My editor once told me that the way to write an interesting novel is to put a series of obstacles in front of the main character. A successful author offered similar advice: Put interesting characters into an interesting situation, and you have the foundation for an interesting story.
These statements may sound simplistic, but they are also true. Challenges create conflict, and good stories need conflict. The way your characters respond to obstacles also shows your readers what those characters are made of, who they really are. That leads to emotional connections – positive or negative – between your readers and your characters, which keep your readers engaged. If they aren’t engaged, they probably won’t be your readers for long.
It can be trying to come up with obstacle after obstacle, but if everything came easily to your characters, where’s the payoff for your readers? Without the struggle, what’s the point?
When I wrote the first draft of my first novel, I gave it to a trusted friend to read. She told me that she thought it was funny, but she also said “Everyone is so nice.” I took her feedback seriously and added in some not-so-nice characters to clash with, to present obstacles in front of, my main character. At the time I didn’t realize that what I was doing was adding conflict, but in hindsight I get it.
“Seinfeld,” my favorite TV show of all time, was famous for being “a show about nothing.” That was a marketing stunt of course, because a show about nothing would be boring. The more things that get in the way of what a character wants, the more interesting the story. So torture your characters (figuratively or literally, depending on your genre), and see how they react. Your readers will thank you!
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. 2018 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.