better…this is what facinates me in ordinary people in the real world and it facinates me in fiction. And making those things shine/pulse/inspire is what I’ll keep reaching for in my writing.

Published inOn Writing


  1. I won’t lie, I’m still struggling a little with the torturing my characters. I think I’m getting better at it though 😉

  2. Ah, Rhonda, think of it as tough love… kinda…

  3. By the way, I’ve since simplified that Answer to “the way life torments individuals and the way these individuals find the strength to rise above it”. Much less unwieldly than the pyramid answer above…and I can always expand on it. 🙂

  4. Great post, Pete. There is nothing so exquisite as killing our darlings or beating the ever-loving shit out of them. It defines both them and us as their writers/creators.

  5. Thanks, Pete. I love and appreciate the way you put it. Something just went off in my head; I hope it was an epiphany and not an aneurism. Makes perfect sense. Clarity. Love it.

    Thanks 🙂

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