What do writers think about when they hurt their characters – throw them into a downward spin without a parachute? Writers say they are not monsters, angry at the world. Others say they stretch their characters to the limits, send them into the most miserable of places, only to worship their ascent back to humaness. Would literature be of any value if we didn’t hurt the characters we love? Make their weakness, vulnerability, and humility tools of self-destruction?
Two frogs fell into a bowl of cream. One didn’t panic; he relaxed and drowned. The other kicked and struggled so much that the cream turned to butter and he walked out. Writers do put their frogs in bowls of cream and observe their descent or their survival. Is it a game? To sit back and watch who will self-destruct and who will survive? Did Edward De Vere feel dread and worship for his characters? From Eeyore to Norman Bates to Ma, characters suffer.
Who do they suffer for?
Here’s a suffering wife/mom/photographer from The Gold Fish Bowl
Yvonne curled up in the tub resting her ear on a towel she had rolled up. Two noodles clung to her hair, and the crotch of her jeans were stained with urine. Her face with mascara. Ripped from the collar down, her blouse slipped from her shoulder. A welt, like a river in a sunset meandered from shoulder to spine below a large tattoo in its first stage of design. She didn’t want to leave the tub – cool and hard like armor. Trying not to wonder where everyone was, she rocked and cried salt water puddles. She had placed her hands under each armpit, so she didn’t have to look at them.
A siren sounded down the street. There were two paramedics – Fran and Al – who rushed to the fallen man and followed procedures – introductions, questions, examinations. They removed his glasses and comforted the boy. Fran helped Lennon out of the trunk and scooped up the cat for the boy to hold. She walked him from the living room to the kitchen and offered water. As Lennon drank, Fran’s attention dissolved into the walls around her. She caught a glimpse of a mannequin dressed in a boa on a window sill. A satin and silk quilt, pinned to the dining room wall, held a distinct collection of broaches. Broken plates and picture frames lay scattered on the floor. She had seen it before – two moments passing together, dinner and disaster. Then the business of bones and breakage. She looked at the cat’s shirt. The cat would survive, maybe be born again, but the boy. He couldn’t live in trunks all of his life unless he became a magician. After Lennon told her that sometimes he stayed with Bill and his wife next door, she asked Bill if he’d take Lennon and the cat for the night if it was okay with Ms. Conway. Fran turned her attention to the cries above her – the suffering mother raw with regret.