Linda’s Blog May 28th 2020
Rarely, if ever, in life does everything go smoothly all the time. If it did, then our stories would be so boring. Life and stories are all about how we cope with adversity: problems, challenges, barriers, troubles, difficulties, setbacks. There may well be a happy ending, but only after the protagonist overcomes the problems.
A character’s true personality only comes out when they face adversity. You must give your protagonist challenges so the reader can see how they react, what they are made of, who they really are.
The problems your character faces do not, necessarily, have to be major challenges. You can leave those to James Bond – bombs, guns, fires, car chases. Real-life problems tend to be on a smaller scale but can still bother your protagonist.
I’ve had a couple of THOSE days recently: nothing earth-shattering, but a series of difficulties that I just had to deal with and carry on – something I’m sure we’ve all experienced. The plastic connector sheared off the hose reel, the dishwasher broke two glasses (my faulty stacking, probably), I kept get putting on hold by our local hospital, I mislaid my credit card (found later), I cut out a pattern piece the wrong way round and didn’t have enough fabric to cut another … I’ll stop there and you can fill in your own!
The more pressure you put on a character, the more they reveal about themselves and the more your readers will be able to identify with them. And the problems your character faces should be connected to what they want, their goal.
So, you should let your readers know, as early as possible in your story:
- What your protagonist wants
- Why they want it
- What is standing in their way (problems)
- What are the consequences should they fail (ie what’s at stake)
If you include these four elements early on, you will hook your readers into empathising with your main character and then keep their interest going, either throughout the next 1000 words or the next 36 chapters. For the longer stories, problems will be repeated, probably several times over, and the stakes will be upped to increase tension and suspense.
Whether it’s bombs or broken glasses, make sure you make your protagonist work for their happy ending.
Have a good week – problem-free, hopefully.