Presumably, like me, you write in the hope that somebody somewhere will read and enjoy what you've written. Preferably a handful. More preferably a multitude who'll pay for the privilege.
Spend any time reading advice on writing and it won't be long before you're told to put your characters through hell; define the most precious thing they have and take it away from them; devastate them mentally, physically and emotional – this will make your story visceral, emotive and gripping.
Except it takes a little more than that. If you do these things without purpose, reason or effect your reader will end up going somewhere else. Why? Because it's narrative progression that grips readers, not watching characters get persecuted. Without movement or change repeated hellish scenes are just that – repeated hellish scenes. It's like making a point, then making it again, and again, and then shouting it just to make sure. Trust me, we got it the first time.
But I want my reader to really understand what my character is suffering, says the bone-headed writer. Sorry, buddy, which reader is that exactly?
You see, it's not the physical, sexual or emotional hell that makes the story interesting, it's what the character does about it that's interesting – it's the dramatic question that such scenes generate that create the propulsion, the urge in the reader to read on. How will she cope with that? How will he get out of this hell-hole? If the reader turns over to find those questions not answered, just more hell, then unless he's a sicko, he'll move on.
But if you're determined to make your story a hell-trail, here's how to do it - there must be some hope, some suggestion that this can change or stop. Either the hero must be able to help themselves or someone else can.
Progress the hero from one hellish scene to another – think of the character Butch played by Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction – a masterclass in story-telling as a character tries to get himself out of a situation only to find himself in repeatedly worse ones, culminating in a dramatic turn-around between protagonist and antagonist.
Torture or abuse a character by all means – make the reader understand the jeopardy they are in – remind us throughout the narrative – but continue it without narrative movement, hope, or redemption and I'll go wake up the gimp.