In life, so often we are told to be nice, to be polite. We are exhorted to be kind and considerate of others. We also tend to avoid talking about certain topics with certain people and possibly even to steer conversations into more pleasant waters. We are told it is best when people like us.
While this may help you in your daily life, sometimes in writing, you have to set this to the side. Personally, I have never read and enjoyed a story where a nice person had only nice things happen to them, discussed only pleasant things and then had a happy ending.
While it may be someone’s idea of utopia, it makes for a really boring story.
Oh yes, my dear readers, we must make our darling character’s suffer.
Whether it is an evil sorcerer casting a curse or simple a lack of funds to do what needs to be done, there needs to be hardship in your story.
You need to think of mean things to do to your characters. You, as the writer, are not only providing the weapons or skills your hero needs to win the day, you are putting them in peril in the first place.
That’s right, you are the uncaring hand of fate. The unexpected catastrophe. In fact, you are all four of the horsemen of the apocalypse rolled into one. At least in this world you are creating.
Don’t try to be all four horsemen in your daily life. It might not work out so well there.
But in the world of your story you are the evil sorceress as well as the cursed princess. It doesn’t matter if you sympathize with your main character. I know several writers who think of their main characters as better (i.e. more noble, more exciting) versions of themselves. They are living out their spy (or wizard or wealthy entrepreneur…) fantasy through their writing. In many ways, it makes the story live and breathe as they are able to imbue the character with their feelings and make the emotions and thoughts really leap off the page.
There is nothing wrong with that. You can view your hero as your alter ego if you want, no judgement from me. But it doesn’t change the facts. You have to remember that no matter how much you identify with or sympathize with your hero, you are also going to have to hit that hero where it hurts.
Think of Bob.
He’s a nice guy. Works as an accountant, pays his bills on time, helps water his neighbors plants when she is out of town visiting her daughter in Tulsa. The plot of Bob’s story calls for slug monsters to invade his town. So…
Bob sees the slug monsters, Bob runs from the slug monsters and Bob escapes the slug monsters.
Not a very exciting tale.
Unless you like running.
Even if we don’t have Bob run from the slug monsters and change it to:
Bob sees the slug monsters. Bob attacks the slug monsters. Bob defeats the slug monsters.
It still isn’t much of a story. Plus, there is no logical reason for Bob to attack the slug monsters. Sure, you get a fierce showdown, but it has no depth.
For depth, we need suffering. We need set backs. We need Bob to earn his victory.
So instead of Bob escaping on his own, we have Bob feel responsible for those around him. We’ll go with Granny from next door and Crazy Eddie from across the street. Crazy Eddie blows up the bridge in his quest to defeat his nemesis, the squirrel known as Fat Jack, so there is no easy escape for them. they will have to traverse Slug monster infested areas of the town to reach the highway and escape. But Granny won’t leave without her cat Mr. Tibbles so first he must be rescued and secured earning Bob several scratches. And on their escape Fat Jack sees his chance to get back at Crazy Eddie and plaques the trio as they try to stealthily make their way across town. Along the way we chuck in more obstacles and problems so that every time it looks like escape is possible, Bob is herded away from the safety of escape and towards the final showdown with the slug Monster General.
By the time Bob squares off with the General, we will have put Bob through the ringer. The readers need to feel that he has earned that victory. That he has suffered and that he deserves to be victorious. If he is indeed victorious. You can also use his narrow scrapes and saves to put the ultimate victory in question.
Does that sound like story with more depth than Bob’s running away or easy defeat?
Personally, I think it does.
I know, you are a nice person. And you don’t want to be mean to anyone. So think of it this way.
This is the place where you put the frustration with an awful boss, coworker, or anyone else really. This is where you put those things you would never say to a person in real life. Or where you finally get to use the comebacks that never occur to you until well after the conversation is finished. This is where you dredge all the mean, nasty, negative comments that you have heard or thought in your life from the first grade playground bully to the person who rejected your job application. All of that is fodder for the hardships you need to inflict on your characters as your story moves forward.
When you were in third grade did someone say something you you that made you want to cry? Did you not have a comeback? Did you not deal with it? Have someone do the same thing to your character. Whether you have your main character knocked back by the insult or come out swinging with the perfect retort is up to you.
But it does lead us to the final thing you need to remember. No one is universally liked. There is not a single person on this planet that every other person on this planet likes. It doesn’t matter how nice you are, that is just the way the world works.
In your story, not everyone is going to like your hero, no matter how nice a guy that hero is. And that is okay too. In fact, you can use that. Maybe someone at the accounting firm where Bob works thinks that if Bob were out of the way, Charlie would be in a better position for promotion in the coming year. Maybe the owner of the Bowl-a-Rama where the final showdown takes place blames Bob for damages during the fight. maybe someone is upset that Bob is the hero and they aren’t.
Maybe Charlie sees his chance to be rid of Bob and adds obstacles to his path to safety and or his fight with the General. you an use other people’s dislike (or envy…etc) of your main character to help with writing your story. Let them be mean to him.
While in your life you might be the nicest, most polite, well-liked, considerate and caring human being that has ever lived, or at least you might be trying, at times during your writing you need to set that aside.
And in case you are waiting for permission, I hereby grant it. In the name of a good story I give you permission to cause and many trials and tribulations as your main character needs to become the hero you need them to be by the end of your tale. Put them in danger. Insult them. Cause them hardship. And pain. And suffering. Be menacing. Wallow in the topics you usually avoid for the sake of peace and harmony. Be conversationally distressing, and rude and down right insulting if that is what is needed. Do your worst.
They can take it.
And don’t worry. I know that in the end you are still a really nice person.