Brain Babies: Up the Stakes, Man!


First of all, I call everybody “man” or “dude” or some such. I don’t assign gender to anything except genitals. And, even then, only to my own. Yours are none of my business.

With that out of the way, I’d like to talk about how to beat the hell out of your characters and why.

Okay. First of all, let’s clear the air about one thing: I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you are horror (or at least dark speculative fiction) writers. We are not talking about romance, or YA or light fantasy where everyone lives happily ever after. Those stories are fine. Some people like them. So I hear.

Me? I like to hurt my fictional playthings. A lot.

Let’s start with why, shall we? Okay. This should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway, just in case you’re one of those writers who feels guilty about hurting people.

Make your characters suffer!

Because (we’re doing “why” remember?), if they are not suffering, they are boring.

Nobody wants to read about Tommy Twiddlefingers having a nice day, sipping a latte and having pleasant discourse with his boyfriend, Benjamin Twatwaffle. Not because they’re gay either. That part, at least is mildly interesting. But, it’s only interesting if it draws a rabid, slavering homophobe into the story who wants to kill them both and mount their dicks on the hood of his car.

Otherwise, people having a nice time is boring as hell. Nobody cares. You need to heap abuse on your characters. Especially the protagonist. Make them bleed. Copiously.

Break his bones. Ruin her life. Turn everyone they love against them. Beat them down.

Sorry. I get excited about this.

Okay. Moving on the “how” of things. I know I just touched on it in general terms, but I’d like to get a little more specific.

Of course, we know that we need to hook the reader with the first couple lines, right? Especially in today’s world where your average person has a four-second attention span.

Still with me? Good.

So, hook ‘em. Get ‘em interested enough to keep reading. Then, you start small.

Let’s say Tommy of the unfortunate surname is heading out to meet his heart’s desire at the cafe. Benjamin had texted him saying, coffee, usual place now. But, when Tommy steps to the curb, wearing his fly as hell chinos, Bam! A car hits a mud puddle, splashing it up to his thighs.

Tommy’s pissed, but whatever, they’re just pants, right? So, he walks on. The man needs his coffee.

He’s almost to the cafe, when a couple dudes see the rainbow lettered “PRIDE” on Tommy’s T-shirt. One hits the other’s arm. He mouths “fag” and points at Tommy with his chin.

Tommy sighs. He rolls his eyes.

“Look, fellas. I don’t want any trouble. I’m just heading out for some coffee. I’ve already been splashed with mud. Give a guy a break, huh?”

One of the dudes grins, gives an exaggerated shrug and slaps Tommy on the face, open palm.

“Damn degenerate,” he says. He and his friend laugh. They jostle Tommy as they pass him, nearly knocking him on the sidewalk.

With a handprint clearly visible on his cheek, and wet, muddy pants, Tommy enters the cafe with wide eyes, verging on tears. That slap hurt!

(So, here’s the moment where you give your protagonist a tiny reprieve. You let them think everything’s going to be okay after all. It’s not.)

When Benjamin sees Tommy, and the state he’s in, he rushes over.

“Are you okay?”

“I’ll live. Rough morning. And, I could really use that latte.”

They order, and sit silently for a bit. Benjamin is waiting patiently to speak. Tommy senses it.

“What’s up? You look like you’re about to burst.”

“Oh, Tommy. I’ve met someone else. I’m sorry.”

Tommy is stunned.

“You asked me out to coffee to break up with me? Jesus, Ben.” He shakes his head, blows on the coffee and takes a sip. “Who is he? Anyone I know?”


“I was so horrible, you’re leaving not just me, but our whole gender?

“You’re not horrible, Tommy. What a thing to say.”

“Then why are you leaving me?”

Benjamin won’t meet his eyes.

“You’re … boring.”


There. You have (I guess it was me, but go on, take some credit; I don’t mind.) successfully beat this guy down. You made him miserable. You upped the stakes!

If anyone wants to get pissy about gay-bashing here, I’d like to point out that I regularly beat the shit out of straight characters, too. I don’t discriminate. If you’re in my story, hell with you! You’re going down, baby.

That’s the other thing about being horrible to your characters: not only should you do it, because it makes a better read … it’s fun!

Sure, people say it’s cathartic. Gets all the venom out of your system so you’re a nicer person. And, yeah, there’s probably some truth to that. But really? It’s fun. I enjoy it.


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6 Responses

  1. Sarah Glenn says:

    Oh, come on, finish the damned story! Tommy’s got to get his revenge. He could either snap now, starting with some hot coffee to Benjamin’s face, or go home to plan a long-term project to destroy everyone who did him wrong that day. Including the asshole who splattered his fly as hell chinos. 🙂

  2. Whew! I thought I was just a bastard.

  3. Tommy’s jaw fell open. He stared at his recent ex for a full minute.
    Then, with great deliberation, he unbuttoned his silk shirt and peeled it off. The barista shook his head and started toward their table, but froze after a few steps, goggling.
    Tommy’s tan and tone torso split open from sternum to navel. From the rent, a dozen tentacles shot forth.
    Tiny barbs hooked onto Benjamin’s head and yanked him forward. Both coffees went flying as Benjamin was pulled headfirst into Tommy’s body cavity.
    When he was gone, Tommy’s skin oozed forward to seal the hole.
    Holding his protruding gut with both hands, he turned to the barista.
    “I spilled my latte,” he said. The barista nodded. “And, I’m not boring.”

    The end.

  4. Stuart Conover says:

    I was 3/4th of the way through that and was wondering if he was going to be annoyed about spilling his latte.

  5. Soter Lucio says:

    Thanks for the recipe. I like it and could work with that.

  6. My pleasure, Soter. Just remember to give your MC little breaks now and again, to make ’em think it’s gonna be okay. Then, yank the rug right out from under ’em like a boss!