How to Make Your Character’s Life Difficult: 10 Writing Tips

Making Your Character's Life Difficult

Making Your character's life difficultLet’s face it, stories are better when a character’s life is difficult. It gives your characters something to overcome and your audience something to root for. And not only does it make for a more interesting story, but if your characters have it too easy, they may also be harder for your audience to related to. Characters with an uncomplicated life may also read a little flat, which generally isn’t going to encourage readers to keep turning pages.

So today, we’re going to take a closer look at why it’s important to make your character’s life difficult and consider ten possible challenges to throw their way!

Why it’s important to make your character’s life difficult

It makes them more vulnerable (which makes them more human)

When a character is forced to struggle with a complication, it often backs them into a corner. This can make them more vulnerable than they might generally like to be. Any time you can make your character vulnerable is going to make them more human and relatable to your readers. It’s also going to make your readers root for your character and want to read on.

It forces them to grow

A lot of times, the reason a person feels vulnerable is because they’re faced with a fact or idea that makes them uncomfortable. This discomfort might be fear, shame, anxiety, guilt, grief, or any other challenging emotion. Forcing your character to struggle with the emotion of discomfort is going to make your character grow. If seeing your character vulnerable made your readers want to continue reading, seeing the growth that follows is going to leave them satisfied.

It makes for a more interesting and believable story

It simply is not as interesting or engaging to watch a character live a happy unencumbered life day in and day out. Even if they don’t have a ton of hardships or a tragic past, everyone has faced some kind of challenges in their life. It wouldn’t be realistic for a character to never (or hardly ever) struggle. If you want to write a story that’s both interesting and believable, I’d strongly recommend making your character’s life difficult as you can.

Some struggles to consider

Here are some ideas you can borrow or twist to make your character’s life more difficult. Ideally, these events should impact both your character and your plot in some fashion.

1) Reveal a family secret that has a massive impact on your character

Families keep secrets! And there are two ways this type of revelation can work for your character. The first is that the secret itself can be shocking or damaging to your character. Second, if your character has a good relationship with their family, it could be shocking or damaging that the secret was kept from them at all.

2) Have something important stolen from your character

We all have things that are important to us, but very rarely is an object important because of it’s monetary value alone. It’s typically the emotional connection we have to something that makes it important. If a character has something with an emotional value taken from them, it’ll likely push them to both be more emotional and vulnerable themselves, and to open up about the object’s importance to other characters.

3) Have your character lose their job/get kicked (or fail) out of school

This is another one that can push your character in at least two ways. First, there’s concern for the character’s future that will make them more vulnerable than usual. Then there’s having to own up to the thing that got them fired or kicked out in the first place.

4) Death of an important figure (use this sparingly and strategically)

Death comes with a lot of raw emotion and it’s something every single person reading will either be able to relate to immediately, or know that they will relate to someday. It’ll force your character to do and say things they normally wouldn’t, and the emotions of the death will stay with your character long after the initial grieving period passes. But use this strategically. It’s gotten pretty common to kill characters off for shock effect, which doesn’t do as much for your story.

5) Family fights

Anyone who has experience with a family will tell you that family drama is real and relatable. This is true for even in the best, most supportive, families. Your character can be the person in the middle of the disagreement, or they can be caught in between the feuding parties. Either way, it’s a sure fire way to add some tension to your character’s life or a specific event. Families tend to know you better than anyone, and they often know exactly what to do or say to get a rise out of you. This is something that can push your character into a more emotional state.

6) A natural disaster strikes and wreaks havoc

Problems that are outside of human control are great for when things in your character’s life are too easy and it wouldn’t make sense for an interpersonal conflict. It can also be great for when things are terrible but you want to make your character’s life even more difficult. Tensions always run high when danger strikes, which can easily push your characters emotionally.  And the bonus of something like this is that weather can just happen, so you can call on it as you need to (with a few seasonal exceptions) without having to overjustify why it’s happening.

7) An ex or enemy gets hired at their work (or shows up at their school)

Your story is practically guaranteed to get more interesting anytime your main character is faced with someone they don’t get along with. This is especially true when it’s in a work or school environment. These are places that we need to go to every day for one reason or another.  This makes it very difficult to escape the person who is sure to churn up some emotional turmoil.

8) Their parents get divorced

Families breaking apart is another situation that is sure to push your character. Depending on the way it happens and how many signs your character had leading up to the event, it may be emotionally scarring. This may force your character into a more vulnerable state that they can later grow from. This can be true whether your character is a teenager or an adult.

9) An enemy they thought was dead is alive

Similar to death of a close family member, this is another one that should be used very sparingly. However, it can be a very effective tool. If your character was under the impression that they were safe from an old enemy, it can be very jarring and trying for them to learn they’re not nearly as safe as they thought they were. If it’s done right, it can push your character in the right way without losing your readers.

10) Betrayal of a close friend/coworker/family member

Anytime trust is betrayed, it can be gutting. It can be enough to throw your character through a loop, question their own judgment, and fear that any secret they confided may be exposed. That alone is enough to push your character into a more vulnerable state. You can push them even farther if secrets actually do get out.

I hope this helps you make your character’s life difficult!

Now it’s your turn: How do you make your characters’ lives difficult? Do you have any go-tos? Tell me about it in the comments!

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