The point of any story is to get from one point to another with entertaining bits in-between. Ideally, the protagonist is on a journey of some sort. Probably growth by emotions or achievements. No path is smooth nor should it be. How dull would it be if nothing ever got in the way? If nothing pushed the hero off course and they sailed on through to the end easy-peasy. Yawn. Double yawn even.
I am a huge fan of the setback, the ‘are you freaking kidding me?’ moments. I don’t care for over the top non-stop terrible incident after terrible incident. The kind where the character can’t ever catch a break, so much that it becomes annoying. In those cases it’s more about bad luck or sensational writing without content. Like a sweet strawberry cream filled chocolate without the strawberry filling. It’s okay, because hey, chocolate. But where’s the gooey good stuff?
All in all, the protagonist should be steadily gaining ground and when setback they should triumph and move along to the next obstacle.
What about those obstacles? Well, I try to make them meaningful to the story in some way. Random death or destruction is fun but if it means nothing to anyone in the story, the reader certainly won’t give a rats ass either.
For example, I’ll talk about Sasha. She is pretty high up in importance at the design firm. She knows how to utilize others’ skills appropriately and is a team player. She lacks drive or the push to get her to do what she should really be doing and starting her own agency. So I’ve set Amber on her to make her work life hell and later someone else will toss her to the flames and really light a fire under her butt. Now in her personal life. She has a secret and a few select people in her life know about it. Something bad happened and slowly, this will be drawn out by a series of relationship related events. Some good, some bad and some very much both. Her friends are trying to force her to move on, men are trying to drag her out of her self-inflicted misery, but eventually someone will give her the courage to let it all go and move on herself. Don’t worry the path is riddled with awful things that make her grow as a person.
Cal is a detective and loves his job. His journey has not been addressed yet, so no spoilers.
Not all journeys are for the greater good. A character can wander from the ideal path and become well… bad. These are fun to play with. You can get super mean and nasty to them to drive them over the edge. Or maybe they’re already there and are the ones tossing out the roadblocks on the sly for the protagonist to trip on.
Think of it like a ladder. The side boards are the progression, the protagonist will climb from the base of the ladder to the top. Some rungs may break and others may be missing. Eventually they need to get to the top. Some characters will be making their way down. It’s easier to go down and even fall fast. Then there are the rungs of the ladder. It’s okay to have rungs, the characters/events that serve only to help someone else up or down. They have no real part in the journey other than that one moment.
Overall, the strong emotion eliciting moments are the ones that will keep the pages turning. How are they going to get out of this mess? What happens next?
My advice about setbacks.
Use them appropriately with cause and purpose. If you over do the set backs then the reader might start eye rolling and get bored or frustrated. Remember its all about the endgame. How can a struggle or set back make the reward sweeter?
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