Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To Torture or Not to Torture: Has your Main Character Suffered Enough?

by Hilde Garcia

I was talking to my dear friend recently, the only survivor to my coming out party, when we decided to go down memory lane or maybe we should call it Nightmare Street.

"Do you remember THE PARTY your mom forced you to have?” She asks me. Do I? How could I forget? In fact, I wanted to forget it so badly that when the same scene came up for my main character, I happily skipped over it.

Funny. You are supposed to write what you know and what was is difficult. Yet, I ran the moment I had the chance.

I still have nightmares about the dress, the kids at my party that did not want to be there, forced to go because my mother had made the calls to their mothers. I boycotted the entire process.

Then when no one asked me to dance, my mother got up and made an announcement.

“Who wants to dance with my daughter?” I was mortified. How delicious if I did this to my main character. Why not? If I suffered, she should too.

The boy who was brave enough to accept the dance request or just plain scared of my mother, proceeded to step on my toes and ruin my panty hose, my eyes were closed during the one photo of us dancing, and then promptly sat down with a look of relief. Oh, what a dance!

My hair was too short, my tan was to dark and I had just had my wisdom teeth pulled, so my face was still a bit rounder than I would have cared for. Ah, 15, such a good age. NOT.

I wanted to crawl under a rock. The party ended with three people in the pool, my brother sticking his hand in my cake, and my cousin running off to make out with the guy I did like, who happened to show up with a friend. If ever there was a party to live in infamy that was it.

Did I mention it was the recreation hall of our dumpy apartment building, which had yellow and orange floral wallpaper, worn carpeting, cheesy lighting and no air conditioning? My birthday is in August in Miami. No wonder everyone ended up in the pool.

Except for me. I was told to sit and be pretty. I did just that. I sat, but pretty was far from the photo.

Years later my mom always kidded me about it. “One day, you will laugh about this.”

After 30 years, there is still no laughter. I am still traumatized. I know for her, it was a great night. It was the party she wanted and never had. Maybe I should be over it? Nope, not going to happen.

So MC, watch out. I have a lot of torturing to enhance you with, but hopefully, you will find your voice sooner than I did and speak up and say NO to really bad parties thrown by your parents.

Push the envelope. Have you tortured your MC enough today? Really?

If you squirm as you write the scene, you are on the right track.

If not, get to it. Your MC will not torture him/herself.


  1. Ohmigoodness, Sue, how I can relate to this! I guess though not everyone can escape those teen years unscathed and your post brings it all back in embarrassment. But, look how great you turned out and now you really DO have something to use with your MC! Lots of luck. :-)

  2. Dear Nancy,

    This current post was written by Hilde Garcia, not Sue Berger. Sorry for any confusion.

    Lupe F.

  3. Hilde, you are brave to post that photo. I have a whole album of the awkward years that will never see the light of day. In fact, the only light it may ever see would be fire light...up close and personal!!!!!

  4. When you are as old as I am, you will realize that, although it may have been painful at the time, EVERYONE feels they look awful, that they were awkward, that their mothers embarrassed them, and it doesn't matter a lick. See? It gave you something funny to write about. (and you were cute as a button, little girl.)

  5. Hilde!

    I love it! Great, descriptive post - I felt like I was there at your party. And the photo! - The icing on the cake. God bless your mother (and you too!).


  6. Hi Hilde:
    Great work- I love your writing- keep going.

  7. Good story and, of course, well-written. I found the photo charming, I assume your well-intentioned but misguided mother took it : )

  8. Dear Hilde,
    That's a very good point you make, but I suppose I'm too nice to be too cruel to my main characters. I usually save all the nasty stuff for my antagonists.

  9. Finally, I figured out how to post a comment. Christopher, I too feel the same way and then I learned a valuable lesson. Even the good guys have struggles and obstacles to overcome, they have bad urges and resist being good at times. That's what makes them interesting. It has nothing to do with being nice. Your main character has trials and tribulations, just like your antagonists. And your antagonists can have a good trait. No one else may see it, but if you give him something, like he's nice to his dog, but he's not nice to anyone else, you can show us another dimension of the villain, which will make him more interesting to read. And if you make your MC a little bit conflicted, we will be invested in your story, from all the POV's. Thank you for your post! Good luck.

  10. Thank you for all your posts. No, my mother did not take the photo. We actually paid good money to ensure that a professional was at the scene of the crime- because that photo is a crime. LOL. He waited until just the precise moment I closed my eyes. Genius.


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