Looking at Character: Tackling Dark Matters

Tragedy and hardship are often important ingredients in the brewing of drama, conflict, and characterization.  Sometimes, it’s caused by the nature of the story’s conflict.  Sometimes, it’s an element of a character’s backstory that is revisited during their character arc.   Even in a genre or story where such things aren’t front and center, few if any people (and that means characters) go through life without experienced some kind of personality-affecting trauma, even if it’s a small and relatively inconsequential affair.

Obviously, then, we writers should learn and understand how to tackle such topics.  There are a lot of dark events that can shadow a person’s life: the deaths of loved ones, chronic illness, natural disasters, warfare, slavery, serious injury, sexual crimes, and so on.  When we introduce such things into our stories, it becomes imperative that we not only handle these things in a realistic fashion, but also in one that shows a social conscience towards readers who may have dealt with these same issues.

That isn’t to suggest that these subjects shouldn’t be tackled or that they should be glossed over to prevent triggering old wounds.  What I mean to suggest is that tragedies and horrors that crossover into the real world need to be handled with all due respect and even then with caution.  In fact, glossing over a traumatic incident in your works is probably more insulting than harming to your potential readers.  It suggests that you believe such a horrible thing should simply be pushed away and not properly explored and, be inference, that the pain of the readers who have suffered from that thing should likewise be glossed over.

Don’t even include trauma if you don’t want to explore it and treat it properly.  Don’t throw in extraneous traumatic events to a character’s backstory and never explore the meanings and repercussions of those traumas.  Giving a character a tragic history to simply drum up reader sympathy without dealing with it is a poor poor choice and will, again, insult more readers than it will possibly endear.

In the end, when you consider including such dark matters into your plots and characters, always remember that we have a social responsibility as writers and creators of media.  What we do influences others.  Always keep that in mind and remember, always do your research!

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