One of the things I love about writing contemporary YA fiction is that it can be real. I can write about things that might and do happen – about people who might and do exist.

In fact, I get to know my characters so well that they become real – even when they’re based on someone totally fictitious.

I know so much about my characters, that they even start talking to me (fortunately, just in my head). I know what foods they wouldn’t serve up to a starving dog – and I know which celebrity they’d choose to go on a date with.

All good, so far! Right?

The stumbling block comes when I have to be mean to them – I’m not talking about make them eat Brussels sprouts kind of mean – I’m talking about really mean.

In a writing for Young Adult’s course I took with author, Sherryl Clarke, she advised that in Young Adult fiction you have to ‘think of the worst thing that could happen to your character – and make something even worse happen to them’.

GULP! That’s like having to do something awful to your own children – of course you wouldn’t do it.

BUT in a book, you have no choice! You have to have conflict. You have to give your character a BIG PROBLEM. You have to think about the flaws in their personality that contribute to/cause the problem – and the attributes that take them through the story and get them out the other side.

GULP AGAIN! Here’s my dilemma. I’m right in the middle of my new YA novel Street Racer – and I’m at that point. The moment when I have to ‘do it’ – make something happen to my character that is going to make him really unhappy.

So far, I’ve managed to find plenty of diversions; breakfast, lunch, school pick up, piano practice, cricket training etc. I’ve even revisited a really old Picture Book that made me laugh when I first wrote it.

And since I got all that over with, what have I been doing for the last week? Research of course. Essential for every book – but probably not the thing you should be doing when you’re on the brink of………………………your main character.

But now there are no more excuses, I can’t put it off any longer – even my kids are getting impatient.  “Have you done it yet?”

I’m just going to have breathe deeply and forge ahead – like my character, I’m going to have face the event and the consequences ‘head on’.

Wish me luck. And if you have any comments/tips about how you handle this particular dilemma, I’d love to hear from you.



  1. I just love the fact your characters are so alive. I’m not there yet with mine, so I can’t offer any advice. Maybe it’s a case of do it, and do it quickly! Put him out of his misery 🙂 And then, you can have the great fun of rescuing him from his dilemma.

  2. Dee, I must be a wicked woman because being cruel to my MC is the favourite part for me. I love making my MC suffer as much as possible, then it’s much more fun when they triumph in the end. In my last manuscript I made my MC suffer a lot for her bad decisions. I hadn’t planned it. It just happened along the way. I always put myself inside the characters head and do what I think a child that age would do. I think about the outcome, and what the worst case scenario would be without killing them off all together. I add a few twists and turns and leave a few clues. I love it when people don’t pick up on them til the end.

    The reader’s reaction spurs me on to be really mean to my characters. They feel sorry for her when things go wrong, then I make things even worse, and just as she seems to come through, I sock it to her again. Hehehe. LOL. I try to make the ending as spectacular as I can to make up for all the suffering though.

    Great post, Dee, but you can do it. You sure made Matt suffer in Letters to Leonardo and what a great book it is. I’ve read it twice already.

  3. Thanks, Karen,

    I think you’re right, I just have to do it – maybe by the end of the weekend:-) I spent today planning how I would do it, so that’s a good sign, isn’t it?


  4. Thanks for your very good advice, Trish. I think that’s part of my problem – I know what it feels like now. And what’s even worse is that you have to relive the moment with every redraft. Maybe I need an attitude switch – think of it being about my readers and not about me.

    I’m going to take my own advice too, breathe deeply and forge ahead.


  5. Poor Dee!
    I really can sympathise. I’m always getting into trouble for rescuing mine too early.
    Here’s to forging ahead!
    Mabel 🙂

  6. Oh Dee, I know exactly what you mean. I’m terrible for going too easy on my main characters. It’s impossible not to feel protective of them! In later drafts I have to force myself to heighten the stakes. I know you’ll get there, but don’t be too hard on yourself – it’s not easy…

  7. Oops! The above comment is mine. I have NO idea why it put me as anonymous (although ‘anonymous’ quotes always sound distinguished and mysterious, so I suppose it’s not such a bad thing…)

  8. Thanks for your understanding, Mabel, and thanks for dropping in twice, Kath. I feel very honoured that the very busy and talented author of Squish Rabbit has taken time out to visit me on two occasions. I’ve always thought I would like to be distinguished and mysterious, but I don’t think I have the genes for it:-)

    Hope your writing is going well, ladies.


  9. Hi Dee,

    Can’t be tough on your MC? Easily fixed. Too much women stuff happening here. You obviously need the male point of view. 🙂

    1. Ditch motherhood. It’s obviously getting in the way. Those kids you mention? Sell them off for medical experiments like John Cleese keeps going on about.

    2. That sympathy stuff? Trade it in for a dose of psychopathy. Failing that, you want aspergian lessons?

    3. Did you mention piano practise? Now you’re getting somewhere. Send your MC to piano lessons. That should do the trick. I recommend my old piano teacher, she was the living end. I wouldn’t feed her to my dog.

    Yep, that should do it. Looking forward to how it all turns out.

    Anything else I can do to help, just call me.
    Best wishes

  10. Dee,

    I think by being mean to your MC, you will grow closer to him and understand him better because of the way you feel during the trauma of it all. I can only imagine the experience will enhance your fondness for him as you want only to protect him. At least you know you are in control and that he will make it through to the other side. I haven’t got to the mean bit of my story yet – and like you, I’m not looking forward to it either but I am looking forward to seeing how I react and how my MC and I will change and both get through the experience together. Interesting times ahead, Dee. Keep us posted!

  11. Have to say, I find the male point of view ‘interesting’,

    Piano lessons? I didn’t see that coming. My youngest learns piano, but his teacher is way too young and funky to meet the criteria that you refer to.

    Not sure I can ditch motherhood – I seem to have developed this fondness for my boys – and it appears to be a mutual thing – and if it comes to experiments, I think they’d be the ones doing the experimenting:-) And as for the dog, well, she’s asleep on her pillow (feeling relaxed seeing as the rabbits have put themselves to bed and are not likely to leap unexpectedly on her) She doesn’t appear to be thinking about eating anyone.

    But thanks for the tips and I will certainly call you if I can think of any other way you can be of help.


  12. Thanks for your insightful comments as always, Lynn. Just a bit concerned that if I become any more fond of my MC I’ll have to invite him to come and live with us….oh, hang on…he already does.

    I will take on your advice though, and remember that I am in control. It is after all, one of the ‘perks’ of being a writer – that we get to say what happens in our stories.

    Hope the words are flowing onto the page/screen for you.


  13. My characters talk to me too. Sometimes they don’t say quotable things is the problem! Of course I agree that you should turn the screws – I’m lousy at it myself, but I know it’s good advice.

  14. I think you are very brave when you are mean to your characters Dee. I know they need something to triumph over but they are like children who you want everything in life to go smoothly for.
    good luck, I am sure you will create yet another literary masterpiece.

  15. I’m with Trisha. I don’t mind torturing my characters at all. What gets me is when I’m reading a book in which someone else’s characters are being tortured. For some reason that’s more painful to me. Weird, huh?

  16. We all think and write in different ways, don’t we Lisa? That’s what makes books so interesting.


Comments are closed.