Sometimes I want to apologize to my characters. Well, a lot of times. In Courting Darkness, I cried when I wrote some of the scenes, because I knew I had to do it. I had to hurt Camille. There was no choice, given the villain, given the circumstances, given the darkness of the story. If I didn’t hurt her, then the story and characters wouldn’t ring true.
Writing scenes where we rough up our characters is germane to urban fantasy. There’s no way to build tension in a fight scene if everybody knows your character will come out unscathed, shrugging off major battles with a smile and a skip. If you don’t make the journey harsh and demanding, then the end prize is anticlimactic, and a lie to the reader. And the last thing you want to do is make your reader feel cheated.
In the urban fantasy genre, while relationships are important, and sex can be important, action and characterization are the prime focus. And the best way to build characterization is to put your character through her (or his) paces—to force her to face her fears and enemies.
In Courting Darkness, Camille must face her worst personal enemy—her father-in-law. Hyto is a psychotic dragon who blames Camille for his son turning against him, although that’s not true, and he blames her for him getting kicked out of the Dragon Reaches—again not true. Hyto built his own downfall, but like many in this world, he’s not willing to accept responsibility for what the consequences of his actions. We first met him in book seven–in Bone Magic, where I established that he was dangerous and on the edge, and in that book, he developed a vendetta against Smoky and Camille. (Smoky is his son, and one of Camille’s three husbands—yes, she’s a lucky woman who has three adoring husbands).
Now, in Courting Darkness, he returns, and he kidnaps Camille. And the resulting scenes are not pretty. But if I’d created a deus ex machina—if I’d cheated and let her get away without being hurt, it would have cheapened the story. A psychotic dragon is not going to pull punches nor will he take a dive.
The key in situations like this is to avoid exploiting the damage, to avoid using violence gratuitously. It’s the difference between a good horror story, and a gore-fest. Yes, the action is brutal at times, and explicit, but because this is an ongoing series, I knew that whatever happened, I’d have to deal with in future books. And I wanted an ending that would leave the reader feeling like vindication had been achieved—and I always want to leave my readers smiling.
So yes, hurting our characters can make us cry. As a writer, it hurts me when I hurt them. But it makes the story more compelling.
What are some of the scenes you’ve read in books that left you breathless, where the main character got hurt, but in the end, it made the book—and the character—stronger?
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New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn writes urban fantasy for Berkley: both the Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon Series for Berkley and the Indigo Court urban fantasy series. In the past, she wrote mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, and nonfiction metaphysical books.
Yasmine has been in the Craft for over 30 years, is a shamanic witch, and describes her life as a blend of teacups and tattoos. She lives in Kirkland WA with her husband Samwise and their cats. Yasmine can be reached via her website at www.galenorn.com