Why Writers Must Draw Blood

Today's Guest Post is by Bruce Carroll, author of "Acting: From First Audition to Final Bow". Carroll is currently working on his first novel, "Akiko". To learn more and follow his work, visit his blog, https://astoundingbruce.blogspot.com

I’ve been struggling with my novel lately, not because I don’t know what to write, but because I know exactly what I must write.

As I’ve considered how to create tension and conflict in my story, I’ve come to the realization that (spoiler alert) my protagonist and her love interest must break up. And it can’t be a simple “this is for the best” or “I think we should see other people” kind of breakup. It has to be messy and painful, with lots of yelling and tears.

And that’s my conundrum. 

As a reader – a fan of my own work – I can’t bear the thought of the heartbreak my young protagonist would go through. But as a writer, I realize nothing could be better for the story I am telling.

I was able to make some headway against my own resistance to actually writing this crucial scene in an unlikely place: The local blood bank.

As I lay on the table, having a pint drained from a vein in my arm, I had little to do but look around the room. I took note of the LED lighting and the extensive ventilation system. There was also a sign promoting blood donation which read, “Real heroes bleed.”

I thought about how that applies to writing. If you’re writing an epic adventure, you’d better make your hero bleed. Rough him (or her) up. Let the reader know this isn’t going to be easy for your protagonist. In fact, there is a real possibility this could end badly.

I also thought of how bleeding could be metaphorical. Perhaps you are writing something lighthearted, or a romance novel. Something that doesn’t have a lot of (or any) violence. If that is the case, make your protagonist’s soul bleed.

So now I am convinced I have to break my young protagonist’s heart. Not only does their breakup have to be messy, but also my heroine must lose all contact with her former beau soon afterward. She’ll have to struggle not only with her identity and the people who are trying to kill her, but also with the unbearable guilt of having her last contact with her boyfriend be angry words. She’ll question whether she is responsible for their breakup. Dark frosting on an already gloomy cake.

I’ve already written scenes in which she literally bleeds. Now it is time to mar her soul. It might sound mean, heartless, even cruel to think of doing this to our characters. After all, we made them. They are our creations, pieces of us, our children, and it hurts to see them suffer, because in a way, we are too.

But making our characters bleed isn't our main goal. Yes, it must eventually happen, but it's not how the story has to end. We let these things happen to our characters for a greater purpose, because we know the end of the story.

Even if they don't.

In a small, infinite way, we as authors can glimpse at what God must feel like. When our characters suffer, we are in a sense asking them to trust us, because we know everything that's going to happen, and how it ends. They can't see past the page they're on, the scene they're in, and when they bleed they can't see how it's going to turn out for good. 

God knows how our stories end, and when we bleed, He feels and understands our pain. But He also knows how He's going to use it for good, and how the plot of our lives is going to turn.

We make our characters bleed because we know it'll lead to something better. Because it will make them stronger. So as much as we don't want to, we need to learn how to let our characters go through hardship. Draw blood, because in the end they too will see how it was worth it.

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