Any writer worth her salt knows that sometimes you have to kill your darlings...basically lose large chunks of text that you spent hours writing. It's especially difficult when you have a turn of phrase or a piece of dialogue you really like. But I've discovered it's not nearly as hard as letting your characters suffer.
I just finished Rachel Vincent's Pride, the third installment in her werecat series. It's a great series. The protagonist, Faythe, is a strong female in a male-dominated world. She's smart and self-determined, but she's flawed as well. She's impulsive and never knows when to keep her mouth shut, and it keeps her in constant trouble. The thing that really struck me about this book (and the entire series) was its emotional resonance. There's lots of action with good guys and bad guys shifting into large cats and lurking in the woods, but the real story is Faythe's emotional struggle to balance love and family obligation with her own personal goals. Vincent is fearless in letting Faythe make major mistakes, and then forcing her to deal with the consequences.
As a reader, the suffering of the characters gives authenticity to the fantasy world the author has created. As a writer, letting your protagonist suffer is excruciating. Robert Frost said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." He knew what he was talking about. In Sapphire Sins I let one of my favorite characters die because it was right for the story. It was awful. I felt like I had lost a real friend. I kept thinking I was going to save him, and then in the end I couldn't. Now that I am writing the sequel, I find myself shying away from some hard story choices because writing them will hurt. My characters will hurt, and these people are real in my head.
Reading Rachel Vincent has given me the courage to forge ahead. I put her book down, looked at Bruce, and said, "That was great." If I want my readers to say the same, I have to be willing to write the pain.