Thank you so much for your letter. It is a wonderful thing to be the creator of new worlds, new lives, isn’t it? Planting the seed and watching it grow. We are the gods of our little universes. We nurture and care for our creations and want them to thrive.
Our readers want that too. They want to see your characters grow. They need to be taken along on their journeys, their adventures, their quests. In real life, people grow through facing challenges and overcoming obstacles. As the gods of our characters’ world, we need to be cruel to be kind. We all have drama in our lives. We all face times of conflict, loss and grief. It is part of the human condition and without it, your characters will not feel authentic and your story will be flat and uninteresting.
To quote Whitney Houston in the Olympic anthem: One moment in time to “taste the sweet” we must “face the pain.” If your characters only experience the best that life offers, will it not lose its magic? Realising a goal after you have worked hard to achieve it has more value than being handed it on a plate with no effort.
From your god-like position, you can give your characters opportunities to develop and grow, even to thrive. By providing them with a series of obstacles to overcome, their eventual victory will be all the sweeter. Through creating conflicts between them, even over small things like the choice of breakfast cereal, or larger more political, socio-economic or cultural differences, you are offering your characters a chance to change their worldview, to try new things, to embark on fresh adventures. Providing your characters with challenges to overcome, they will discover hidden strengths and talents.
Think of a sword. A beautifully crafted sword is beaten, heated, and plunged in icy water repeatedly. The master sword maker knows that this is the only way to create a weapon able to withstand the full force of battle. It is the process of heating, beating, and cooling that forges both the strength and the beauty of the finished piece.
You don’t say what genre you write in, but all stories require conflict and drama to keep the reader engaged. There may not be any epic battles in sweet romance, but there are misunderstandings and missed opportunities that drive the narrative to the happily ever after.
All stories require an inciting incident when the main character’s life changes. Every story has a climax, that moment when everything before comes to a dramatic head. And a resolution. This story structure is as old as time and works because this is the adventure we as readers, or listeners (via audiobooks, as in days of old), crave. People need to be engaged with your character’s journey to keep turning the page, and conflict creates that need to read on.
You don’t have to be super mean. Conflict can be as trivial as a misunderstanding about the time the train leaves and missing your connection. Or can be as huge as finding out you have inherited magical powers or that Darth Vader is your father.
Your characters may hate you at the time, but in the end, when they emerge triumphant, they will thank you and so will your readers.