When Being Mean Gets You Into Trouble #IWSG

I’m one of those people who is vague about their story details online. It’s not for any fear of someone stealing my ideas; oh heck no. It’s because the mess inside my head is so darn complicated, I doubt anyone who isn’t bombarded with it regularly would really understand. I’m a master of confusing people. But one thing most writers can relate to is being mean to your characters.

I wrote myself into a corner. While contemplating what a certain character (we’ll call him D) would face during a seven day span, I realized the group of people he’s trying to help would have some resentment about how he left them the last time. He was a jerk, really, making threats and pretty much ungrateful about the fact this one guy saved his life. But this one guy now needs him, so the impact is minimal. D‘s daughter, on the other hand, isn’t needed, but wants to help.

That’s where the meanness came in. Technically, she was to be executed by these people, but because of D‘s action, she got to leave with her life. When she returns, a few of these people decide to exact “justice”.

Bullying is a serious issue, and I ended up with a situation where there was no good outcome. It troubles me. She’s the victim, and yet I couldn’t come up with solution that wouldn’t break the rest of the story or that I wouldn’t personally rebel against as a parent.

I did decide on an outcome to get past the situation. It has a ripple effect through the rest of the story, and there’s been a lot of notes where revision is now needed. I’m satisfied with how it works out in the story. D gets some humility, his daughter proves she’s more mature than her father, and the bullies feel shame and regret for their actions. But honestly, I’m still insecure about and worried that people will think I didn’t handle it right, or that I’m not taking it seriously enough. I guess we’ll see.

Have you ended up with a bad situation? Do you ever write about sensitive topics like bullying? How did you handle it?

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Loni Townsend

About Loni Townsend

Wife. Mother. Writer. Ninja. Squirrel.

40 thoughts on “When Being Mean Gets You Into Trouble #IWSG

  1. Hey, sometimes a writer just has to tell the story as it should be and not as we would like it to be. Life doesn’t always have happy endings nor is it always nice. As writers we are the gods of the worlds we create. I think most readers get over the parts they don’t like as long as the whole story is a good one and makes sense.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

  2. Go with your gut, Loni! Trust yourself and trust the story.

  3. No matter what you write, some people will love it, some people will hate it. If you wrote it well enough, being true to your characters and the situation, to illicit that strong of reactions, then you did something right.

    IWSG Post June

  4. I find that if a writer doesn’t write about the ‘tough subjects’ then a story can lack luster. Part of what makes life life is how we handle ourselves in the day to day compared to how we handle ourselves in physically or mentally difficult situations.
    I definitely write about them. 🙂

  5. I think you’ll be fine with the way you’ve written it. There’s no one way to a solution.

    And to answer your questions, yes, I have ended up following my characters into bad situations (and given the torture I put my MC through, I feel horrible). Yes, I’ve touched on sensitive topics. And I have no idea how my solutions to them will be received. I’m trying not to be too specific because most of it is in the book I’m working on and it’s still on its first draft. I’m not sure how much I’ll keep and what will be revised completely. Mostly my means of handling it is to watch and see what my characters do – how they react to these situations.

  6. I’ve blocked myself in a corner many times. It gets so frustrating trying to decided how to fix the twist. But one thing that works for me is to do an 3-act summary. Writing it out seems to help clarify where I can go to fix the plot. I play the story like a video in my head, then quickly write down the highlights. I need absolute quiet for this, which isn’t always easy in our house. Sons and grandchildren coming and going. Sadly, even this solution is difficult at times. Just keep trying, Loni. You will fix the problem. You’re a writer!

  7. I touched upon bullying a little in my third book, but it was light.
    I did write myself into a corner at the end of the first book. A few brainstorming sessions later and I got out of it. Glad you got out of yours.

  8. Congrats on finding a solution to the sensitive situation you wrote yourself into. You obviously didn’t take it lightly and put plenty of thought into it, and I’m sure all of that will come across to readers.

  9. Difficult topics are part of life and shouldn’t be shyed (shied – howeveryouspellit) away from. I do get frustrated when I hear a certain magazine won’t accept a story about a certain topic. As a writer we should be able to explore, discuss and tackle sensitive topics. That’s our job, isn’t it? So glad you found a solution, Loni. Keep going! I’m sure you have worked it out perfectly.

  10. If you’re happy with how you resolved it, that’s what matters. Difficult situations happen in real life and people handle them differently.

  11. I am so glad you wrote this. I’m looking forward to the comments. I’m writing something now that’s tackling an issue I don’t know how people will react to. P.S. I’ve been wanting to write a post for the IWSG forever but I’m too insecure. Seriously. Maybe next month…

  12. Oh, I end up with unresolvable problems all the time. Little niggling details that didn’t occur to me when I was plotting. Usually it means I have to go back and make significant changes. Of course, sometimes I’m lucky and the new direction actually turns out to be superior to the original version.

  13. I’m wondering if this has to do with Thanmir War or Cera’s Chronicles. 😉 At least you found a solution. That’s good!

  14. I write myself into corners too. I do write about sensitive subjects that sometimes make me feel like I’m writing my depression into the book. It’s hard, but life isn’t always perfect and I want my readers to know that. Good for you for finding a solution.

  15. Hi Loni. I think if you painted your character into a certain situation that just felt right even if it shifted and became uncomfortable, your solution will feel real to the reader too. 🙂

  16. I also don’t talk about my WIPs online (for fearing of upsetting my muse). I have one story in particular that is just so SAD. It feels like a great story but there are things that happened to the characters that just make me so sad and angry that I know this story will drain me emotionally. I’ve been dodging it, so I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it should I ever decide to actually write it. We’ll see!

  17. Loni, you have to go with what feels right to you, not try to conform to what your readers might think. They are all different anyway. Some might agree with your solution, while others might not. You can’t please anyone.
    I have a scene of attempted rape – a touchy topic for many – in one of my books. One reader complained that I didn’t handle it seriously enough, got angry, and stopped reading after that scene. But I handled the situation according to my heroine’s abilities. She is a powerful magician and she didn’t let the abuse continue. Neither did she let the abuser go unpunished. If she was a girl without magic, the outcome would’ve been different.

  18. You gotta stay true to yourself and the story because it is your story, not your readers. You are taking them for a ride in your car. No easy answer to that one.

    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  19. First, congrats on finding a solution!

    I think the honestly in your writing will shine through. But no matter what we write someone will take issue with it. For things as heavy as bullying to as light as how we handle a mythical creature.

  20. I’m glad you got past the situation!

    I’ve definitely written myself into a corner. Lots of fun, right? Although sometimes it can be, re- envisioning your story. That’s the good thing about us writers. We can take as much time and planning as needed. 🙂

  21. I haven’t written about bullying or anything too sensitive…well, I guess some people might say I do. I include a lot of cussing, violence, sex and alcohol in my books 🙂 But you thought long and hard on this aspect of the plot, so just trust it. You can’t make everyone happy anyways.

  22. Bullying is a tough issue. I haven’t tackled it much in my write at this point. Even though you’re not sure you solved it right, I’m betting you did just fine. You have to go where the story takes you.

  23. I guess all of my YAs deal with what you call sensitive subjects. I call them life subjects. Cutting. Suicide. Death of a parent. Illiteracy. Parental neglect. Bullying. Bigotry. That’s pretty much it. And then I write MG fantasy to cleanse the palate. 🙂

  24. I’ve written myself into many corners in the past. As for heavy subjects… there’ll be a few in the upcoming novels, but I’ve gotten past the point where the majority of objections bother me. As others have said, there’ll be people who’ll think you were too easy and others who’ll believe you were too hard. Go with your muse.

  25. Being mean to our characters is so hard! My husband is always asking what *else* I can to them to create conflict. Is it my soft heart that wants to protect my “babies?” Good luck, Loni!

  26. I don’t like to give a lot of details about my writing projects either, but for fear someone will steal my ideas. In today’s publishing world, uniqueness of a story is key and I don’t want anyone hacking into my brain or blog! I’ve backed my stories or characters into a corner with no seemingly way to get out. Let your story simmer. IT will ALWAYS work out. Sometimes the outcome will surprise you. 🙂

  27. I hate revision ripples. But they are a necessary evil! Glad you came to a solution, being stuck in corners (in ms or real life!) are not fun.

  28. Bullying is, unfortunately, a part of life, so shying away from it in your story doesn’t make sense if that’s where your story needs to go. The fact that you resolved the issue in a good way should turn the negative event into a positive lesson. I think you should write what feels right to you.

  29. Dee

    If you found a solution that fits well and seems satisfying to you, then I say go with it- like others have said, there are a lot of potential outcomes and not everyone will be happy, no matter what you choose. On the other side of the fence, some of your readers will think you nailed it.
    Go, you!

  30. I have a couple of scenes in my first book that have made it ineligible for reviews… I did a rewrite/second edition but I left it because in the end that’s the way it is, and pulling the punch felt… cowardly? BUT it’s an adult book, not a YA book, which makes a LOT of difference. Still, I do have a couple of things I’ve tiptoed around – Claudius and Arowenia are actually half brother and sister (being vampires they are form looooon ago when things were different) but I’ve left that bit out because… well, yeah… and then I have a character Tory who is a sick b****** but I pulled a lot of punches when I did his short story because, well, I was worried what people would think of it.

  31. You could pose the scenario to some teenagers and listen to how they would handle it. Or, trust yourself. Not everything ends up neat and tidy. Good luck with your story.

  32. I’ve written about a lot of sensitive subjects, including gang rape and the murder of a child. Since it always feels like my characters are telling the story through me, I never have to make tough decisions like the one you described–I just feel heartsick, or devastated, or physically ill, when bad things happen to these people.

    One thing that helped with the gang-rape scene was I had a wonderful editor who said, “Don’t you DARE pull any punches.” Gang rape should be damn disturbing, and it was. I always remember his words when I face something like that. You have to honour the character, and her suffering. If you gloss over it, it’s almost like you don’t care, or are holding back.

  33. Hi Loni,
    Sounds like you’ve nailed it. Giving the subject so much thought and being happy with the solution yourself has to make it stronger.

  34. I get carried away being mean to my characters. I try to stay in the outline, but new ideas to torture them or ways to insert more twists into the plot are always yanking at my elbow trying to get me to write them. It sounds like you did a great job with your outcome – everyone learns something and you left nothing hanging. Great! Keep going! 🙂

  35. I’m like you, in that I keep my writing projects to myself. That said, there’s always revision! Other solutions may come to you. But, if none do and you continue to like the one you have, that’s all that matters.

  36. I’m the same way about sharing details. I don’t like to share them because I’m not really sure where things are going yet, and things I share could be taken out or changed. It sounds like you took a good approach to your characters’ situation. I would hate to be mean to my characters, I haven’t really gotten to that point in my story yet, but I’m sure it will come eventually.

  37. Sometimes you have to be mean to your characters. I have a couple in my story and everything has been peaches and cream for them. But in my rework, I’ve opted to throw a monkey wrench into the relationship. Something to add a bit more to their relationship. Ultimately, I’m unsure how it’s going to turn out as I continue to rewrite.

    As for bullying, I also have another scene I’ve been writing about. One of the main characters sees a bullying situation and decides to intervene. Unfortunately, he reads things wrong and things don’t turn out the way he expects. At the end he feels he should have left well enough alone. This also has a ripple effect and makes him less willing to help out someone in need later on.

  38. Writing is so hard! I haven’t written about bullying, but I do have a difficult situation in my current WIP. I’ve made some adjustments during the draft, and I’ll probably make more during revision. Then I’ll pay attention to what the editor says to know if I’ve done enough. Or too much. It never ends.

  39. I tend to be too easy on my characters.
    I need to be meaner. 🙂

  40. we must torture our characters!
    and i’ve dealt with bullies in my MG books, but on a lighter scale with fantasy creatures and with a positive message to stand up to them or deal with them – real bullies are much meaner and usually have deeper reasons, very tough subject!

    glad you worked it out – and i know about changing something with a ripple effect! painful!

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