The Violet Project Diaries - Entry 3 - Kill Your Darlings (or torture them)
A diary series about the development of my writing career as a dark fantasy novelist.
Today, I’m a bit off due to a weird night, which means I gotta be real with myself and take it easy without slacking off. When I’m like this, I head to YouTube and look for great videos that discuss or critique storytelling. I keeping getting “How Bojack Horseman Subverts Narrative” recommended to me so I watch it.
Fantastic video right? Schroder pointed out that Bob-Waksberg claimed that deconstruction and self-awareness isn’t enough. Believing isn’t enough. Action needs to reinforce belief even if the action doesn’t guarantee a certain result. This is probably why publishers and editors point out the importance of having characters who are more active rather than passive. Not only is it incredibly boring for a character to let life happen to them, but it’s not relatable. It’s the exploration and impact of the consequence following actions that makes the story intriguing AND relatable. To show that in a story, you have to be brave enough to go beyond the “Kill Your Darlings” vibe, or the “I love this character/thing I wrote, but I have to delete it” vibe, and instead torture them.
As writers, we may have that vision of our characters turning out to be someone who audiences love or love to hate, where they’re just fun to deconstruct or be a role model for an archetype, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, no one’s going to care about them if they haven’t been through the ringer. No one’s going to connect with them if they haven’t seen the character’s hopes soar, crash, and waver in between. It reminds me of how you may learn about the events or choices that led to someone’s death and even though you’re grieving over that person, life goes on. Writing stories that subvert narratives certainly requires a raw look at the concept of order and expectation and exposing the chaos within those concepts, like many of our satirical stories do. The chaos is what we want to show our characters responding to. We must also be brave enough to show that they may never learn how to flow with the chaos of life or releasing expectations for things they can’t control or simply taking responsibility for what is within their control. If our darling aren’t working for the story, we kill them; if they need more development, we torture them.
The next video is “Bojack Horseman: Writing Relatable Characters” by Savage Books
This video was a great breakdown of a character development strategy. Savage Books pointed out that relatability is a spectrum, so that means not every character is going to be the favorite or least favorite. There will be an in-between or indifference, but a character of indifference may not be a good sign. I liked Diane throughout the whole series because I get that the shield perfectionism provides against vulnerability. For the Type A personalities, it’s easier to hold this high standard of yourself and everyone else so that it feels like you’re working towards something that will bring significance. When you’re a perfectionist, you can’t just be. You’re not enough. I get that and I also get why the majority of the audience didn’t get it or maybe understood where Diane was coming from, but just didn’t care. We cope with the complications and uncertainty of life differently, which is why a spectrum of characters helps solidify narrative investment. Many of us writers THINK we’re nailing the character design and diversity thing, but we miss the mark all the time. Why? If I were to hazard a guess, it’s because we’re not diving deep enough into the fourth aspect of character writing Savage Books presented: Flaws.
Flaws = vulnerability. In Bojack, Diane’s flaws were shielded by her perfectionism. When her walls came down in later seasons, people got her. Having her mirror Bojack, a protagonist chock-full of flaws, was an incredible writing move because Diane really was echoing what we’ve already seen from Bojack. You’d think that’d be “copying” another character, but the mirroring is what gave the audience context to Diane’s character as a whole rather than just her surface. Diane walked a mile in Bojack’s shoes and we saw for ourselves that she couldn’t walk gracefully either.
Flaws are tricky. Sometimes I sense a resistance from writers to expose the flaws in their character because that often leads to a tragic ending that might not be popular with audiences or the writing market. Additionally, it can just be a psychological challenge if the writer relates to a character and just wants things to turn out well for them. Again, you got to either torture your darlings or kill them. When I blogged about Hamartia, the “fatal flaw” of a hero, I pointed out that, “Audiences want to see the character confront disaster, whether they survive it or not because it echoes reality, you succeed or you fail. However, tragedy is not that black and white. Some rise from the ashes of their suffering and some don’t, but transformation is inevitable,” (Leliel 2019). Designing our characters shouldn’t be about them winning a popularity contest, it’s about making their transformation relatable and significant.
My opinions on the videos made this entry pretty long. Also my brain is worn out, but to summarize my novel work for today, I gained so much clarity and direction for my characters and the novel series as a whole just focusing on character flaws. I ended up killing a darling, but I'm torturing the rest.
Thanks for reading
Read my horror short story "Autonomy Bleeds Black" and feel free to tell me whether you cared about these flawed characters or not.