If you are a writer who has no problem giving trouble to your characters, then I applaud you. When I first began writing, I treated my characters like I would children. I protected them, and only gave them troubles if I knew they’d be able to defeat it on their first try.
The writing began to bore me, but I didn’t know why. I loved my characters. Why couldn’t I stay focused on the story?
Using professional wrestling as an example, there are underdog stories in which a character is beaten down, but keeps repeatedly getting up until the moment when he stands victorious. The fans love it. Whenever I see an underdog story in a novel, I fall in love with it. Wrestling fans, infamously petty and hard-to-please, love the underdog story, no matter how often it appears. But I didn’t think about why I loved it until I saw a totally different story in the wrestling world.
One day, a wrestler entered the company. He could never be knocked down. He kept going…and winning…and going, until one day when he had a victory which should have been huge, but it wasn’t—because no one cared. As a fan, you’re expecting this character to fall down eventually, but he never did. This incident with the endless wins happened two years ago, and fans still boo the wrestler today. It isn’t because he’s untalented, it’s because he never lost. Fans stopped caring, because why bother if you know he’s going to win each time?
After witnessing this story on TV, I looked at my own writing, and the problem hit me in the face. Just like the case of the talented wrestler everyone hated, my story bored me—not because of my characters, but because I never gave them anything to stand up against.
The stories of people standing up to bullies even though they’re weaker by comparison is etched in our mind because they’re the ‘little guy.’ There’s no way that they should be able to win, but when they do, everyone loves it. The impossible is made possible, and we begin to think that we can do anything, too.
When you have no challenge, it’s simply the expected happening before your eyes. There’s nothing special about it. Professional wrestling made that mistake once, and I was determined to never repeat it.
I still struggle sometimes with making sure my characters have an adequate challenge, but I’ve trained myself to think of Murphy’s Law. I make a list of all the bad things that could happen in a scene, and I choose the worst. When my writing bores me, I first examine my characters, but if that doesn’t seem to be the issue—I know I need to push my characters down.
Make sure your stories have conflict. Your future readers will thank you.
Your characters are like geodes. If you want to see what they are really made of, you must break them.
-@gr8writingtips on Tumblr