"All things of grace and beauty have a common provenance in pain:
their birth in grief and ashes."
their birth in grief and ashes."
I am going to address a paradigm among the writers that I know, and because it is among writers that I know (those I don't know may benefit from this also) I feel I must proceed with delicacy. Unfortunately I am not very good at delicacy, and when I address anything I feel I tend to lay about me rather hard... It is not so much that I think the writers are wrong as I feel there needs to be a paradigm shift away from what is potentially a very wrong view to a view which more accurately reflects how our own Creator chooses to craft us.
The problem is pain. To clarify still further, the subject is that of inflicting pain on characters, and the author's mental state, emotional drive, and rational motive for doing so.
First of all, writing books and nurturing characters is not mechanical. If you are stuck, you cannot simply "throw a curve-ball at your character" to see what he does. Don't simply knock his legs from under him for the sake of making something happen. Tearing something down has no effect if you do not already have a plan to built it up again. There are plenty of reasons for being stuck, most of them are self-inflicted, most of them are due to laziness or poor planning (the author is generally considered to be at fault when the writing goes bad), and there are lots of ways of getting through writer's block. Random acts of violence is not one of them, and is as much a crime in literature as it is among live human beings.
Secondly, and this is the really difficult aspect of writers and pain that I have to address, people make their characters hurt because they think it's fun. I have heard a lot of writers express pleasure about "the next big thing" they're going to put their characters through. I've heard them begin cooking up new methods of torture because they like to invent new ways of hurting their "poor charries." Now, outside of literature, here in the real world, we have names for people who find inflicting pain on other people to be enjoyable. The most jarring, and the most all-encompassing, is sadist. I think really amateur writers who enjoy hurting their characters are actually masochists, as they don't quite have the skill to detach themselves from their characters. Whatever the relationship between the writer and the character, the uncomfortable truth remains: enjoying making people hurt is messed up.
We are all enjoined to be charitable and wise. I'm not asking you to resist pushing your characters to the limit, tearing loved ones from them, and making them hurt emotionally and physically in many ways. A good plot, a good story, will often take the salt out of a character before he gets to the end. But we do that to our characters (if we are, not only good writers, but good thinkers about why we write) not to sit back like Zeus and watch the little human worms flail, but to see their mettle harden, to see their resolve become compounded. We collapse them in the crucible of pain and suffering to make them into something better. Pain is never its own end. It is sometimes a means, as the smith's hammer is a means. I may take a character and strip him of every comfort, every joy, every light, and I'll do it to see whether or not, when all else has gone dark and cold, he can still see enough to cling to his hope.
I think you can all see why this approach to handling character growth is a better one than just flogging your characters because, to them, you are their god and you can do it if you want to. Our God does not simply flog us because he can. He may push us to the limit (but never beyond what we are able to bear), he may take our loved ones from us (but the living will receive back their dead), and our bodies and our minds do suffer an almost constant battering by disease and depression. We carry about in our bodies the dying of Jesus, not to be morbid, but so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in us.
I tell my four-year-old nephew: "Let's think about what we're about to do." I usually have to say this after he has unthinkingly stumbled into trouble. But he's four years old. He has plenty of time to grow. We are now adults, intelligent, thinking adults, and here is another aspect of our art that needs attention: what do we believe about pain, why do we inflict it, what is its purpose? We have a great example to look to. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."