Frustrate your characters to keep readers turning pages
As writers, our job is to frustrate our characters. This job can be hard on us because we usually like our protagonist, maybe even feel she is a part of us. But when we write, we are forced to act more like her antagonist than best friend. That’s because, in order to keep our reader turning pages, we need to create conflict for our characters.
Even in fiction that doesn’t feature car crashes, bombs, or airplanes falling from the sky, we need to have some amount of conflict or tension. We need to create frustrated characters. So how do we keep the stakes high even in a cozy romance or literary novel?
In K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, the author suggests writing a list of the ten worst things that could happen to our character.
“Jot down all your ideas, no matter how far out. If you haven’t come up with anything feasible by the end of the list, write ten more. So long as the characters are always guessing, you can also keep the readers in the same state of suspense.”
I did this exercise for my work-in-progress and came up with some pretty dramatic events including death, being controlled by others, and psychic rape–all of which I can use. I had so much fun with this exercise, I’m going to do it again. (Hmmm…hope that doesn’t say anything about me!)
Weiland suggests evaluating your scenes for frustration. If the character’s frustration is too low or nonexistent, grab your list above and start bolstering.