Writers are sadists. Oh the number of times I've come across this turn of phrase and laughed. Is it true? Well, let's see.
My first thought when considering this is about what I've been discussing previously. We writers kill off characters, for specific reasons, to make a statement. And, is it because, in a small part of us, we want our readers to break their hearts. It's a peculiar thing to say that a writer enjoys the suffering of others. Usually, if that was said about a regular person, they would be thought of negatively and maybe even less-than-human. But to be sadistic as a writer is almost part of the job description and a necessity in the routine of writing. It's quite often laughed off.
So what does it come down to for a writer? Here's what I think: it's all about a response.
For me, I'd always felt as if I was being ignored growing up. I'm sure many others have, I put it down to being the youngest in the family and one with quite a reserved nature. As much as I wanted to and tried to involve myself in an adult conversation, because it made me feel like an adult, my opinion was always overlooked a little because I didn't have the "experience" or the "understanding" yet. Part of the reason I'm glad to be growing up and being taken seriously. And even in school, I never yelled out what I thought so nobody was really inclined to listen. Being ignored, or feeling underestimated (and hating it) is part of what cultivates a writer to me. I always say that there's a godliness to being a writer, for many reasons. You're escaping into a world that is your own, you're deciding the fates of characters who are almost human - to compensate for not being able to do it in real life. It's the God complex, and I think that definitely comes in the job description.
So, I do something completely unexpected in a story and the readers are reeling, why do I love that? Because they're listening. Because making them react to me through writing is the one way that I can make them react to me in the first place. I now have a powerful medium to reach people through. So, perhaps I'm being sadistic, or perhaps I'm simply twisting the gears and playing around with this wonderful new power I have. Philosophy talks about the god from classical theism as such: omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, immutable, impassable, everlasting, timeless etc. etc. Sound familiar? I bet it does, because in one way or another, a writer is trying to become these things. Omnipotent - controlling readers and characters. Omniscient - knowing about something/somebody will never know more than you (since you created it, of course), timeless - surpassing the short time you have to live, and to leave your mark. Readers calling us sadistic simply targets the claim to omnibenevolence.
But without getting into a theological discussion, can we as writers, and gods, be omnibenevolent? Let's face it, if everything was sunny-and-blue in our stories, we'd get complaints that it wasn't interesting or didn't reflect real life. I think a writer has to laugh off the label of "sadistic" and just not challenge it because a reader can't understand the "great plan", to put it in godly terms. So I have to blow up a warehouse full of the most loved characters from literature, (imagine a men's club with Pip, Harry Potter and Mr Darcy playing blackjack - KABOOM!) but on the bright side, my character gets the girl. It's never that easy, and if it was, we wouldn't have nearly as much fun. We could disrepute being sadists and saying that the evil justifies the good, but there'd be responses flying like verbal cannonballs. The fact is, a reader probably feels more emotion in reading, good or bad, than in real life, and I guess you have to ask yourself that if they hate what you did so much, then why did they turn onto Chapter 19, and why does your book have pride of place in the middle-left of the bookshelf (it's the dream spot, honestly.) ?
So I say, when I am called a sadist: "yes I suppose I am. If you don't like it why don't you stop reading my work?...I rest my case."