But this is my challenge as a writer. I accept it.
When I think about my past characters in past books, I think I've been afraid to dole out pain. I don't mean I was afraid to make them confront challenges within the story, including painful challenges. I mean that I've been afraid to dole out imperfections before the story starts. I've been afraid to let them walk into the story already damaged. So they lack the core vulnerability that is the result of living in a hard world that can be cruel and uncaring.
Why? Well, that's probably a question for another shrink's couch. But from a writer's point of view, this is a problem because no human alive lacks this kind of scar tissue, including myself. So the result was characters who were impossible to relate to because there was no sense of shared humanity. They were ciphers, untouched by the world, who came into the story flawless and blank … in a sense perfect.
Last night, as I was sitting up with a very sick three-year-old, I thought about the pain that we carry into our own stories, and I thought about a particular character in my current WIP and what kind of pain she might be carrying into the story, as opposed to what she will encounter once the story begins. And immediately, almost suddenly, I understood this girl. For the first time, I really saw her in my mind, saw the cornered, angry expression on her face, and then I had a rush of sorrow and protectiveness wash over me for her. She's mine, this character, but if she is to be true, then I can only wish to fix her, knowing that I really can't. Because isn't that it how it always is with the people we love?