Why Do You Think Writers Spend So Much Time Trying to Reassure Everyone That They’re Not Sadists?

Posted on 23/11/2011 by

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Readers are masochists, and that’s good, because most writers are sadists. — Chuck Wendig

I’m not a complete sadist. — Peter Orullian

Maybe I just like the control. We all like to play God. — Stephanie BKR

The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. — Janet Fitch

Last week I spent an evening plotting the deaths of seven people. Okay, characters. I was just sitting there thinking up the most horrifying things I could do to them. Then I realised what I was doing and was slightly appalled by myself. But at that point I was already having a pretty weird evening. So I spent the rest of it mentally killing half the cast.

I told Paul M about it yesterday. He was somewhat scandalised. Apparently announcing that you sit around plotting people’s deaths is slightly alarming. Or perhaps it’s just that generally I’m quite fond of my characters so thinking about killing them seems an odd way to spend an evening.

It’s not that I’m really planning to kill them. Well, okay, some of them. I just wanted to think through the ways I could do it. To figure out if their deaths would do something interesting to the story, or the other characters that hadn’t occurred to me. You don’t generally want to kill characters you care about, so sometimes, I think, we don’t consider the possibilities. I mean, it was in explaining to someone exactly why I couldn’t do one of those horrifying things that I realised a) I really wanted to, b) I already sort of was doing it, and c) that it was about to get much bloodier.

Aren’t all writers sadists? …. If you’re not a sadist, you are going to have inherently boring stories. …. So don’t be afraid to admit you’re a sadist, writers. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Bring on the pain. — Jennifer Johnson

Of course, it’s not all the fault of the writers. Readers want us to do this stuff. They’re asking us to. No, really! Seriously, don’t you just love when a story rips your heart out and holds it in front of you and you don’t know if you’re going to get it back or it’s going to get thrown on the floor and stomped on? Don’t you want to be dragged along in that emotional riptide? It’s one of my favourite parts…

Of course, it’s been pointed out to me that I’m not entirely normal.

I just read this story where I actively wanted things to end badly because the happy ending creeped me out. There’s something wrong with that. But in this case I don’t think it’s me. And I don’t think it’s the story. I think it’s what’s in the story. What that happy ending represents. It’s creepy. Like reading a story where the P.O.V. character is a Nazi. And then the Nazi’s win.

At least in my stories I don’t do that.